Your Excellent Worship Isn’t

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“Come! Let us worship the Lord together!”
And the band launches into a lively riff.
The song leader steps up to the microphone.
His voice rings out.
It’s amazing!
As the music swells, I’m overwhelmed by one thought:
…”This band ought to produce a CD!”
…Luckily, they’re on iTunes.
I can’t make out the words to this song.
Fortunately, the lyrics are flashing on a screen above the stage.
“Lift your voice to God,” the song leader encourages.
…He’s kidding.
The band spent hours practicing this music.
Raising my voice would mess up the blend.
Besides…
…I haven’t been able to hit those notes since puberty.
So I’ll just listen.
Let the professionals handle worship.
… I’ll praise by proxy.
Wait for a part of the service where I can participate.
You know, the part that isn’t focused on music.
Ha Ha!
I know. I know.
There is no part like that!
Music = Worship
Am I wrong?
Do you know any ‘Worship Leaders’ who don’t sing or play an instrument?
I don’t.
I’ve been in a lot of different churches.
Lost count of how many times I’ve been told,
“We’ve got a great worship band!”
Reminds me of a Boston tune.  Hum along with me:
Playin’ for a week in Rhode Island
A man came to the stage one night
He smoked a big cigar
Drove a Cadillac car
And said, “Boys, I think this bands outta-sight
Sign a record company contract
You know I’ve got great expectations
When I hear you on the car radio
You’re goin’ to be a sensation!”
I’ve had conversations with folks who left our church for one with ‘better music’.
I’ve heard this concern raised in Elder’s meetings:
“If we don’t upgrade our music, visitor’s won’t come back!”
Let that sink in.
…Abject fear of rejection for our music
Now consider this…
…if visitors won’t tolerate music they find unsatisfactory,
…what will happen when they hear the cost of following Christ?
Admittedly, many churches do have a great worship band.
So what?
Boston was a great band too.
Neither group invited me to perform with them.
Though I’m welcome to sing along from the crowd.
THAT is contemporary worship.
Basking in a melodious wave of banal choruses.
Chided by a teenage worship leader for my waning enthusiasm.
“What’s the matter?  Are you ashamed of Jesus?”
Nope.
To be clear…
Jesus,
not you,
is the reason I’m here on Sunday morning.
Jesus said,
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The painful reality, Mr. Worship Leader, is this:
I don’t need you in order to worship.
…and you’re distracting me.
“Stand up!”
“Raise your hands!”
“Bow your head!”
“Sing louder!”
All that’s missing is a whip cracking over my head.
Your obsession with ‘excellence’ assigns me the role of spectator.
…Until I’m ordered to perform some worshipful gesture.
Sunday morning isn’t a gathering of believers for the edification of Christ.
It’s a complex production with split-second cues requiring a team of specialists.
Like a kid going to the museum.
I’m encouraged to attend…
…as long as I don’t touch anything.
(…I was literally told not to touch anything recently…)
I’m just supposed to follow the leader.
…But you’re not really leading…
You’re too talented a musician.
I can’t keep up.
You’re an Olympic gymnast leading calisthenics at a nursing home.
Enthusiastically back flipping along the balance beam,
…oblivious to the old folks passed out on the floor.
Musical types often remind me of this spot in the Bible:
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs”
So there.
Justification for praise bands.
Scripture also says:
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”
So…
…why isn’t staff leaning part of Sunday worship service?
I’m certain that I could participate with competency.
Don’t need to carry a tune.
Don’t need rhythm.
…just need a stick.
…Anybody can get hold of a stick.
Think about it.
Staffs are for the lame.
Weak, sickly people who need aid in order to stand.
Crippled children praising the Lord in their affliction.
There’s a weird beauty in that imagery.
…I’m not kidding.
It’s time to expand the worship experience.
Let the non-musicians contribute.
…Let the lame lean.
The ordinary, unremarkable, untrained disciples.
Let’s rethink our definition of ‘excellence’.
Excellent worship is worship that’s accessible to EVERYONE.
An excellent worship leader makes sure everyone,
not just musicians,
has a part to play.
** UPDATE ***
Rather than responding to individual criticisms and comments I’ve written another article (oh goody!)

