November 30, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: Who Wants All That Music?

openmic1UPDATE: Please post on the question ONLY. Do not use this to complain about styles of music.

Catholics, etc can go have a coffee. This is for evangelicals and others to whom it applies.

Here’s my question:

“Who wants 30-40+ minutes of music in worship? Who? Why? I mean…explain this to me. I seriously do not get it.”


  1. Kenny Johnson commenting above could probably sympathize with the brother I observed at the first Bible Church I attended (in College station, TX, in 1984): held his hymnal upside down and just mouthed along without making a sound 🙂

    At the International Baptist Church of Vienna, Austria, with a congregation made up of about 35% each Philipinos and Africans, with a liberal dose of other non-Westerners and less than 10% Europeans/Americans, we do not do one continuous music set. We usually have a song as a call to worship, Welome by the pastor or a church council member, a set of two or three songs, announcements and pastoral prayer, sometimes a Scripture reading. another set of two or three songs, the collection often with some music or another song, the sermon followed by a song of response, closing words and prayer, and then our “fellowship song” which is just the chorus “Love in any language”. It probably comes to 20-30 minutes all together, but it is broken up, and there is coordination between the preacher (usually the pastor) and the worship team (of which we have three, one mostly African, one European/American, one young people of every color and origin).

    I find it fairly balanced, although it clearly reflects the role that music plays in the cultures our congregation is made up from.

    • Also wanted to add that “song” in my description above could be an old hymn, a contemporary worship song, or simething from the sixties Jesus movement. We rarely repeat anything more than once, i. e. no endless repetition.

  2. Pilgrim Marpeck says

    In order to gain a bit of perspective, in the Amish church the songs are incredibly long; it is not uncommon for a single song to last 15-20 minutes. And they would sing about 3 of these whoppers all before the sermons, and finish up with a few more.
    Now that is a long song service, and yet many find the singing meaningful and worshipful.

    They would find 30 minutes unbearably short; it would hinder their worship.

  3. 30-40+ minutes might be appropriate…perhaps only if the service is over two hours long! And certainly, nobody is insane enough to put all of that in one chunk…right? (cringes)

    I’m 24, and my primary job on my ship is to stand on the bridge and run things without sitting down for 3-5 hours straight daily. The older folks complain all the time about how that’s too long to stand up. I don’t really know the gravity (no pun intended) of how that feels physically, but said complainants are people in their late thirties or early forties still physically fit enough to be in the Navy complaining about it. I can’t imagine being 65 and down with joint problems, for example, and having to stand more than 15 minutes. And at least we get to walk around; people in pews don’t.

    Okay, so stop standing up. Forty minutes is still too long of a set for my taste, but at that point it becomes cultural rather than physical. Still, if that culture, tradition, or individual church says worship = music and no other form, the sets become large.

    Even without standing up for way too long or having an historical liturgy, at what point are we making the church inaccessible for people in an effort to grow the number of members?

  4. I tried to skim all the comments to see if this has been said and could not find this point, but if I am being repetitive I apologize.

    You ask who wants to sing for 30-40 minutes. In a qualified way, I do.

    I want to participate in worship. I want to express myself. Music is not my favorite way to do this. I would rather participate in prayer, and corporate readings, kneeling, etc. However I do love to sing, and more importantly, in the church I attend the only consistent part in which the congregation is able to do anything but sit and listen are during songs, and during communion. So more songs means more participation and fewer songs means less participation so for now I favor more songs and as I am able I will support other types of participation in worship.

    In large part I am convinced that this is the origin of this practice. WE instinctively know that people have gathered to do more than listen. However as our liturgy has evaporated we are left doing more and more of less and less.

    I am sympathetic with the non-standers. I also get tired of standing quickly. However I have cleverly solved this. I just sit whenever I feel like it.

  5. In my opinion, I think the 30-40 minutes is because those providing such music or those who enjoy that length of time are looking for a “workout”. There’s no time to use up all of one’s energy or run through the whole gamut of emotions in just a few minutes. I don’t mean to pick on contemporary worship style here (as per IM), but I think the 30-40 minute segments, by and large, are associated with contemporary “praise and worship” music. And in that context, I’ve observed many who approach such a “worship” time almost as if they’re working out at a gym—-unless it’s a constant, intense, whole body experience that will last 30-40 minutes and literally tire one out physically and emotionally, it’s not a successful time of praise. I couldn’t disagree more with that approach, but my point here is really just to say that I think many people want the “worship” to go on that long for the “workout” that I’ve described.

  6. It must be a “more is better” kind of approach. I can speak for myself as a former worship leader… I think I was looking for the presence of God, a.k.a. just the right feeling. I believe I associated certain feelings of peace or happiness with God’s presence. Music has the ability to conjure up certain feelings and maybe that’s where that crowd is living. Sure, I was misguided, but I think that’s what I was doing. Maybe evangelicals should “worship smarter, not harder.”

  7. Our services run for an hour and a half, with the pastor’s sermon typically 40 minutes. So why not 30 minutes of praise music? Do we have such short attention spans? I mean, if we like to sing, why not? We also have one or two traditional hymns, usually before the sermon and one in closing.

    I will say, however (and I’m not supposed to in this thread) that some of the praise music tries to pack too much “theology” into too little time, causing the melody or the rythm to suffer. Other praise music is just plain drivel: “Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes yes Lord; Yes, Lord, yes, Lord, yes yes Lord; Yes Lord, yes, Lord, yes yes Lord, amen.”

