October 21, 2020

Commentary: Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

View of the Church of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, van Gogh

View of the Church of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, van Gogh

Paul Wilkinson put it in his weekly link list and called it, “The Worship Article that’s Got Everyone Talking.” 

He’s referring to a concise list of “15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret,” by David Manner. Manner is the Associate Executive Director for the Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before that he served in many congregations in worship and music ministry.

I like his list. A lot. I don’t agree with every point, and I don’t feel as strongly about some points as I do others. However, I think he’s captured a great deal of content in a nice, well-stated form that lends itself to discussion.

Here it is:

15 Worship Decisions We’ll Regret

1.     Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines.
2.     Eliminating choral expressions in worship.
3.     Worship leader ageism.
4.     Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.
5.     Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.
6.     Trying to recreate worship with each new generation.
7.     Ignoring the Christian Calendar and adopting the Hallmark Calendar.
8.     Worshiping like inspiration stopped with the hymnal.
9.     Worshiping like inspiration started with modern worship songs.
10.   Not providing a venue for creatives to express their art as worship.
11.   Allowing songs about God to supersede the Word of God.
12.   Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship.
13.   Setting aside traditionalism around the world but not across the aisle.
14.   Worshiping out of Nostalgia or Novelty.
15.   Worship services at the expense of worship service.

Let me make a few brief comments about each point, and then I’ll invite you to chime in.

1.     Dividing congregations along age and affinity lines.

This is a rather stark way to say it, and the reality may not always be this black and white. Some churches are able to hold different styles of music or worship services that are specifically designed for different age or affinity groups but don’t really “divide” the congregation. Helping a congregation toward being “one mind and one spirit” involves more than having everyone do the same thing in the same way. It is more about helping people with differences learn to appreciate, welcome, and love those who are “other” than they are.

2.     Eliminating choral expressions in worship.

Preaching to the choir here. Utilizing a choir is one of the best ways to have a group that represents the entire congregation participate in the worship service. A choir can also contribute a remarkable variety of music in a church.

3.     Worship leader ageism.

I believe in the diversity of people, ages, cultures, and gifts in the church and decisions about who does what should not be based on a narrow criteria.

4.     Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.
5.     Making worship and music exclusively synonymous.

Worship does not equal music. Our musical expressions give us creative and beautiful ways to express God’s Word and our responses to it in prayer and praise and contemplation. It is not the “sacrament” many have made it out to be. It complements the real sacraments.

The Church at Auvers, van Gogh

The Church at Auvers, van Gogh

6.     Trying to recreate worship with each new generation.

I’ve made the case here on Internet Monk several times that the fourfold pattern of the traditional liturgy is a salutary and proven way of ordering the Christian worship service. Since the revivalist eras, worship services have been patterned more after the theater and stage show than the sacred meal gathering commended in the early centuries of the Church. In my view, corporate Christian worship is a “thing.” A thing not to be tampered with. I guess I’m the ultimate conservative when it comes to pattern and purpose. Styles of music and the use of creative elements and the arts and so on — now that’s another question, and there is endless room for variety here. Again though, the purpose is not to “satisfy” people’s tastes, but rather to explore the diversity of the congregation’s gifts and to teach us to appreciate each other.

7.     Ignoring the Christian Calendar and adopting the Hallmark Calendar.

Can I hear an amen?

8.     Worshiping like inspiration stopped with the hymnal.
9.     Worshiping like inspiration started with modern worship songs.

I’m going to start sounding like a broken record here. When it comes to styles, the more the merrier. Old, new, everything in between. Not to please, to help us all grow.

10.   Not providing a venue for creatives to express their art as worship.

The only problem I have with this is that we can easily fall into the trap of believing that the essence of worship is “self-expression.” No, the essence of worship is the gospel, and whatever creative expressions are offered must serve the gospel. We fit into the Story, rather than making the Story fit into our creative projects.

11.   Allowing songs about God to supersede the Word of God.

This is a perceptive comment by David Manner. What, really, is our “scripture”? What, really, forms us and shapes our thinking about God and life? In today’s media-soaked culture, music can play a big role for many people. “Christian” music interprets the faith for lots of folks and shapes the way we think, express, and live out that faith. It has been noted often how bereft of scripture the worship services in many of the most “biblical” of churches are. What “word” is really forming us?

12.   Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship.

Don’t quite agree with this one. There is something special about God’s people gathered. I don’t want to downplay personal piety as much as I want to celebrate the uniqueness of the corporate event.

13.   Setting aside traditionalism around the world but not across the aisle.

This is another good insight. Many of our inadequate perspectives about worship and worship music are rooted in thinking that it’s “our” worship that matters. Our expression. Our style. Our unique contribution. No, worship belongs to the Church catholic, and each congregation joins the communion of saints throughout all history and all around the world each time it gathers. We get to join in and, while we do have unique contributions to make, we seek to blend ours with all the other unique contributions out there, respecting and honoring and giving thanks for all traditions that truly praise Jesus.

14.   Worshiping out of Nostalgia or Novelty.

Yes. Equal and equally problematic attitudes. It’s about the gospel, not my experience of the past or the thrill of something new.

15.   Worship services at the expense of worship service.

There is a reason the traditional liturgy ends with the “Sending” and not the “invitation.” “Go in peace, and serve the Lord” — in life, in vocation, in mission, in the community. The Christian’s life is not meant to revolve around the temple. We celebrate and are nourished in the gospel on Sundays. Between Sundays, we follow Jesus into the world. Worship and loving service, gathered and scattered: the systole and diastole of the renewed heart.


  1. Dan from Georgia says

    Interesting set of items about worship..and FIRST.