125 thoughts on “Your Excellent Worship Isn’t

  1. Once again, John, you have astutely sussed out this problem. I feel for worship leaders, who are pressed to be relevant, excellent, attractive, spiritual and humble all at the same time. But I also long for the simplicity of being led to the throne of grace. Had to leave a church once, because the music was pain-inducing loud and the strobe lights flashed directly in my eyes, making it impossible to even read the very wordy worship songs. Realized pretty quickly that they were looking for a different demographic than me.

    I also love the fact that you have subject/predicate agreement in your last sentence, but that’s a topic for another time.

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    1. The fact that they were “looking for a demographic” is telling of the problem. Tired of churches who are so caught up in “man’s marketing techniques” that they neglect to seek God’s will and way. Grocery stores select music to attract demographics too.

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      1. Yes. Of course. God would never want us to research and study how to reach the unchurched or under churched, figure out who they are (thier demographic) and be intentional about reaching them. I’m quite sure he wants us to just do what we like and criticize them for not being spiritual enough if they don’t beat our doors down. I’m sure you have it figured out.

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  2. The problem is that the old style – hymns; were just the same way. If you don’t know how to read music, then you also don’t have a part to play other than just stand there wondering what to do – which is what I do, a lot. I just discovered that Amazing Grace and Little Town of Bethlehem can both be sung to the tune of House of the Rising Sun; but nobody ever changes their tune because it’s so sacred. (But even my hymn-singing church was the same way – ‘smile when you sing!’ ‘I want to see your smiling faces!’ etc.)

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    1. Um, no. Hymns were not only written to be sung by a congregation but you don’t have to read music, just the words. The tunes aren’t complicated and upon hearing the tune once, most people should be able to fit the words into the tune on subsequent verses. So you think all songs should be sung to the same tune – wow, interesting, and boring, idea. Music, as God’s creation, is beyond mere notes. To limit all songs to the same tune is like only eating one food – sustainable but missing so much. I’m sad that your hymn-singing church was so juvenile. Worship is to God, not to please others, and should never be assessed by someone else.

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      1. That was just an example off of the top of my head – but in the hymnal it would be more like singing the words to #335 to the tune of #608 – but churches never do that because the melodies are so sacred. And they wouldn’t find it easy flipping back and forth to find the right words to sing to the right melody. The thing about hymns though is that they have to be taught – if the hymnal is 666 pages long and only 10% are the ones in common use – you end up with hymns that are never sung – so they’re pointless and nobody knows them.

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  3. Interesting take. I take it your tradition is more liturgical in nature? There is no one size fits all worship style John. Sure would make our jobs easier though. I like the fact that there is so much diversity in the body of Christ. Hymns with or without music, liturgy or nonliturgical, band or simply piano or organ. I do agree the purpose of worship is Christ. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. There is a one size fits all worship style – it’s whatever points each congregation to God because He alone is worthy of worship. Hard to do that with a band and lights creating distracting entertainment. To be fair, also hard to do with anything that doesn’t take the proper background role of supporting the congregations corporate expression of praise. I was once in a church where people who couldn’t carry a tune were up front. Trying not to laugh at their lack of talent made it hard for me to focus. God has created everyone with gifts and song leader is not for everyone, including me. 😉

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      1. My only point is what points one person to Christ in worship distracts the other when it comes to elements of Corporate Worship. Besides worship is supposed to be a 24/7 thing and not just Sunday Morning. Having been Missouri Synod Lutheran for 20+ years where the order of worship HAD to be pages 5 and 15 lest we burn in hell I’ve come to the conclusion that people have made the order of worship or type of worship service an idol. You should have seen the fights that broke out when they changed the hymnal from Red to Green to Blue and now Burgundy and updated the wording of the order of service. Jimony Christmas. Today we attend an interdenom — yes we have a worship band, no it isn’t flashy. I like it. But then I can worship God where ever I’m at. Again, I like the diversity in the body. Sunday morning isn’t about me. It’s about God. I don’t believe any particular style of worship is “wrong”. It’s all worship — Just me though. This battle will continue to rage till the second coming.