    There. Got that one off my chest.

  8. When the preaching that follows the music is utterly inane, then one way to salvage the situation (sort of) is to extend the music part of the service like an all consuming fire, eating up that “man-talk” nobody can stand.

    Hey, another round of Chris Tomlin is a lot closer to the Book of Common Prayer than listening to brother Billy Bob. Sure, sometimes the music marathon is just some sort of a rock concert with other motivations, but I think sometimes the older folks go along with it because they’re in the evangelical wilderness too and there is a way to see this as actually taking a step back toward liturgical worship, as odd as that sounds! Just an idea.

  9. I hope you don’t mind my commenting even though I’m not an evangelical, but this discussion reminds me of an interesting book I read last year, “Musicophilia.” It was essentially a book-length response by Oliver Sacks to scientists such as Steven Pinker who think that humanity’s love of music serves no practical purpose. “Practical” in that context means serving a Darwinian survival/reproduction purpose, which of course is not the subject here. But after reading Sacks’ description of how deeply music is entwined with all sorts of functions of the human mind — memory, work, emotion, social cohesion, etc. — it seemed entirely appropriate that old churches like the Orthodox sing their way through the entire service. You might as well ask, why stop the music halfway through?

    The book does point out, though, that in the modern communications era we’re so inundated with music all the time that even people who love it can get sick of it. The way music has been taken over by the recording industry has encouraged the formation of musical niches, so it’s probably harder than ever to find church music that everyone likes. And it also means people aren’t used to making their own music anymore, so, as another commenter said, singing together in church seems “odd.” Me, I haven’t been to church in eight months, and one thing I really miss is the singing. I confess that sometimes I listen to the local CCM station, despite its many irritations, just because it reminds me of it.

  10. L. Winthrop says

    An analogy just occurred to me. Right now, Western Buddhists are probably having the same discussion about seated meditation. How long “should” one meditate for? Some of them aim for about the same length, 30 or 40 minutes, and that is similar to what happens in group meditation sessions that are open to the public. Wouldn’t you rather listen to music? 🙂

  11. 30 minutes of music and I am so exhausted emotionally and physically that nothing else in the service is going to matter much.

    I love the attention span guy. Why do I know you aren’t 50? 🙂

    Music is intense. Singing is all out labor. I don’t want to have to bring a water bottle and a towel.

    Plus, I am absolutely convinced- and this discussion underlines it- that we have thousands and thousands of people who consider music a sacrament and preaching a boring bother.

    • 53. And I have a high tolerance for anything but rap.

    • Music is a sacrament. Not at the expense of any other sacrament, but it is in our bodies, in our brains, and ought to be in our church.

      It doesn’t have to be exhausting. Singing “all out” is not necessary all of the time. But to decide that you don’t like singing all-out, therefore we should sing for 5 min at the beginning and the end, ignoring the inborn, hard-wired impact of music on our physical and spiritual bodies, is foolish.

      People who have had strokes and can’t talk can often still communicate through singing. Music is the second strongest memory aid (scent is the first). It is hard-wired into our brains, and brings our past into our present. It turns passive church-sitters into participants in the service. Church is not a product for us to consume, it is a process in which we are participants. Communal music is one of the ways this happens.

      Preaching is good too, of course. I go to a church where we sing for half an hour, and have hour-long sermons as well. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other. There is no need for it to overwhelm the service. If it is done well, there is no reason not to have 30-40 minutes of music.

      • Music is not a sacrament. Music is a tool OF worship. It isn’t the ONLY tool of worship. 2 (or 7, Catholics!) sacraments. If music were a sacrament, there would have been reference to Jesus (our ultimate example) playing or singing it. There just isn’t.

        My family house-churches. We always do a lesson and prayer. Not always music.

        • Derek:

          FWIW, sacramentum is the Latin translation of the Greek mysterion. Neither the Lord’s Table/communion nor baptism (which is what I assume your “2…sacraments” refers to) are explicitly called a mysterion in the NT. So on what basis do you argue that music is not a sacrament, but the ones you refer to as sacraments are?

  12. During those long musical worship sets I like to sit down and just focus on God and what’s currently going down between me and Him.

    Other times, I get really bored and nearly fall asleep to the acoustic guitar that has been plucking along for the last 20 minutes.

  13. I don’ t see why people would be upset with a 30-40 minute worship/singing service. God inhabits the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3 What about Zephania 3:17 that says that God rejoices over us with singing. What about the fact that the Levites were commissioned to praise God on musical instruments…Do you think they did this for 5 minutes and then gave up? Do you think that the worship in the temple lasted only 1 hour so that people could get home to make their roasts for Sunday dinner? God says to keep the Sabbath and that it is Holy unto Him…We work for 8 hours every day, do we complain about spending time in God’s presence for 30-40 minutes? I really don’t understand how people are complaining about praising God. Maybe I’m missing something here but I think we need more people like David who wished he could spend more and more time in God’s presence. Read Psalm 84.