  2. Dan from Georgia says

    Good observations on Number 1, BTW, Chaplain Mike. Will absorb the rest now….

  3. Wanted to comment on number 2.

    My sister-in-law is in an amazing church choir. The have been invited to sing in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, and have been invited to sing in Westminster Abbey. My wife is in an amazing community choir as well. They have helped give me an appreciation of classical music, most of which is very liturgical. I sang in my University’s choir among others.

    That being said. Most church choirs I have heard have been very poor. I have also found that they tend to trot them out for special occasions like Christmas and Easter when you have the greatest numbers of visitors. Do I miss not hearing choir music most Sundays? Not at all.

    • Sorry, one last comment and I’ll leave you all alone for the rest of the day. 😉

      I think the applicability of #2 entirely depends on the circumstances. I’ve been in churches where I would have wept for joy to see the “praise band” take a seat and have a real honest-to-goodness choir come out every so often.

      I have also been in churches where the honest-to-goodness choir could tell the staff what had to be done (or should not be done) in worship services, and was practically the raison d’etre of the congregation itself. In that case, a deliberate shelving of the choir would be a GOOD thing.

    • > Most church choirs I have heard have been very poor

      The musical performances in my parish are generally pretty poor, occasionally middling, and occasionally awful.

      It is wonderful, I hope it stays that way. They happen and everything moves on the next thing.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      “Most church choirs I have heard have been very poor. I have also found that they tend to trot them out for special occasions like Christmas and Easter…”

      I detect correlation. Churches that have good choirs don’t just trot them out a couple of times a year. Choirs that are used regularly tend to be better. Take your pick for the direction of causality.

      • I agree with Richard that there is likely correlation between these two things. I think two factors probably affect both of these issues: 1) the choirmaster or music leader, and 2) the availability of people to sing.

        My current parish has an amazing choir that boxes way above its weight class for a parish of our size. I know a lot of the success is due to having an amazing choirmaster/organist who brought an amazing soprano with him (his wife). They were there before I was, so I don’t know how we were able to talk him into working for the meager amount we can afford to pay him, but I’m so thankful that they’re with us.

        At a previous parish, they went through two music leaders while I was there. The first one was classically trained and was able to put together a decent choir twice a year, but otherwise stuck to a small praise band setup. One thing she was unable to do was get volunteers for the choir at other times of the year, as folks were just unwilling to commit to the extra practice time.

        The second music leader was really good at praise band stuff, and was able to build the band(s) really well, but just didn’t have the formal training to build a choir. His vision was for the later service to be more instruments with less voices and the early service to be more voices and less instruments as far as the bands were concerned. But even though he was able to get a good number singers for the early service setup, they couldn’t ever make the jump to choir with set parts and stuff.

      • What? Never heard a poor praise band or worship leader?

        Churches should not have choirs automatically, if they don’t have people in the church with the necessary gifts and talents.

        On the other hand, neither should they try to do “contemporary” music if they make it sound like an amateur garage band.

        And putting Mr. Smiley up there playing the piano, talking between songs like a lounge act doesn’t work either.

        It’s really quite simple: Do what you can do relatively well based on the gifts and talents in the church. Also there may be seasons where the musicians are going through growing pains or developing. Being patient with this and cheering them on is a wonderful evidence of Christian love, as far as I’m concerned.

        • “Do what you can do relatively well based on the gifts and talents in the church.” Amen, Chap!

        • But this also goes way, way deeper than simply styles or even talents to music theory itself. I don’t like “praise bands” because I have taste in music (bad taste, my wife would tell you, but she never could learn to appreciate Black Sabbath), but it is not my or anyone else’s personal taste that is the deciding factor either. Rather, ti is that the divine service is corporate worship, and the singing should reflect that. One benefit of praise bands is that they drown out all the people that can’t sing. One drawback is that they drown out everyone else as well. But the same can be said of choirs. In the end, it comes down to leadership empowering the congregants further into participative worship through song, and that can be done in many forms, even as exclusionary, performance-based, or showcase talent can take many forms.

          • Neither choirs nor praise band should drown out the congregation. Rather, the choir and praise band should lead the congregation in the singing. To that end, the music selection ought to foster participation, as should the volume of any amplification.

          • Agree wholeheartedly. Some of this goes to church size, but in all kinds of music I’m inclined to think that acoustic music lends itself to corporate worship better. The congregation’s voice should always be the primary and most prominent instrument.

          • But the same can be said of choirs.

            Not necessarily. In a good choir led service of singing, the line between choir and congregation is completely blurred when all voices join as one. That is the primary goal of any good choral program: Lead the whole congregation in active, robust, enthusiastic participation.

          • Miguel, would you say that who you see on stage is often a good indicator of the makeup of the church?

          • Stuart, I would say that if the church even has something called a “stage,” that is a very strong indication of its makeup.

            But I get where you’re going with that. People are attracted to similar. It’s a general tendency, but with plenty of exceptions. We work very hard to get youth and elderly both involved in leadership in our worship services, together. I’m more than a strong believer in the multi-generational approach.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And putting Mr. Smiley up there playing the piano, talking between songs like a lounge act doesn’t work either.

          Some churches actually tried that?
          Lounge Lizard Worship/Praise?
          (At least outside of Vegas? That’s one weird town…)

          • “welcome to church, we’re so glad you come come…”

          • welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, we’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside

            (i had to)

          • In the 90s Will Ferrell had a character on SNL that was part of a husband and wife duo of music teachers. Once I went to a friend’s church after he had asked me repeatedly. They had guest worship leaders, a married couple. They were almost EXACTLY like the SNL characters. (+ “we have CDs in the back!”) My friend was so embarrassed…

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Well, now you know where Will Ferrell got the idea and the shtick.