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      2. Really? It’s hard to do that with a band and lights? So the majority of churches in the world (most of whom use bands and lights) aren’t pointing people to God? Who is then? Just churches with choirs and hymnals? Is that why traditional churches are dying at a regular basis in a world of lost people?

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    2. This. It’s so easy to judge a ‘good’ worship band and assume the hearts behind it aren’t right. Of all the worship leaders I know at the moment, not one of them has any desire other than to see Jesus glorified. If that’s through a brilliant band, awesome! If it’s through one man by himself nervously leading a song, awesome! Conversely, if someone who isnt musical wants to get up and lead worship, what is their heart? Is it to tell the church that they don’t have to be able to sing to lead worship? What does this achieve?

      What about people who serve tea and coffee? If they buy nice coffee and serve it in China cups, does this detract from Jesus? Or is it just a different vehicle?

      It’s silly – allow people to worship. If you’re offended by a good band, maybe you have to redirect your annoyances and consider where you can be best used, if not on the worship team. The team I’m on loves Jesus, wants to serve him and wants the church to meet him. If someone is offended by an invitation to lift your hands, I’d have to question your willingness to be led.

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      1. Thanks for your brave, anonymous post! Let me clarify a couple of things:

        First: I wasn’t commenting about the ‘one man nervously leading a song’. I’m talking specifically about some of the ‘brilliant bands’. When you advocate for the nervous, lone song leader, you’re making my point.

        Second: Tea and Coffee in China cups is equally distracting if it’s a required part of worship service. Coffee (at least in my church) is an option. When coffee drinking starts taking up 40 minutes in the Sunday services, I’ll write an article about it regardless of the type of mug in which it’s served.

        Third: I didn’t use the term ‘offended’. Not once. Neither did I suggest that people in worship bands don’t love Jesus. I will confess, I’m annoyed that you have required me to write this statement. I’d prefer to have a dialogue about the points in my article. It’s tedious responding to statements I never made.

        I’m assuming the ‘team’ to which you refer is a praise band. Let me suggest that you are the one who is offended. I will not speculate as to why.

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      2. Oops…..posted my response accidentally to the comment below. I agree with you…people are too hung up on worship being too good. I never can understand why there is such a problem with things being done well…..in every others area of church people are allowed to strive for excellence, yet in worship it is considered performance or wrong somehow. Coming from a church where it is done well and people’s hearts are in the right spot, I know that worship can be good and draw people….in fact worship SHOULD be done well and draw people to the church.

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  4. I recently heard a panel of full-time worship pastors advising other pastors that if one guy in the congregation hits a sour note and the guy next to him is able to hear it, the band isn’t loud enough. They were actually advocating that the purpose of the “worship” band is to erect walls of sound to separate each individual from everyone around. Um, no, that’s the diametric opposite of leading worship.

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    1. Scary. For me, it’s been a big deal; I don’t like the sound of my bad singing. My Church has actually really helped me, because they keep encouraging me that I sing because I mean it, which has been seriously encouraging.

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  5. Recently read an article that proposed the following: put the worship band in the back, behind the congregation. This was suggested to see if worship leaders/praise bands were truly interested in worship or just performing for acclaim. The music is supposed to be the common element that enables the congregation to sing together as one body, not hinder it by drowning out individual voices. God wants to hear His people, not their instruments. God wants genuine praise, not an orchestrated/choreographed performance. God wants people to seek Him, not an entertainment extravaganza.

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    1. You assume there is a disconnect between a ‘good’ worship band and the praise of Jesus. This is incredibly judgmental. The majority of people are happy to be led by those who are gifted in that area – those who are offended by it need to ask themselves why. In my opinion, as long as there is good teaching to the worship team AND the church with regards to what praise and worship is (not just a song but your life), we should be allowed to have our worship led in any way which sees God glorified, whether it be a slick band or an old lady with a hymn book.