    My 2 cents
    Sharron from Christian Praise Blog

    • I think it’s not so much that people are upset about worshipping God for 30-40 minutes, it’s the manner of the worship. There are other ways of praising God and spending time in his presense than just singing/listening to music. And I don’t mean to sound critical of anyone who wants to worship God with music for 40 minutes. If that’s the way you get closer to God then more power to you! However I also don’t think anyone should be criticized just because they don’t care for lengthy musical selections and made to feel as if they are being a lazy worshipper. One reason why I started attending a liturgical church was because there is such a wide variety of ways to worship God during liturgical church services: quiet contemplation, prayers, the eucharist, music and singing, public reading and contemplation of Holy Scripture, etc. There are so many ways to worship and praise our Lord, and music is only one of these ways.

  14. I personally have come to resent it. In a season of longing for more reverence, symbol, and quiet presence. I believe the “average” evangelical church believes that in order to experience the presence of God we must achieve a state of high emotion, usually generated by singing longer, louder, and with greater and greater enthusiasm. I can experience that at any secular Rock & Roll concert. But to be present to him in stillness, quiet, passing the plate, hearing announcements, and hopefully during the sermon/homily, is what fuels me now.

    • Todd Erickson says

      What he said.

      So many of these worship bands we get are really intensively musical people, and they get their expression with God through the worship service.

      So some portion of the time, they’re on a musical high, and they expect that the audience is going to come with them. And then they get angry when the audience doesn’t, and blame them for being rebellious or against the spirit of God.

      But you can’t follow a rock band that is making up their own musical rules into worship. They’ve just blazed their own path.

      I tend to pray a lot during worship services, unless I’m emotionally in the right place to connect with the songs, and even then, when they start to repeat things, I’m done. “If we change keys enough, and put enough emotional intensity behind it, maybe God will show up and do something incredible!”

      Bushwah. God’s already there, waiting for us to show up in reverence and accept His Love.

  15. I think I’m glad our church holds it to 20+ minutes. The first song is a warm-up to get everyone woke up and involved. Another to actually praise him. Then any “normal” person has to slow down. A time of worship songs to really worship, naturally flowing into a time of prayer. The music is always a blend of contemporary and not so contemporary. (There’s a lot of good hymns that will never go out of style). This may be an “old-fashioned” format, but it works. We all sing LOUD and worship LOUD at our church. After 20 minutes, we’re ready to sit down and pray. And by the way, After reading the above comments, I sense there are a lot of worship leaders out there who couldn’t care less about a large chunk on the congregation. What’s that all about????

  16. I regularly show up 20 minutes late to church just to miss most of the music.

    • I think this is pretty common. The 30 minutes of music is the opening act to the service. Comparing the traditional and contemporary services at my church, I see very distinct differences in how many people are late.

      I’d like to try a service with 30 minutes of silence. What a great deal of discipline it would involve!!

      • Todd Erickson says

        We did that once. It got a lot of complaints, and our attendance dropped for a while afterward. Even the worship leader got really uncomfortable.

        I thought it was pretty cool though.

        We don’t all worship the same way. Communal Worship may be culturally inaccurate at this point, unless we’re willing to work at creating our own culture.

    • I tried turning up 25 minutes late to a service, but they hadn’t even started by the time I’d got there!

    • I’ll cop to sneaking out right after the sermon because our church allows question & answer time after the sermon. It is excrutiating. People will ask questions about things that were clearly addressed in the teaching, like the annoying kid in class who raises his hand to have the teacher repeat the same thing that he/she just said.

      I understand the criticisms about short attention spans, and I might even deserve that criticism. But there are just certain things I find disrespectful, such as worship leaders who don’t know when to call it quits (our church does a pretty good job of limiting this time to two songs), pastors who drone on and on with no care for the nursery or the children’s program workers, and people who can’t be bothered to listen to begin with.

  17. Music is not worship. Calling music “worship” is a church tradition not supported by biblical theology.

    That said, I do NOT want 30-40 minutes of music in a service. I believe those who want 30-40 minutes of music likely cannot tolerate – for a variety of resons – a lengthy sermon.

    In my experience – not a scientific poll, just an observation – when the percentage of music raises in proportion to the length of a biblical sermon (i.e., when a tradeoff is made) the congregation becomes increasingly shallow. But then, maybe that’s exactly what people are looking for.

    • Todd Erickson says

      Most people, unless they take notes, are not going to remember what was said in any sermon that’s over 12 minutes long. Scientific fact. If the pastor says something really amusing or offensive, they’ll remember that, but anything else is mostly gone by the next week.

      It’s unclear what long sermons hope to accomplish. They fail to educate in precisely the same way that the lecture does in the school system.

      • This is an interesting (and true, in my own anecdotal experience) point. Where I have trouble remembering last week’s sermon text, I can remember all sorts of biblical texts when set to music. So I guess music: +1.

  18. Hi Spike

    What do you mean by “I sense there are a lot of worship leaders out there who couldn’t care less about a large chunk on the congregation. What’s that all about????” What do you mean by that?

    Also, I would like to add to what I said before. I realize that many people find that 30-40 minutes is too long. I would like to see a Christian Praise and Worship Night added to Church services so that those who love to spend time in God’s presence praising and worshipping can have this time set aside to do that without feeling that they are burdening the other church goers. If this could be arranged say, once a month I think that would be great. There are some wonderful things that can happen during a special time of praise and worship there people can feel free to spend time in God’s presence either, singing or up at the altar etc.