            Drawn from real life — just like Dana Carvey’s Church Lady.

          • “Welcome to the church, my friends, you all know why you’re here.”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Stuart, wonder if you could actually prank some of these Mega Worship Rock Shows by hacking their sound system and putting EL&P’s “Karn Evil Nine” on the speakers instead. From some of the descriptions of today’s Workship(TM) shows, it might not be that bad a fit.

            Just if anyone does, post it to YouTube.


          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            P.S. There exists (fictional) precedent.

            Anyone remember the first scene in the “Bart Sells His Soul” episode of The Simpsons? Where Bart & his posse are passing out “doctored” hymnals?

            “And for our first hymn, ‘In the Garden of Eden’ by I.Ron Butterfly.”
            “IN A GADDA DA VIDA, BABY…”

            (Naturally, this being Springfield Community Church, it took them 3-5 minutes to realize they’d been had, then Bart & Co had hell to pay from the preacher.)

    • As someone who is both a musician and a cleric in a denomination that has put a lot of emphasis on church planting, I’ve thought a lot about how I’d try to build a choir or music team from scratch. I am a big fan of traditional liturgy, and have come to the conclusion that I’d probably start with plainchant psalmody as the foundation. Psalm tones are relatively easy as far as plainchant is concerned, and the monophonic nature of plainchant means that it would be unison singing at first. Plus, y’know, Psalms. And Canticles.

      From there I’d probably add some plainchant hymns from a source like the venerable “Hymnal Noted” by John Mason Neale, and eventually work to four-part harmony either from a traditional hymnal or one of the better blended ones (e.g. “The Christian Life Hymnal” by hendrickson). A piano and/or organ would be necessary for the former, but the latter could have a more flexible instrumental setup.

    • That being said. Most church choirs I have heard have been very poor. I have also found that they tend to trot them out for special occasions like Christmas and Easter when you have the greatest numbers of visitors.

      Nothing like putting your worst food forward, eh? I suppose that could be a main reason why choirs are dying: Damn poor leadership.

      • Richard Hershberger says

        “Nothing like putting your worst food forward, eh?”

        I’ve been to that potluck…

      • “Nothing like putting your worst food forward, eh? I suppose that could be a main reason why choirs are dying: Damn poor leadership.”

        A good choir director knows his singers and what they are capable, tailors the music to their abilities and knows how to say no when a basic ability of singing on pitch cannot be met. Too many choirs I’ve heard have poor singers and the director, or often the pastor, encourages anyone and everyone to join the choir, regardless of ability.

        I’ve recently taken a choir sabbatical due to this very reason. At one rehearsal, the people on both sides of me as well as the one behind were all off pitch. Very frustrating!! These lovely folks are in their 70s and 80s and can no longer sing well, but I don’t think they can hear it, either. No one wants to hurt their feelings. I get that. So everyone else (including the congregation) has to suffer. This is wrong.

    • Do I miss not hearing choir music most Sundays? Not at all.

      I’m drowning in a sea of double negatives! You mean you don’t miss hearing choirs, you do miss NOT hearing choirs, or you simply miss hearing them? Please sort out that sentence for me! 😛

      • LOL! Yes, that is confusing. Sorta reminds me of this paradox: “Everything I say is a lie.”

  4. Dan from Georgia says

    re numbers 5 and 10,…being a creative person, I was about to jump up on number 5 and say YEAH, SO THERE!, but then you tempered me somewhat by your comments under number 10. BTW, I wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of number 10, that it is not about our expression, but it’s about the Gospel.

    • I understand your hesitation, Dan. The word “creative” is too broad. If my creativity consists of wood carving, or weaving, or landscape design, do I get to do it in front of the church for worship purposes? If the reason anyone sings or plays music is that church is the place to showcase creativity, then it seems unfair that others can’t contribute, too. As CM mentioned, the basis for choice has to be what corporate worship is, not what creativity is. I can worship God through my work in other parts of life.

      • > The word “creative” is too broad

        This word needs to be on The Most Useless Ten Words Ever list. It is far far far too often used as an elegant put down of everyone else.

        I have known so many gifted Creative coders, plumbers, gardeners [the kind that raise food], carpenters, statisticians [and other assorted data grinders], politicians/bureaucrats [people who can actually see how to move things through a system], architects [who can see how to elegantly fit something in an odd space], etc… And I have known seemingly innumerable droll and completely derivative musicians. But which of these groups ran around bopping people upside the head with the hammer of Creativity?

        Please keep the Creative Artists away from my religion. I deal with plenty of Smug at the office, I don’t want it in my parish.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The “plenty of Smug” you describe has a formal name: “Art Fag Syndrome”.
          (Note that “Fag” in this context has nothing to do with sexual orientation, but with attitude.)

          And those with the worst cases of this syndrome are usually posers with the least actual creative talent.
          (Gotta make up for it somehow.)

      • Well if that wood carver makes an in relief pieta or modonna or crucifix, surely that could be hung in the Church? Or a tapestry made by a weaver. We had altar cloths at my childhood church that had been edged with lace tatted by the members of the Rosary Guild. Surely creative gifts can be welcomed?

        • Yes, they can and should be. Our church was very open to this and it increased participation by all sorts of people greatly. So many people are not gifted musically, but can contribute in other ways. It is a real blessing to appreciate their gifts as well.

          And landscape design can be used in the church’s landscaping, of course.

        • Yes, you’re absolutely right, cermak. I was more picturing the act of woodcarving in front of the congregation. I belong to a church that loves its carvings and tapestries and stained glass.