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      1. I didn’t assume that so you are the one being judgemental. The majority of people are happy to do many things; that doesn’t make them or the things that they are led into good, let alone praise and worship. Like John, I’m not offended by giftedness. But I don’t think “watching” a gifted painter or cake decorator will enable me to focus on worshiping God anymore than “watching”‘ a gifted band accompanied by a gifted light tech. The music isn’t supposed to be the main attraction. Music glorifies God when it points people to God, not when it draws attention to those playing it. (That’s the point of moving the “slick” band to the back.) Music is supposed to enable the congregation to sing the same notes at the same time. The leader starts the congregation so they begin together just like a starter begins the runners in a race at the same time. It’s about order, not telling people what to do or how to do or how they should be “feeling”. Worship isn’t a “feeling.” People at our church raise hands because they know God, Who He is, not because someone else told them they should do it. And believe it or not, they do this with a lone man leading the songs (some new, some hymns) accompanied by a lone piano, and their lives reflect that they follow God’s instruction to love Him and others and tell of His gift of salvation.

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  6. I must admit, I like some praise band music. “Some” being the operative word. The issue I take with the music I’ve experienced in churches with praise bands is that I felt there was a serious lack of depth. The music got me feeling very worshipful, but then there was a message and a collection and we were done. No prayer time, no time of silence for any thought or listening for God. It was like being served wonderful hors d’oeuvres and then being told the meal was over. I’ll enjoy the start, but I’ll walk away hungry every time.

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    1. You have identified the problem – feeling. Worship isn’t about feeling. Worship is acknowledging Who God is and praising Him, in word/song and deed. Whether it’s the music or teaching, if you leave “hungry” you aren’t in a good church. They are becoming harder to find so ask God to help you find one. The difference will be starting and clear, you’ll know when you’ve found one. If a church spends all its effort to convince/cater/market to you that it’s good, chances are it’s not. Church is God’s invention and if done His way, doesn’t need marketing gimmicks. Church is also for the believers. If it tries to appeal to the unbelievers, that’s not a church but a business, maybe even a cult, regardless of how much they do church-like things. If the main purpose isn’t to glorify God (regardless of how we “feel” at any given moment) and teach His followers (edify), then the “church” is off track.

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    1. It does, doesn’t it. Most people are happy to be led into worship, and will focus on praising Jesus as opposed to being offended at how good the band are. It’s laughable. Those who aren’t gifted musically should be delighted to be led into worship by gifted people – just like musical people who can’t preach should be happy to listen to a gifted speaker.

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      1. I’m no more ‘offended’ by a good band than a good painting or good piece of pie. Just doubtful that I can simultaneously ‘focus on praising Jesus’ while being ‘delighted to be led into worship by gifted people’. I was pretty specific in my criticisms. Nowhere did I admonish anyone for being gifted.

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  7. I remember visiting one of the old historic churches in Boston several years ago. Our tour guide pointed out an intentional flaw left in the construction of the stairs leading up to the pulpit. One of the spindles turned in a different direction than the others. The flaw was left by design, for the purpose of reminding the preacher that he too was flawed and in need of grace. Imagine that- the possibility of ego and performance driving a human leader of worship all of those years ago. I don’t suppose any of us have changed much, have we? Growing up in a large mainline (though theologically evangelical) congregation, I remember the congregation remaining after worship to listen to the outstanding postlude by the organist, and then applauding his skill. I remember similar appreciation for the choir. My thought is what leads me to my gentile critique of this article. All of us are tempted by idolatry. Any of us might drift in that direction. All of us are also created in the image of God, and have potential to shine with God’s glory and be used by God to draw others into worship. Could it be possible that one team or leader might very well be offering leadership out of humble and submissive worship, even as another has drifted in the direction of idol worship? Of course. And, apart from heeding the warning, how are we to respond? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my response is this: the only attitude and approach to worship about which I need to be concerned is mine. To that end, I applaud and appreciate this author for challenging me to check my all-too flawed heart. If other leaders feel led to do the same, I believe that would serve the intent of the author. But to the extent that a blog like this produces in any of us a desire to simply attack others, I start hearing wisdom from one I love about planks in my eyes when others have only specks.

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  8. Just a thought: Psalm 33:3 “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Seems to imply innovative/contemporary music (a “new” song), a “skillful” musician or band, and loudness and “shouting”. Not that everything in the article isn’t worth thinking about. But louder, contemporary, well-played music still has a place in worshiping God.