    As far as people wanting to be in the worship team so that they can be superstars (this was mentioned in someone else’s comment) The way around that is to be sure that those who are on the worship team are pillars of the church. They should be known for their prayer life and grounded in the word. How can someone lead a song service if they don’t know their doctrine? Some of the contemporary songs just don’t make it doctrinally wise, which is why a lot of people prefer hymns, but there are many good Christian Praise songs which are sound in doctrine and the worship leaders should be well enough read in their Bibles to know the difference.

    Sharron from Christian Praise Blog

    • I agree with the concept of having a separate “praise & worship” time for those who want to participate. I realize this is very meaningful to *some* people. Just don’t force everybody into it.

    • What’s that about?

      It seems that lots of people are complaining about the length of
      their services. As a worship leader my job is to be a “go-between”
      god and his people. We probably please 95% of our worshipers and
      god, too. Doesn’t sound like that’s happening in
      some of these long services.

  19. My wife and I love worship. If it really is worship, then we simply can’t get enough of it. On the other hand, many churches just have music, and I tire of that after about 15 minutes. The difference is whether the focus is on God or the singing, and whether the worship leader is listening to the Holy Spirit or watching his set list or the clock. Does he want to sound good or bring people into God’s presence?

    I used to be in a worship band with a guy who worshipped like none other. We didn’t spend a lot of time practicing, because during our worship we would simply go with what the Holy Spirit wanted us to do. Sometimes that didn’t even involve us.

    But when I am am truly worshipping…I never want to stop.

    • Does he want to sound good or bring people into God’s presence?

      After being in Evangelical churches for 20 years now(I’m 42), I still have no idea what that means. Bringing people into God’s presence? Isn’t God already there? Are we just talking about getting people to feel a certain way or what?

      • Of course God is already there. He is always there. I dislike the phrase “bringing people into God’s presence” because it is misleading. The goal is not to bring people anywhere, but help them see and feel that God is already there. Singing is *one* way to do this, when it is done well.

        @Jonathan: I’m going to have to disagree with your assessment here. Although it is possible, it is not ideal to differentiate, and even less ideal to chose “bringing people into the presence of God” over being a good musician. To paraphrase CS Lewis, we don’t need more christian artists. We need more artists (and musicians) who are christian. I do not believe that mediocrity is pleasing to God. We are to strive to “do all things as unto the Lord.” The choice between God and art is a false choice. God is glorified by beauty and art and musicianship, even though we all know he is entirely able to use us even when we are not beautiful.

  20. I’m so glad to see this brought up. I have to say, I was recently at a local congregation (looking for a new church home – I’m new to the area) and without naming names, I thought I was caught up in a bad musical. I’m now convinced that Satan owns an organ, and has been lending it out to that church!

    Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like music. I actually enjoy almost any kind of music, at least to an extent, but this went way beyond my threshold. I kid you not, I found myself wishing, hoping, longing that the sermon would go forever, just so I didn’t have to hear that infernal organ pounding away in my ears. The kicker is, it was really being played quite well, I don’t think they missed a note, but it didn’t matter. It was that same, same, same, sound over and over again that began to drive me insane. It was just way too much of a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

    The sad part about this is I wonder how many people would really enjoy the gospel-centered preaching of this congregation, but just would not be able to submit themselves to organ-torture (meant both ways) and would end up finding another place of worship (maybe where the gospel was not as clearly proclaimed). It made me wonder what other types of things we’ve added to the gospel, without even realizing it.

    “And they sang a hymn” seems like a far cry from where most of our churches are at these days.

    • I’m now convinced that Satan owns an organ, and has been lending it out to that church!

      Well it can always get worse……could have been a tambourine, snare drum, or tin whistle;

      And touche about our addng to the gaospel, and being the last to know about it. Maybe we assume that if we’re out of God’s will, HE will prevent us from being dim and clueless.

  21. Forty minutes of music prepares the congregation for the two hour long sermon. 😉

    • Don’t you know that one’s tolerance for tedium is a measure of one’s dedication to Christ :).

  22. Jonathan Hunnicutt says

    I know I’m going to be the voice crying in the wilderness about this again, since white evangelicalism refuses to see how white it is…

    But that’s a pretty white question.

    Let’s face it folks, most white churches have less than 20 minutes of music, and to a lot of white folks that’s what feels right, without realizing that what’s ‘right’ is simply what’s white. [There was a good post on Out of Ur about small groups being a white thing…]

    Once my black pastor and I were talking about this, and he said that we worship so long because that’s how long it takes to remind the people that God loves them, and to unlearn all the nonsense they’ve heard during the week about them being worthless and unimportant.

    • So if I were African-American and I were asking “Why do some people only have 20 minutes of music?” you’d say that’s a pretty “Black” question and it wouldn’t be a problem? 🙂

      If we went to Africa, they would have “drumming and singing” for 2, 3 and 4 hours. Is that right because it’s a manifestation of culture?

      If every question I ask about evangelicalism is “white,” then the answer to all these questions is to imitate other cultures?

      I appreciate your point, Jonathan, but I never get this observation. Cultural relativity is a universal solvent.