      • Dan from Georgia says

        yes, I agree. Also, everyone who is a believer has a place in the body of Christ, whether you are an artist, athlete, lawyer, custodian, student, etc. I have been to churches where there were fellowships for artists (albeit these churches are not too common), and even one church that had a drawing class. Also there are churches, as you point out in another comment, where visual artists have a place in corporate worship.

  5. I don’t grok #13, and CM’s comments don’t help me much. Can someone who gets it explain it more fully?

    • I agree! The explanation seems out of phase with the numbered statement. And it also seems kind of vague to me.

      • Let me give it a shot. I *think* what they’re trying to say – in modern techy terms – is that the worship traditions of the Church are “open source” i.e. we have the freedom to add to them and tinker with them; but we don’t purchase exclusive individual ownership to them as congregations i.e. we don’t have the right to chuck the entire thing out and re-write it from scratch to suit our eclectic tastes.

        Does this capture the essence of the point, CM?

        • Still does not compute…

          • Oscar, the point I think Manner was trying to make is that we tend to dismiss every tradition but our own. Those traditions “out there” = bad, while the way we do it and have done it = good.

            When we say this we often fail to realize that we are just as tradition-bound as the others we criticize. But we would never describe ourselves as “traditionalists” because that only applies to those “out there” with whom we disagree.

            My appeal, on the other hand, is not to think that “our” way is the only right way, but that we are called in worship to join the communion of saints and respect all traditions.

            Does that help?

          • Richard Hershberger says

            I too was mystified by this one. In my case part of the difficulty is that my church embraces tradition like a long lost child. We not only use a hymnal, we are two books back from the current one. This is nothing one my previous church, where the pastor once said that his goal was that if Heinrich Muhlenberg were to walk in on Sunday morning, he wouldn’t notice anything changed.

  6. 12. Elevating gathered worship above dispersed worship.
    Don’t quite agree with this one. There is something special about God’s people gathered. I don’t want to downplay personal piety as much as I want to celebrate the uniqueness of the corporate event.

    I read this as don’t avoid a group of 10 to 50 so you can meet with 1000 or more. I find large worship services almost always tend to performances more than worship.

  7. Faulty O-Ring says

    Notice how many of these involve music (nos 2,4, 5 8, 9, and 11 for sure–probably also nos 3, 6 and 10 as well)), and would not be a problem if music were eliminated entirely. Of course, no. 2 assumes that there should be singing of some sort (we are not told why), while no. 10 offers the rather more expansive recommendation that all the arts be incorporated (even pole-dancing?). One major problem caused by music–apart from controversies over musical styles, instrumentation, and the practice of using a “picked” choir–is that it discourages simplicity and sincerity in worship by turning it into a kind of performance.

    • For once Faulty, I agree with you.

      Take all the music, all the sound equipment, all the hymnals, all the choir robes, and lets have a big bonfire – – – block party!. Everyone is invited. Only rule – they cannot talk about Music!

      Music-free church would be like a cool spring breeze after surviving a six hour lecture on cryptography held in August in the attic of an old un-air-conditioned house.

      Music is an utterly insatiable resource suck and a source of endless haggling. Music is a distraction from anything having a clear point. Music IS sound and fury amounting to nothing.

      The less music – AND FUSS ABOUT MUSIC – the better.

      • Re: “Music-free church.” This was the theme of Matt Redmond’s song of several years ago: “The Heart of Worship (when the music fades).” It grew out of a season in his church where the leadership led services without music for a time because they sensed that too many in the congregation were focusing too much on the music and it was causing conflict.

        I have also attended some Lutheran services that were “spoken” services without music.

        While I don’t ever want “music-free church,” I would not be opposed to churches having seasons when they downplay or eliminate music for specific teaching or pastoral purposes.

        • > I don’t ever want “music-free church,”

          I doubt you have much to worry about, I cannot see music going away.

          On this issue I operate on the golden rule of negotiation: Never ask for less than 20% more than you want/need.

          In reality I am content with the music situation where I have ended up. I hope it stays the way it is.

          A focus on music can be an aggressive cancer within a community.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Take all the music, all the sound equipment, all the hymnals, all the choir robes, and lets have a big bonfire – – – block party!. Everyone is invited. Only rule – they cannot talk about Music!

        Isn’t that the same reaction Mohammed had when he established that Mosques would be a capella only? And for much the same reasons?

        • Maybe, but the Quakers also don’t have music nor does at least one branch of the Church of Christ (not the UCC, those are definitely groups of Christians divided by a whole lot more than the word United).

    • I understand your frustration with music and the havoc that has always attended it in the church. However, any faith that has as integral parts of its story the Exodus and Song of Moses, the Book of Psalms, the sons of God singing for joy at creation, the symphonic poetry of Isaiah, the Magnificat, Benedictus, Gloria, and Nunc Dimittis, a Savior who sang on his way to Gethsemane, repeated exhortations for the church to sing in the Spirit and Word, NT epistles containing early Christian hymns, and the songs of the saints around the throne in Revelation is bound to be a singing faith. And it should be.

      • Absolutely. The NT gives very little explicit instruction for how Christian worship should look, but twice St. Paul admonishes us to use “Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.” In Ephesians, he follows it by saying that this includes “singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” In Collossians he follows it by saying that this includes “singing with grace in your heart to the Lord.” Not to mention the OT examples (including the inclusion of a hymnal in the form of the Psalms) and the NT Canticles that CM refers to above.

        Christian worship is a vocal and singing worship. It always has been. I’m all for simplified singing, but the elimination of all music just wouldn’t be biblical or historically Christian.