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      1. That you should use instruments. And that you should sing hymns. I’m not saying that all songs should be contemporary, just that contemporary songs are not, by definition, useless or shallow.

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  9. John, you mention above that you were specific in your criticisms but I disagree. After reading this article multiple times I have no idea what point you are trying to make other than you think non-musicians need to have a way to participate in worshipping Christ and that the worship leaders are too busy being flashly and not really leading. When you say you want to participate, how do you mean? You provided plenty of tongue-in-cheek statements but no real substance as to what acceptable participation actually looks like for non-musicians. You also made some odd statements (“Do you know any ‘Worship Leaders’ who don’t sing or play an instrument?” – Kind of hard to lead a group of musicians if you don’t know how to do it yourself. Should we also suggest the pastor not have the ability to preach? I don’t see how a lack of experience in the area you are in charge of is a good thing at all, “It’s time to expand the worship experience. Let the non-musicians contribute.” – In what way? People can participate in the songs just as much as the people playing the instruments (minus the instrument playing of course), “Excellent worship is worship that’s accessible to EVERYONE. An excellent worship leader makes sure everyone, not just musicians, has a part to play.” – Still not sure what this means. You specifically criticized them for having people raise their hands, etc so any invitation by them to allow you to participate is met with scrutiny. What is valid participation? Scripture reading? Accappella singing by the non-musical? Sharing some words with the rest of the church? That is a very easy statement to make about someone else and incredibly difficult to follow through on, dare I say, impossible?).

    Worship is accessible to everyone but not everyone can be ones actively leading everyone at the same time. Again, this comes back to what do you mean about everyone having a part to play? What does that look like in a more specific way within worship at a church? Without answering those questions this comes off that you don’t like that churches have a worship time that is mostly comprised of music and that only musicians lead it. This is coming from someone who was a worship leader for quite some time and generic comments like these really don’t assist us in including more people in the experience. My goal from day one as a worship leader was to bring people before the throneroom of God every time I lead. “I don’t need you in order to worship.
    …and you’re distracting me.
    “Stand up!”
    “Raise your hands!”
    “Bow your head!”
    “Sing louder!””

    Ok, do you want a leader or not? Who is saying you need one to worship? I would challenge anyone who thinks it’s a distraction when they hear someone say “raise your hands” should stop and think why they have that kind of response. How is this different than, say, Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!”? Should we chide them for telling us to lift our hands? What if I don’t want to lift my hands? Could it be the Lord is worthy of our hands being lifted to Him in praise and we should get over ourselves and how we prefer to worship?

    As a former worship leader, we are being asked to do the impossible. Some want loud music, some want only hymns, some want a blend of multiple forms, some want less music, some want more, some want no music. I even had people ask me why a led songs in certain ways and that I should reflect on how God would want me to lead (as if I wasn’t doing that to begin with). So someone is always not going to feel like the worship is geared towards them no matter what the leader does. I have asked myself why do we come for worship? Is it to critique how the worship leader could do things better or worship Christ and be thankful we even have someone that could lead us with song? I could easily argue that listening to people who cannot sing constantly distracts me from worshipping God (I won’t say I have perfect pitch but anyone being off-pitch drives me crazy for reasons I cannot explain). Do I then insist that non-musicians should not be allowed to worship simply because I am distracted? No, I accept it as being a part of the body of Christ to accept imperfections because we all have them. Sometimes we need to get out of our own way and acknowledging that distractions are not always other people’s fault. It’s not others’ fault that off-pitch singing affects me as bad as it does so I cannot demand they change. Likewise, it’s not their fault that you are not musically inclined so to demand they should cater to you because of this may not be the correct response either.

    So if you could please provide more specific details as to what it would look like to have non-musicians participate I would appreciate it. As I have been told before, it is so much easier to point out problems with something than to point out the solution. The problem, I fear, you would find by pointing out a “solution” is that it may have just as many flaws as the thing you are so tongue-in-cheek about now. I don’t say that just to be difficult but I say it as a worship leader who actively tried to include everyone. No matter how hard I tried someone always said they didn’t feel included. The worship leader cannot always be the scapegoat. I appreciate your time for reading my comments and hope they have provided any kind of beneficial discussion.