    • I think it is an excellent point. Is there a “right way” to worship? I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and they each have a unique approch to worship music. The thing is the way we do it doesn’t matter in the least. The question is “are we truly worshipping and revering God?” Different people are going to do that different ways, and we can learn a lot from other cultures about what the core essence of worship is.
      In a way, it’s sad that the standard formula of “20 min worship, 10 min announcements, 30 min sermon” is spreading so far. I’ve just moved to Africa, and that’s pretty much what it’s like here now. (although often a bit longer).
      “is 30 min too long” is a white question, because largely, it’s only the predominantly white churches who have less than that. The equivalent “black question” would be “is 2 hours of worship too long?” I think it puts it into perspective. 30 mins isn’t all that long to devote to one task. THat’s a television sitcom. We find 30 mins long, because we’re not used to it, not because there’s something inherently wrong with singing for that long.

  23. aaron arledge says

    There was some list of mistakes churches make and such and the point i was baffled by was that a church should hire a music minister before a youth minister because our culture loves music and the medium to deliver was rock and roll. as pooh would say, oh bother.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Now take off your socks and Spin them Round Round Spin Me Round Round Jesus Round Round…

      • HUG… are KILLING me.

        Greg R (my face hurts)…

      • Dorian Anthony says

        People come on an join in start a love train,,,, a love train… raise you hands in the a-i-r
        swing ’em like ya just don’t ca-re ! heh heh….}}}}}Shudder{{{{

  24. Since many studies have shown the average adult attention span to be about 15-20 minutes, why 30-40 minutes of music OR a 40-60 minute sermon?

    It would seem that the ancient liturgies, which are divided into numerous different participatory elements–prayers, creeds, singing, scripture, kneeling, standing, visual symbolism, a nice brief homily, etc. actually fit better what modern science now knows about both attention span and multiple learning styles. I don’t find this too shocking, as the liturgy is based upon the “Old Testament” worship instituted by God himself. Who would understand human psychology better than the creator 🙂 ?

  25. Music is part of worship. I also find the music does help me set my mind, heart and even body in a right place to receive the word and sacrament.

    However, the music can go on a bit long (40 mins is too long) but so can most sermons. I like the 20 minute sermons. Trouble is some music leaders like hearing themselves sing, some pastors like hearing themselves talk. Long-windedness in either case is just plain rude and impolite.

    But if push came to shove, I’ll take longer music. Listening to some hot-shot drone on for 45 minutes and tell me how the Greek and Hebrew is parsed so s/he can wow me with their seminary prowess is just plain boring, and in large part irrelevant and often time just self-stimulating behavior. Yep…that’s what I said.

    • Matt Stokes says

      And music isn’t self-stimulating? Please. I’ve seen men and women nearly orgasmic in a “worship” service.

      • Hmmmmm….tomatoh….tomahto….but I’ll go with Bill on this, tho it depends a little on which praise and worship song is being repeatedly offered up. In my neighborhood , the preaching is pretty good, but what should be ONE twenty minute sermon becomes THREE or more sermons , total time about an hour. This is too much, but I think the elder board and most of the congregation is cool with it……so looks like Greg R will NOT be getting his pony any day soon.

        I think a major problem is that some pastors see preaching at this length as their duty, as fulfilling their responsibility. We are miles away from teaching others to feed themselves as the major priority….better to have mama bird chew up the food, etc…..

        a little snarky, sorry folks
        Greg R

  26. It is quite telling that many churches’ “sanctuaries” are built like auditoriums or college lecture halls, with a stage up front and with the people in aisles of chairs or seats, and that many such churches’ “services” consist of a musical “performance” (aka “worship”) followed by a monologue or one-man dramatic presentation (aka “the sermon”), or a college-type lecture.

    One can replicate most of this by staying at home and putting on a worship CD and then listening to an audio or video of a sermon.

  27. This entire conversation has me feeling pretty depressed. So few of the comments reflect any understanding of the historic tradition of liturgy. It’s all about my preferences and what pulls my chain. No sense of living within an objective tradition of worship, just how I can best express my subjective feelings at any given moment. No sense of living within a family that has been worshiping for 2000 years and, for most of those years, did so in an entirely different fashion than evangelicals do in their relatively recent pietistic, revivalist way. No sense of Biblical understanding of the liturgical forms evident all throughout Scripture that call us away from ourselves and our own subjectivism into conformity with God’s story.

    Of course emotions are an important part of our response to God. Of course music is a significant part of worship–I might be tempted even to call it a means of grace. And if one reads Eph 5 in a certain way, it indicates that worshiping together through “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” is one way we experience the fullness of the Spirit in our congregations. And, yes, the answer to this question will vary somewhat from culture to culture.

    Nonetheless, iMonk, your question has certainly uncovered the sorry state of evangelical understanding with regard to worship. The over-emphasis on music today shows me that we are bound more to our culture than to Christ.

    • A question:

      Did Jesus intend for the celebratory and rededicatory New Covenant meal and charismatic/pneumatic/prophetic gathering by His followers to become a retread or reinstitution of Old Covenant worship, complete with “set apart” clergy and fixed or set liturgical chanting or recitation of hymns and culminating in a rite in which His sacrificial death is re-offered or re-presented by a priest (or person who acts as a priest in all but name only) with the tribal koinônia/fellowship/covenant meal reduced to a sip from a silver or gold chalice and a bite of consecrated wafer presented by men in fancy robes acting alter Christus or something close to it?

      • Excellent point. The Tradition is an excellent tool to connect with God, and with the Church through the ages, but it’s not the point, it’s the means. God cares what we do, not how we do it. If we’re using a church service to connect to and revere God, to fellowship with other beleivers, and to love our neighbor, then it’s all for the good.
        If we’re more focused on the form of the service, than the content, then we’re doing it wrong, regardless of if it’s a traditional liturgy, the evangelical standard, or a completely unstructured gathering.