        I find the challenges of a necessarily simplified setup to be fun at times. I remember one recent Christmas morning where I had volunteered to say mass for a small group of folks that couldn’t make the Christmas Eve service (we Anglicans pull out all the stops for Christmas Eve). I had no support from the rest of the clergy or staff (i.e. the musicians) other than a couple of volunteers from the altar guild. So, I asked my wife to bring her flute and just do melody for “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Joy to the World” as the respective processional and recessional. The small group of folks that were there (actually it was about 30 people… much more than anyone expected) all sang along and it was glorious. And at my current parish, whenever we do a midweek mass for one of the BCP’s feast days, it’s a capella chant. Typically, canticles and psalms. And I love it.

        • I should add that this doesn’t negate the beautiful simplicity of an occasional “said service,” but not the complete elimination of music. In my tradition it seems that “said services” are either based on time constraints or a lack of available singers/musicians for a given time. That’s fine, but I’d rather follow St. Augustine’s admonishment, “He who sings prays twice.”

        • For how little explicit worship and music instruction the NT gives, you’d think we could at least get that much right and actually sing the Psalms. They go tragically neglected in far too many “Biblical” churches. The first thing I ask when people say “Our church is just based on the Bible,” is “do you sing the Psalms?” Then answer is nearly always “no.”

        • The NT gives very little explicit instruction for how Christian worship should look

          Ehhh…suggestions, not explicit instructions. No new law here. Lots of great advice on decently and in order, but a lot of flexibility within.

  8. MelissatheRagamuffin says

    I find it interesting how many of these have to do with music. Traditionally Quakers don’t have music in their meetings for worship, and never have. Considering how many people base their choice of church entirely on whether or not they like the music instead of things like is the doctrine sound, I’d just rather not have it.

    • Some of the most fruitful worship services I ever attended were when I was working in London. The Anglican congregation I attended had a small short service (mostly for the benefit of the staff, but open to anyone) before the main morning services. That small service was held as what the Anglicans call a “said” service – i.e. no music. At all. After enduring the obsessive mania that American churches typically have, it was actually quite refreshing.

      And Chaplain Mike… I will not only give you your “Amen” to Point 7, I will give it to you in all-caps with a faux southern drawl. AY-MEN!!! 😉

      • Richard Hershberger says

        Many Episcopal and Lutheran (and likely others) churches in business districts have a Wednesday noon service aimed at office workers. These typically are a complete liturgy but spoken and with no hymns. If the sermon is brief, and assuming a small number of congregants so that distribution of communion doesn’t take long, and you are out of there in about a half hour.

  9. I must say that times of silence are of great value to me. That said I have no problem doing that myself nor do I have any problem singing to the Lord on mountain walks it heals me inside.

    I have sang with a 150 plus men at retreat in a room that held only this many with some standing. The one song Holy, Holy, Holy rattled the whole place and I felt connected to everyone in the room. I thought this is what Heaven must be like. One must remember there were other types of songs before but this one ended it and could not have been topped that day. I’ll never forget it.

    We have whole services sometimes devoted just to worship songs. I have always found them to be the best. You have to take into account that growing up I only mouthed words and never sang till just recently in life. I have found great joy in singing I didn’t know was there as my mom made fun of me growing up and laughed at me for my voice was all over the place. I didn’t even know I could sing till lately. Never really tried again. An eight year old boy behind me belting out a song changed my mind and he was all over the place and I was like yeah I get it God. Those worship services that have ended with all singing and no one wanted to leave once. We all stood there waiting for more in silence till the man leading had to come to the mic and say you all can go home now we’re done and be blessed. There were a lot of people there.

    Of course I wish at times for more hymns and I wish things to be different to suit me. Some songs the words don’t line up with what I believe. I just change the words lowly and sing what I believe. Maybe fifteen things we would not regret would be a better list for me but I fear it is always easier to find what we don’t like. I know alot of people don’t like to sing and they come late or slip in as it is over and I do understand. What they come for is for me what I would like to leave sometimes and have.

    • Am I doing any better Oscar

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I’m reminded of something I read once, during the “Why Men Stop Going to Church” brou-ha-ha:

      “In Muslim Paradise, you have sexual pleasure for all eternity; in Christian Heaven, you sing hymns for all eternity. Which is going to be more attractive to a virile young man?”

      • I’m not a young man anymore and I can’t imagine to many older Muslim men wanting that. Frankly having seventy or however many virgins around is simply frightening.

    • w, I continue to enjoy reading your comments. Keep ’em coming.

  10. One pastor I used to serve under defined “praise” as the three fast songs you opened with, and “worship” as the two slow songs that led into the offering.

    God, I just threw up in my mouth a little thinking about it…

    I’ve been a youth and college pastor for years, but recently took my first job as a “lead pastor” in a small Baptist church. Surprisingly, most of the congregants wanted liturgical practices…come to find out, a former pastor from about 20 years back was heavily influenced by his Lutheran wife, and he was well-thought of in the church. The young adults missed responsive readings, corporate prayer, and an order of worship that made sense. The pastor prior to me had not served Holy Communion in over one year. While my preference would be weekly, we’re currently doing monthly, with plans to incorporate a couple of Sunday night Eucharists each month soon. The former pastor also tried to put up a screen in a beautiful 100 year old Victorian sanctuary, so that he could ditch the hymnals while he led worship. Per the members of the church, it fell off the wall and onto his head the first Sunday he used it.

    • Lee, our church does it that way. Those quiet, reflective, slow songs are even called the “worship set”. I’ve been playing guitar in the church band for about 3 years. I don’t think I can take much more.

    • “The former pastor also tried to put up a screen in a beautiful 100 year old Victorian sanctuary, so that he could ditch the hymnals while he led worship. Per the members of the church, it fell off the wall and onto his head the first Sunday he used it.” Ouch, the irony! 🙂

    • David Cornwell says

      “it fell off the wall and onto his head the first Sunday he used it.”