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    1. Perhaps the problem is the title – worship leader. If we are to live our lives as worship, then worship should be about us following God, not another person. If we leave behind fancy titles and just identify people by what they do – “lead the singing” – maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to see the problem. “Lead the singing” means start the congregation and any musicians in beginning, singing/playing, and ending the song at the same time, in the same key, at the same tempo. Pretty simple and requires little flash. If “leading the singing” is done, some will be worshiping, some will merely be singing/playing a song, some will be silent – but may still be worshiping in their heart. However, none will be overwhelmed/distracted by what is happening up front. Unless of course the song leader thinks people need him to do anything but the above. Once had a song leader who thought the congregation needed him to keep the time with wildly flapping arms. Try singing even a hymn when it looks like the song leader is trying to take flight.

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      1. The title doesn’t confuse me at all. I don’t equivilate the title to how someone must act. The ways you describe the job is much how I did it. My goal was to play skillfully enough to not be distracting through poor performance but not so skillful to pull people’s attention to myself. I guess my point is that the people on stage are worshipping too so if their way to worship is to dance before the Lord why do we put restrictions on them as if we must look at them while telling them not to restrict us from how we worship? Even with your example my point is that, while distracting, is the song leader intentionally trying to distract people? If not, we need to get over ourselves. Not to say that someone can’t mention to him that it distracts them when he does it. I don’t think it’s as simple as: This [fill in the blank distraction] distracts me so the song leader must stop doing it. What if someone commented to him before that his arm motions weren’t big enough to see? I have often gotten two comments that directly conflict with each other (“Drums were too loud” and “couldn’t hear the drums at all”) This is no different than a pastor using the same words too often, repeating themselves, or using to many ands and ums. Can it be distracting? Of course. But are they giving their best to God and we are choosing to critique their best as not good enough simply because it does not meet what we assume to be the best way?

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    2. You e identified the problem in your statement… “Some want.” I would be more interested in what God wants instead.

      The Old Testament gives a lot of characteristics of God for us to learn about Him, but His New Testament to His believers is filled with command and example of how He wants His believers to live and worship. I always find it so interesting that in order to justify “praise bands” or “worship teams” you have to go to the Old Testament to find example of people using instruments to worship. Nonetheless, we know that God demands our worship “in spirit and truth.”

      If you are truly there to worship him I’d stop worrying about what makes the people happy.

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      1. This is so petty and nit picky. Both The original post and the follow up comments of people trying to join John in pious criticism and judgement of the role worship leaders play. I love the whole sentiment of ignoring ‘what people want’ and just focusing on God. And ‘ignoring demographics’ because that’s too secular.

        What’s wrong with church leadership being sensitive to what stirs and inspires the people they are trying to reach? Obviously there’s a problem if those efforts replace or water down the message of the gospel. But just because something is modern and not stuck in the 1800’s doesn’t mean it’s any less ‘what God wants’ God wants us to be focused on him. The only way any of this nit picking makes sense to me is If you think a huge group of people (or a small group for that matter) can just gather Together and automatically start focusing on God and worshipping in unison without leadership.

        Man that would be inspiring. And once in awhile, it happens. But not every Sunday at 9:00. No, most of us show up with varying levels of desire to encounter God with a community of people, but don’t know where to go from there. Otherwise we could all just stay home and worship by ourselves, right?

        At this point in your program, we could benefit greatly from Godly leadership to get us all on the same page and create a synergy that would helps us individuals and the community as a whole encounter God together. That’s where the worship leader steps up and does his or her best to figure out what God is calling him or her to do to lead this group of individuals to a place where as much of the community as is available for the worship experience can meet with God together……… And the theres John in the back row with his laptop
        Open trying to be funny, writing a blog about how they’re doing it all wrong!!! What a beautiful Sunday morning.