        • sigh…

          • Chaplain Mike says:
            November 9, 2009 at 4:37 pm

            Chaplain Mike:

            FWIW, I wrote/write as one who is not totally ignorant of the history of the liturgy or of the liturgical forms in Scripture (as you rightfully note many Evangelical Protestants to be).

            I’ve read the Apostolic Fathers and Justin Martyr, The Apostolic Constitutions, the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, as well as Dix, Bradshaw, Bouyer, many of the ancient liturgies (Addai and Mari, etc.), Schmemann, Romanides, Pelikan, Ferguson, etc.

            I was raised Jewish, so I know synagogue worship. I was Eastern Orthodox for 3 years, so I know how the church adopted and adapted and Christianized the Temple worship. In fact, I read and recited and prayed the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, as well as those of St. Basil and St. Mark and St. James, in the Greek originals.

      • Eric,

        I read something totally different in Chaplain Mike’s comment: that his concern was that we put more emphasis on personal preference than we have any right to. I think it was pretty clear that he wasn’t saying a more traditional liturgical style was better than another worship style, only that worship is …(gosh I can’ think of the right adjective) well, it connotes more than this conversation is addressing. It includes a history (not necessarily of style, but of substance) that seems to be disregarded in this conversation.

        • Debbie:

          I agree. One thing we’ll always remember from our liturgical period is that the prayers and hymns and songs/chants were always in praise of God or of His work in the lives of the saints. There was nothing “me-centered” about it. That, plus the fact that one didn’t bring one’s preferences to the service, but took on the church’s tradition and conformed to that.

          One’s worship should be other-focused – either on God or on the needs of the other members of the body. All should be done for the building up of the body in love, as each member provides and contributes what Christ gives it so that each and all may attain to the maturity of Christ and the full knowledge of Him.

  28. I remember when I was in college, I naively suggested in an organizational meeting of our campus ministry that we cut down the amount of time we do praise and worship. You could have heard a pin drop, then some nervous laughter and “Okay, moving on…”.

    We have finally decided to shed our megachurch and are currently visiting churches in our area. We have yet to find one that doesn’t feel it necessary to spend at least 30 minutes singing. Surveying the faces and the participation level in each of the church I venture that about 75 percent of each church’s population would be more than happy to cut that number down tremendously. But I think anyone who has ever voiced that opinion has been summarily shot down by the vocal minority and has elected not to broach the subject again for fear of ridicule.

  29. The only reason that I like the 30+ minutes of singing at the start of the service is because I am not a morning person. If I am running late I know that I haven’t missed anything:)

    • You stole my thunder — we have 30 minutes of the worship band playing so that I only have to be in church from 10 to 10:45 — if I actually get to church on time at 930, I spend the whole music time just wishing for it to be over.

      On a slightly more serious note, at my last church I was on the board and I made the mistake of saying “You know, we are paying 4 band members $50 each every sunday and we are in debt. Why don’t we instead just sing hymns and save $1000 a month — wouldn’t be nice to make payroll for the staff on time?” The response: “We can’t get rid of worship!” Since when is singing Jesus is my boyfriend over and over again the ONLY way we worship God. So glad I am not there anymore…

      • I think the real question is whether what you described that is referred to as “worship” (or sometimes “praise and worship”) is really that at all. But I think IM wanted to avoid going too far down that road and just talk about the time aspect—-although in truth, I think that what this “worship” is is directly connected with why it’s so long. Sorry if off topic.

  30. *raises hand*
    I do! Perhaps, though, I am in the minority. From the comments it seems that way. I am also very tactile and touch everything I see, including most strangers! Which also makes me odd. It’s how I interact with the Creator (singing, moving, touching things).

    • I would seem to me that given your natural bent toward being more engaged in worship that a liturgical type of service would be perfect for you. It engages most if not all of the five senses and it does so at various times throughout the service, not just crammed in at the front. There are times to sing out and times to quietly reflect, times to stand out of respect for the Word and times to kneel in prayer or repentance. We pray together and quietly and it culminates in receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

      It’s one of the things I love most about that particular manner of worship…I’m actively involved throughout the service, not just for 20-40 minutes at the start and then I more or less sit down and watch/listen to other people.

  31. You know, I’m kind of depressed reading all this. It seems assumed by most that any church with a worship set 20 minutes long is singing shallow Jesus-is-my-boyfriend-songs in order to fit in with culture and that those people must have no love for theology, good preaching, or good music.

    I am one of those who love to worship for a longer period – but I also devour books on theology and go looking for extra sermons to listen to during the week. I’m not anti-sermon or anti-intellectual, I just LOVE worshiping God through song.

    And for all of you who are skipping the music altogether – 107 verses, doing a quick biblegateway search, tell us to sing to God or each other.

    Sometimes being part of community means knowing not everything in the service will be perfect for me – but maybe it’s ministering to someone else’s heart. Maybe singing doesn’t do alot for you. But it might for someone else.

    Blessings to you all. Peace out.

    • Amen!

    • and Amen again!