      God must still be hanging around in that church! Sovereign.

  11. IndianaMike says

    This is a great list and great commentary by Chaplain Mike. What makes it particularly so is that it is not just a volley shot at “the other side” in the “Worship Wars”. It challenges everyone across the spectrum to consider what they are doing in the light of Scripture, tradition, and contemporary culture.

  12. David Cornwell says

    It’s interesting that we live in a world with so many choices when it comes to Christian worship. We can pick and choose, mix and stir. Even the idea of having much of (any?) a choice wasn’t around before 1518 or so. I wonder what the pickings might have been before that time?

    Are we better off with our choices?

  13. A Simple Hillbilly says

    Number 14 actually stood out to me. I noticed the author comes from an SBC background and I wondered if this would come up. The whole idea of nostalgia as a form of worship is really common in Evangelicalism and it typically the anti-CCM model. Gaither worship videos, complete with gag reals, a lot of terrible “hymns” (Church in the Wildwood types, militaristic marches) reflecting back on more Godly times aka the ’40s and ’50s.

    Sadly, growing up around this, it wasn’t until I moved on to CCM churches that integrated hymns that there were good hymns out there.

  14. David Manner says

    Excellent commentary, Chaplain Mike. Great follow-up comments from others. I love the healthy conversations.

    Here is some additional clarification for what I meant by numbers 10 and 12:

    #10 Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will. The sole emphasis on music as our primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship and perpetuated worship conflict in our congregations. Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer that gift to God in worship. But it is not the only expression. Considering additional artistic options could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

    #12 It doesn’t matter how good our worship is in here, it is incomplete until it also includes our worship out there. Worship is continuous, it just depends on whom or what we are worshiping. So worship doesn’t start with the first song or end with the last one. Can you imagine what could occur if we spent as much time worshiping during the other 6 days and 23 hours out there (dispersed) as we spend worshiping during that 1 hour in here (gathered)? Eugene Peterson wrote in Christ Plays in Ten-Thousand Places, “Worship is the primary means for forming us as participants in God’s work, but if the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing.”

    • David! Thanks so much for joining in. Great list and very conducive to discussion.

    • David, thanks for coming over to the imonastary; your list has a lot of meat to chew on, as someone who is not a very gifted musician or singer, I appreciate your words of balance.

  15. Someone should write the book/article on the effect amplification had on the Church…has to be similar in scope to the printing press and the Internet.

  16. Good example of corporate worship.


  17. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    4. Elevating music above Scripture, Prayer and the Lord’s Supper.

    It strikes me that elevating any one of these above the others is a bad move.

    I’ve had in-country experience where Scripture(TM) was elevated far far above the others. This seems to be an occupational hazard of Sola Scriptura types.

  18. As far as making room for the creative types, I was part of a church plant a few years ago where the guy leading us would occasionally break out some of his own stuff. It was actually really good, and I kind of miss not being able to hear it now. If you have someone with some talent that can put something out there that is essentially coming directly out of your experience of God within your local body, that is a real gift. It’s easy enough to find music that expresses our worship to God, but something else altogether to truly sing to the Lord a new song.

    • Randy Thompson says

      Yes, it is indeed a real gift.

      But. . .

      . . . sometimes that gift is appropriately used in a small group setting but not in a larger one. It’s like someone who sings who has a nice voice, but shouldn’t be doing the solo for Sunday’s “Big Show.” I’ve been in worship services where we were singing the music of the local talent, and it wasn’t a good idea.

      Given all of our human limitations, aesthetic and otherwise, there probably never will be a “perfect” worship service. The problem is, Christians want and expect (!) perfect worship services. A low-end definition of “perfect” here is that there won’t by anything (or anyone) annoying in the service. The high-end definition of “perfect” is that somehow the service will elevate you into Paul’s Third Heaven. There will always be “annoyances” and if someone shows up in Paul’s Third Heaven, the worship service has nothing to do with it.

  19. This all seems so far away… I used to be a very good soldier in the worship wars… The only thing on the list that makes me itch is the implied reference to the bible as the Word of God. If JESUS is the Word of God, music can never supersede him. If the bible is the Word of God, fear that music will supersede it gives the impression that the bible is what we worship. I’m sure the author did not mean it that way, but that’s how it comes across to me. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive about this.

    I used to believe that there was little said about Christian worship in the NT because God wanted to allow for everyone’s different cultural expressions. I came to believe that the pattern of Christian worship was part of those things that were handed on “by word of mouth,” (2Thess 2.15) because Christianity (until the emerging of non-sacramental theology in the wake of the Reformation) was something into which people were initiated. Very early on, we see basically the Eucharistic service appended to a Jewish-style prayer service consisting of chanted Psalms, liturgical poetry sung or said, supplicatory prayer, scripture readings and homily. The Apostolic Fathers – the “next generation” – are clear that only those who had been initiated through Baptism were allowed to partake of the Eucharist.

    Since the first Christians were Jews, and since the Jews believed their pattern of worship was given to them by God, it doesn’t make sense that the first Christians would reject that pattern whole cloth. The sacrificial aspects seem to have been transformed into the Eucharist, since Christ had fulfilled all the law, including that pertaining to establishing and maintaining communion with God and with one another – which was what the sacrifices were about. But the focus of the sacrifices wasn’t “sacrifice” in and of itself – it was Offering. In the Eucharist, the Church (as body consisting of all the unique persons gathered) was offering herself to God by being united, beyond time, to the One Offering given once for all, the One Offering who did – as a human being – that which humans were always to have done… and was then blessed to go out into the world and live The Life of the Age to Come in it, as Offering there, too…

    This makes the best sense to me, particularly after reading some of Margaret Barker’s work. She is an English Methodist whose academic study has been focused on the Temple/Tabernacle ritual and its meaning. Christian worship was actually not a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of thing. ***Everything*** had
    Meaning, and a whole bunch of it was Jewish Meaning Fulfilled.


    • The worship wars may be over, and we all lost.

      I want to know what’s post-Hillsong, post-Harp & Bowl, post-Nashville.

    • David Cornwell says

      Dana, thank you. I appreciate your clarity.

      “because Christianity (until the emerging of non-sacramental theology in the wake of the Reformation) was something into which people were initiated. ”

      Exactly. And now so far on this side of the Reformation we have the so-called “worship wars” as a direct result of so many choices. Now everyone is an expert and can vote for him/her self whatever it is we like best.

      • Randy Thompson says

        And interestingly, some now talk about “worship” as itself some sort of initiation, the means by which seekers come to faith.

        • David Cornwell says

          I attended many revivals as a child, and well into my youth. But we never pretended they were worship. They were entertaining in many ways. Now we have entertainment and pretend it to be worship.

  20. What are some tangible examples of “alternative art” that goes beyond music (or at least includes something beyond music) that people see on a semi regular basis?

    • Randy Thompson says


      • Randy, are you Protestant? If so, what are some of the ways you’ve seen icons used in the Protestant tradition?

        • Randy Thompson says

          If your church has stained glass windows, you have icons–or something similar.
          One could make the case that any crosses in the sanctuary are icons too. They are images.
          And, some churches have banners.

    • The visual arts have a place and a tradition. These include paintings (icons), sculpture, and architecture. However, they have a fairly limited place for ongoing expression.
      1) Churches can’t change their architecture every week. But think of the medieval cathedrals of Europe.
      2) Sculpture is an art form that seems mostly lost to our society. You can still find the occasional moden art sculpture being created or even purchased under a “1% for art” type program, but in general? And do such get appreciated or mocked? (My experience before I was Christian is that they get mocked and ignored, neither of which would really be much good.)
      3) Paintings on display can be rotated. Not all churches have designed space for them – but space can be made, even if only temporary. (My church rents and has to set up/tear down totally each week, so rotation would be natural for us if we had anything to rotate.) The Orthodox tradition of Icons is an example.

      Dance is another art that I’ve seen. Sometimes it works better than others.

      I’d love to see cooking as a form of worship – or is that my gluttony speaking? Are church potlucks in this category, but not so discussed and unrealized? We definitely see cooking as a form of service, and if we are broadening our understanding of worship to include service, then cooking as a service is worship. This includes meals for the disabled (our church tends to do 2-3 dinners a week for moms that just had babies, our form of the disabled), for the poor, and for the grieving at funerals.

    • Not an exhaustive list, but here are some suggestions: Icons, drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, sound, lighting, staging and props to name a few. Of course Scripture, Prayer and Communion should be at the top of the list.

    • Alternative arts as worship would be fine, as long as they include participation by the entire congregation, and not merely as interested spectators and admirers of the artist and their art. Frankly, one of the things that I like about keeping the Holy Communion at the center of worship is that it does not require a high level of creativity on the part of any leader or member of the congregation for full participation. Individualistic artistic expression can easily open up a distance between the person creating and performing the art and those more or less passively observing, and to my mind this works against the nature of communal worship.

      • After all, isn’t there a sense in which worship should be ordinary rather than extraordinary? The idea that worship should include a high level of extraordinary artistic expression suggests that the ordinary (like the breaking of bread) needs to be supplemented by something “special.”

      • What’s wrong with observation? I’m fine with a blend of speaking and silence, passive and active, interaction and observation, etc. I don’t see anything extraordinary about art, and thinking so is perhaps why the church doesn’t know how to tangibly incorporate original artistic expression in since its viewed as something elitist – as if it somehow negates the spoken word or the Eucharist. I’m not asking this question just to try something different for the sake of being different. I’m wondering – do people blend music with the spoken word? Use historical art as an exhibit as part of a sermon/homily? Those kinds of things.

        I don’t disagree on the Eucharist being central at all – it’s the one thing that I could never go without in a service.

        • Aside from my concern about undermining the communal nature of Christian worship, I’m not against the idea in principle. But on the few occasions I’ve seen something like this attempted in the context of a mainline Christian worship service, it’s seemed contrived and creatively vapid. I ended by thinking, “Here again are Christians doing a poor imitation of secular culture. Cringe, cringe! How can I sneak out! Cringe, cringe!”

          And once we open the door to having passages from, say, Marilynne Robinson read in lieu of a sermon, how on earth do we prevent “The Shack” from finding it’s way into the pulpit? Post-modernism has done away with the last vestiges of aesthetic discrimination left by modernism, and we no longer have even the ghost of an artistic canon left to guide our choices in these matters.

          • I hear you. But IMO a large part of the reason that it’s an imitation of secular culture, contrived, and creatively vapid as you put it, is precisely because of the place that it currently holds in general church life – which is minimal. And maybe I don’t mean just music and modern visuals but true aesthetic beauty. We need it and hunger for it but end up copying whatever else is out there. It doesn’t seem reasonable for truly creative art to have very little emphasis or value in the life of the church, but for it to somehow come spilling out into without it being a cheap knock off. I’m not proposing solutions here – I wish I could. Just lamenting that creativity and art don’t have much of a place – and therefore it can’t flourish. I’m convinced that by its nature the church universal should have a TON to offer.