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Being a church musician (organist) I find that the issue, at least with me and a few others, is that spending an inordinate amount of time on the music part of worship can lead to folks preferring that over the over other aspects of the worship service and it also tends to contribute to the “I want to be entertained” mentality that seems so fixed in churches that have more contemporary worship. There’s also an emotional attachment to it because of the power to move (control?) people that can’t be matched, generally speaking, by the sermon or other parts of the worship service.

      Key here is having a good balance of music, sermon, communion etc through-out the service time. Music balance during that time in the service is good as well with a good selection of hymns and contomporary music.

      • ^^^What he said.^^^

        It’s not that I don’t like music or that I don’t like some modern worship music. But it seems like it’s out of balance now. Plus, there is more to worship than just singing and a sermon. So many contemporary style services give short shrift to other aspects of worship…the public reading of Scripture (other than the verse references in the sermon), common prayer, responsive readings from the Psalms, corporate and personal confession, reaffirming what we believe through the Creeds, Holy Communion (relegated to monthly or quarterly) and so on.

        It’s gotten to the point where “worship” for many people doesn’t just include music, it has become a synonym for music. And that’s just not so.

  32. EricW…thanks for the background. I’m sure you have a greater understanding of where I’m coming from than many of the others who have commented.

    You write, “Did Jesus intend for the celebratory and rededicatory New Covenant meal and charismatic/pneumatic/prophetic gathering by His followers to become a retread or reinstitution of Old Covenant worship…?” No, obviously not. (And your caricature of liturgical worship may describe its abuses well, but not its true intent and spirit.)

    But who says the 40-minute song set, etc., is any truer to the “charismatic/pneumatic/prophetic” gathering, if that is indeed what Jesus intended? It often seems more like the pursuit of a sort of gnostic ecstasy to me.

    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching (Jesus and kingdom-focused instruction from authorized leaders) and the common life (koinonia, tangible acts of love toward one another including offerings), to the breaking of bread (communion), and to the (liturgical) prayers” (Acts 2:42). I believe that we should strive to participate in worship that represents the simplicity, humility, and gladness described here.

    • To clarify: I’m not contrasting a liturgical service with the 40-minute song, etc., worship + sermon service to argue that one is better or worse than the other, but would contrast them both with the same passages in Acts you note and with what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 11-14.

      • I thought maybe you had Corinthians in mind when you wrote of “charismatic/pneumatic/prophetic gathering[s].” And I guess what I would say to that is, Paul wrote the Corinthians to reign them in with regard to worship. To do so, he attempted to provide some order to the “charismatic/pneumatic/prophetic” chaos they were promulgating. He did not throw out all the elements of their worship, but sought to see that they gathered with decency, order, and love.

        To me, that is exactly what iMonk is attempting to do in his posts on worship, and what so many of the best teachers on worship (e.g. Robert Webber) have sought to do as well.

        “Corinthian worship,” IMHO, is one of the best phrases to describe what is going on in evangelicalism today—emphasis on spectacle, feelings, and the pursuit of a gnostic-kind of ecstasy, devoted attachment to celebrity “leaders,” ignorance of the moral dimensions of the faith in personal relationships, on the other hand a false kind of separation from real life into a cultish clique that is of the world but not in it, in short, a sell-out to culture rather than Christ.

        If anyone wants to imitate Corinthian worship, I’d recommend thinking twice about that.

        • The Corinthians, IMO, had no understanding of the body and how it was to function. It was each person for himself.

          With our societal and family structure and non-acquaintance with Middle-Eastern hospitality customs, I think we have even less understanding than they do.

          In Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, Paul is trying to make them see that they each need each other and each need to respect and love and serve each other, and that to disrespect one’s fellow Christian was to sin against Christ Himself, because they were all members of His body and members one of another.

          I don’t think he was much more successful than we are.

          Liturgical worship can create decency and order in worship. But it can also prevent the full and free operation of the Spirit among its members and stifle the functioning of the body when its members come together in/as church. I’ve seen and experienced the best and the worst of both.

  33. Sorry that this kind of jumps around. I’ve revisited this comment a few times as I can grab the moments. Hopefully you can follow my train of thought. Also, I have only read half the comments, so pls. forgive if this is repetitive.

    Personally, I would like a long song service (I consider 30-40 minutes long). Why? I sing all day long. I love to sing. However, if I thought a long(er) song service was a problem or a distraction to others with whom I was worshiping, I’d have difficulty maintaining a worshipful attitude. In that case, I’d want a shorter song service and I would seek a solo worship time if I felt short-changed somehow, but more often than not, if my motivation is right a shorter time in singing to God is perfectly acceptable.

    Yes, I want it, but I think my personal wishes and preferences are irrelevant in this context. I think the personality of the body involved should determine the length of the song service w/in reason. When I choose a church, I’m choosing based on many factors. One significant factor is the worship service, and how “well” it’s done based on my personal preferences. Once I choose a body w/ which to worship, my own personal preferences kind of go to the bottom of the list of priorities in worship.

    Regarding the sub-discussion of emotional manipulation…

    What is the purpose of the song service? I think we all agree that whether the motivations of the service planner was manipulative or not, the purpose is to set the tone for the entire service, and most agree it should be balanced w/ the Word and Sacraments.

    Their (service planner/worship leader) motivations, though relevant for this particular discussion and something for which they should be held accountable by the overseers, shouldn’t be relevant to me as a worshiper. My motivation is to seek His presence in the place of worship and offer my adoration and devotion to Him through each portion of the service.