          • Not necessarily about “worship music” but I think it’s related:

            “What modern building would people a thousand years from now flock to visit as we do the Notre dame Cathedral today? If the Gothic cathedral was the architectural statement of the middle ages, the “big box” store may well be the architectural This is tragic. But what if what has happened to architecture is also happening now to Christianity? What if utility is triumphing over beauty in the way we thing about the church? This is alarming…..Art is now largely driven, not by time-tested standards of beauty, but by the marketplace. So the question is no longer, “Is it beautiful?” but “Will it sell?”…….For thousands of years artists, sages, philosophers and theologians have connected the beautiful and the sacred and identified art with our longing for God……For too long we have relied upon the cold logic of apologetics to persuade, or the crass techniques of the marketplace to entice, when what we should do is creatively hold forth the transcendant beauty of Jesus Christ. But to do this, we must examine what we preach and what we practice in the light of the beauty of the cruciform.”

            From Beauty Will Save the World by Brian Zahnd. One of the best books I read last year.

            Tough to do when the cruciform is more of a legal transaction than anything else, but that’s a different topic.

          • typo…….. “the “big box” store may well be the architectural statement of our age.”

          • Yes, the European Cathedrals are architectural triumphs, and people flock to visit them, as artistic artifacts of former times. But how many are flocking to them to worship? Built to last they were, but many of them no longer are homes to vital congregations; the buildings lasted, but the communities did not. When we then also consider at what price they were built, at what cost to the masses of peasants living hand to mouth, it’s hard not to ask the questions: Are they really congruous with the beauty of the crucified God? Are they really congruous with the beauty of the God who preferred a tent to a temple?

          • Geez – if it came across that my purpose in writing that was to argue we need big expensive massive church buildings or to defend middle age feudal culture then that came out really really wrong. I just think that creativity and beauty is a good thing when it comes to worship, but we shouldn’t expect to see it if it is actually perceived as damaging to communal worship. My most beautiful moments of worship have had nothing to do with music – that’s just a fact for me – so I’m trying to think tangibly outside of the box without getting overly nostalgic about readings and hymns and organ music.

          • Mike H, I don’t mean to sound adversarial. I’m just saying that I believe that some of the nostalgia that many of us feel for the aesthetic depth and grandeur of former Christian eras, such as that expressed in the passage you quoted, is grounded in a kind of perception that comes with chronological distance from the actual circumstances that made it possible. Many (though by no means all) of the great European cathedrals are beautiful and grand; but their beauty and grandeur is partly of the kind to be found in pre- and non-Christian architecture, occluding the ugly human cost that made them possible. When you put this cost into the equation, their beauty is revealed to be partly illusory.

      • I get what you’re saying though Robert. I’m not suggesting that a worship gathering needs to turn into cirque de soleil. It’s just that usually when I see talk about “worship being more than music” it’s really just code for saying “let’s just make sure we qualify that all of the spoken parts of a service are also worship”. I’m just wondering how more genuine creativity might be encouraged, even if that’s outside of what typical falls on a Sunday gathering.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        Why do you hate bagpipes?

  21. I’d love to see cooking as a form of worship – or is that my gluttony speaking? Are church potlucks in this category, but not so discussed and unrealized?

    A nearby church has started an annual “chili cook-off” (as a winter blues remedy and a fundraiser—but it could be dubbed worship too). I have their T-shirt, which has a fire-breathing human as a logo and the words “Congregational Church Chili Cook-off: All of the fire and none of the brimstone”

  22. Hey I get it the sentiment in this section and I wish I had Worship Wars to do again. I wouldn’t try to win. I get it with the goal of a high church culture. Personally that’s not my calling. But there’s so much money to be made by giving people the church experience they want, and look what good can come of that. I know Sunday morning services are the traditional time that Christians gather. This has been true since Apostolic times. There’s nothing wrong with keeping to some of the best traditions, just not for me.

    I’m not alone. By and large 95 percent of people, most of whom consider themselves Christians, don’t see the relevance and don’t show up for church. Now to be fair, a show featuring rock and roll isn’t much more relevant, and it’s not working the way we had hoped. This is the post-evangelical wilderness and these are values from our heyday.

    The problem with this article is that even though it tries, it still thinks of Sunday Morning as a show. Perhaps a show with audience participation, but still planned and structured like a show. Some things are to be taken out of the show and some things added in. Here’s the deal, worship needs to reflect the experience of your faith. Being told God is omnipotent and then being asked to sing Halleluiah to a concept is not working. Worship is only meaningful when like John Newton you sing Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” and you’re referring to something in your life. You think of specifics of how your life has been wonderfully and amazingly transformed.

    I’m told I can do what I want any other time, just not Sunday Morning. Want to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom? Want to proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind? Want to set free all who are oppressed of the enemy? That’s fine, just don’t affect the culture of Sunday Morning, and don’t ask for any help, or any money. Well maybe a bit. What do you need $200/month? Here you go. Go “Out There” and bring back your good stories and we’ll fit it in once in a while (not to long please people are busy and the preacher has lots to say).

    If Evangelicalism has had it’s day then we should try to leave a legacy. I think now we should have kept giving people what they wanted with only the request that they donate generously to new planted churches. Churches that have as their primary focus a proclamation and a demonstration of the Kingdom. Churches that would not be about the gathering of the saved but about being a foretaste of salvation itself. Is Jesus the Word of God? Then we need to give people Jesus. Then we can sing to whatever tune comes along and it just won’t matter. The guitar can be out of tune and it won’t matter (well maybe that would, but you know what I mean). Anyone can can preach to this audience you won’t need to pay them. The funds you have can go to what’s actually hard work to do (administration) and to the proclamation of the Kingdom.