    Emotion should not be the primary indicator of proper worship. As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful in all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” I believe that emotion balanced with intellect is what we should strive for in our worship, just as in everything else.

    On the flip-side, those who plan our services do have to attend to nitty-gritty details in order that the worship service as a whole leads people to the throne. They do have to weigh the affectation of the songs they choose and I do believe they should prayerfully and deliberately choose the music. It makes perfect sense to me that they would choose songs that might be “leading.” I want them to do that. There isn’t much that is more distracting to me during a worship service than a hodge-podge of music, chosen w/ little-to-no thought about the intent or direction of the service.

    Thanks for posting this, i-Monk.

  34. Writing from an Anglican POV, we typically don’t have 30 + minutes of “worship sets” in our worship. However, music is an important element of our worship (not the only component of worship). We typically have four songs at our parish, one or two and the opening acclamation, another, and then one more for the recessional. We also have the service music such as the Alleluia, offertory song, and the Sanctus. I think that the duration of the musical component of worship is not as important as the content of the songs. The songs should point to God and not to the experience of the worshipper. But I do think that a too many songs can be distracting especially if your church follows the liturgy.

  35. As a former charismatic church worship leader I must confess… I suspect a lot of what I was doing for decades was hyping up a group of people with the known effects of music in order to generate an ephemeral, mass emotional sense of “the presence and anointing of God” in a soulish sense, for the benefit of a church meeting. I think the preacher knew this lengthy state of repetitive emotional and physical musical effort would put people in “the right spirit to receive The Word”. Hmmmm…

    Corporate worship [and preaching and sermonizing] has a long and varied history throughout the different expressions of christianity. A hearty and commendable pursuit, I’m sure. But I still sense that the presence of the Spirit of God and wholehearted worship is more likely to be found outside of the walls of a church. If you want a Holy Spirit rush, serve some food to starving and poor people. If you want to really lift your hands and just worship Jesus, help build a house for the destitute. You’ll experience a real worship service if you work with lepers in Calcutta, or sing your songs in the cancer ward of your local children’s hospital. Visit those lonely people dying of AIDS. Dig a fresh water well in Africa and save some lives. One of my favorite worship tunes is to sit with the cranky, unlovable widow across the street and let her talk non-stop for hours about the most irritating subjects. I really sense the presence of angels all around me while she pours out her bitter disappointments with how life has treated her. No one else wants to listen to her. It’s not an emotional high for me… but it is worship. We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works.

    from Amos 5:

    Don’t you realize the Lord’s day of judgment will bring darkness, not light –
    gloomy blackness, not bright light?

    “I absolutely despise your festivals!
    I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies!

    Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied;
    I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves.

    Take away from me your noisy songs;
    I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments.

    Justice must flow like torrents of water,
    righteous actions like a stream that never dries up.

  36. Too much music?…I believe Bach heard that complaint quite a bit. Thankfully he ignored it.

    And 30-40 minutes is too much? Just what do they think they’re going to do in heaven?

  37. Sam Steinmann says


    It’s what I grew up with. Conservative Amish/Mennonite services generally open with 15-20 minutes of singing, and have one song (5 minutes) between the first and the second message, and another one or two at the end.

    But it’s a 3-hour service.

    And then once a month we had singing service–45 minutes of singing, 15 minute devotions, another 45 minutes of singing. I think that was the most looked-forward-to service of the month.

    But all this was congregational singing of hymns, with no accompaniment.

  38. I’m one that is happy to have a largish portion of music in the worship service. Like at least one of the other comments expresses, I listen to music *all day*, every day — music is an integral part of my life, and I find it indispensable in my worship experience. Whether that’s 40 minutes straight or 40 minutes divided before and after the sermon (as we do it) is immaterial to me; the “attention span” argument against 40 minutes straight of music doesn’t hold water, IMO. (If you have 40 minutes straight of music and are left thinking it’s all sounding the same [and your attention wandering], you [or your worship band/team/leader] might be doing something wrong.) Whether you want to stand or sit is also immaterial, just like the style of the music is immaterial. Can’t stand? Sit down. Or try kneeling — it’s not just for the Catholics…

    I’m also discouraged that so many people are equating a long musical set with “Jesus-is-my-friend” style music. While that might be a problem in the evangelical church, that’s NOT what iM asked. He asked for a justification for long music sets, not whether or not “Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord” is worship-y enough. Let me be clear:

    A long music set does not *require* that the music be vapid or lacking spiritually. To suggest that is ignorant at best, and proud and divisive at worst.

    I like the way EricW said it: “Liturgical worship can create decency and order in worship. But it can also prevent the full and free operation of the Spirit among its members and stifle the functioning of the body when its members come together in/as church. I’ve seen and experienced the best and the worst of both.” The fact is that long worship music sets can be good or bad, just as short ones can be, just as traditional ones can be, just as contemporary ones can be. This is, IMO, the reason the Bible contains so few rules on how exactly to worship, other than “in spirit and truth”. From that I see much, much freedom, including the long worship music sets I personally love.

  39. I haven’t read all the entries, but I think we need lots of music to clear our minds of the world, then focus them to worship & then to actually worship! Sometimes it takes 40 minutes to accomplish that!
    My church has great music & often I wish there were more!!

    Sometimes my attention wanes, but it comes back. I love church & it’s about the only time all week, I rarely want to know what time it is. The rest of the week, I want to know the time periodically.