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  10. Thank you for writing an article that clearly pricks an area of hurt and need of healing for so many, myself included. We are all called and Lord willing drawn, to worship our Lord (which had never, ever, scripturally been reduced to song and music). The evidence of mutual misplaced focus and distraction is clear. May ever single individual heart of ours be captivated once again and may we create by example and authentic hearts, atmoshperes that foster the same. Wherever we are, He remains our only audience and focus. We alone are accountable for the distractions of our hearts and the objects of our worship.

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    1. I don’t need the Lord to draw me to worship Him. I need to make the choice to recognize Who He is and who I am not and praise Him. He alone is God and worthy of honor. He created me and gave me free will to choose Him as my Savior. Worship is not a feeling. Worship is living what we claim to believe, not just following moral platitudes or doing good works. Those are the result of, not the focus of, our belief. Worship is about Him, not us or anyone around us.

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  11. Micah,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

    This blog post was written (as most of my posts are) as a result of personal experiences. At my church, we are in the midst of a restructuring out Sunday services and ‘worship’ is a big part of the discussion.

    My criticisms are not with any particular style of worship. I’m completely sympathetic to your case that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. I’ve been involved in church leadership (terrifying thought, I know) for many years and have gone to bat for the worship minister on multiple occasions when people start griping about the music, volume, lighting, stage decor, room temperature and song leader’s wardrobe (yes…I’ve defended our worship minister’s footwear).

    Personally, I think most contemporary worship choruses are shallow and mundane. It grates on me when words like “Na na na na” or “Oh Oh Ohhhh Yeah” are projected onto a screen. I am fully aware that my personal preferences are not Biblical precedents. I have never taken steps to forbid these songs from being utilized in worship services. It would be wrong for me to dictate policy based on my personal tastes.

    My criticism is that music is synonymous with ‘worship’ in our church service. The music is pitched in ranges that most men can’t sing comfortably and the melodies are frequently buried under layers of instrumentation and harmonies. The average person can’t sing along because the music is too complicated. I have trouble keeping up and I’ve got some musical background. My criticism is that Sunday morning services have become a showcase for excellent musicianship and nobody seems to notice that most of the congregation isn’t singing along.

    I have noticed. I watch people on Sunday morning. The men, in particular, don’t sing. And I’ve personally heard worship leaders shame people for not singing. More than once. I’ve spoken with several men in my church who confess that they are late every week because they want to skip the song service. I could tell them to grow up and get there on time but I doubt that just being in the room would cause them to burst forth with song. They are not engaged.

    A couple of my critics seem to think I’m advocating the elimination of music altogether. That’s not at all what I’m suggesting. I am suggesting that music be simplified. Simpler melodies. Lower keys. Maybe slow the tempo a few beats per minute.

    Further, music should be demphasized. Exactly because off-key singing is distracting! Lets spend more time in prayer, communion, testimony, offering, scripture reading and fellowship. Right now, every aspect of Sunday morning orbits around the praise band. Prayer, for example, often serves the purpose of filling time to allow the guitarist to adjust his capo. Maybe we can actually talk to God when we’re not transitioning to the next chorus?

    Is it easy to involve everyone? No. It’s much, much, much, much more difficult than cranking up the band and letting them jam. Involving people means pushing them out of their comfort zones. It means leadership has to think differently and thinking differently is HARD. It means bruising some egos which is even HARDER.

    It’s absolutely not wrong to have talented musicians involved in worship. It’s wrong when the quality of music becomes THE reason for attending a church service.

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    1. Maybe you just need to change churches John and find one that fits you better. Or start one and see if anyone shows up.

      You seem to think you have incredible insight into how it should be done. Why are you Holding out and not solving the problem by starting a church doing it your way and just watching the impending revival it would bring?

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      1. You seem to be assuming that numbers in the door and popularity are indicative of success in saving souls. Too many churches have turned church into coffee and a concert. Good music isn’t a problem if it doesn’t take center stage. I’ve seen a lack of any doctrine other than “freedom” and “no judging.” I’ve seen no desire to give, either in service within the church or finance. When a church is a mile wide and an inch deep doctrinally, there’s no witness to a watching world. Being a disciple isn’t about being entertained or a good feeling. It’s studying/knowing/applying God’s word to every part of life. Hard to do if people only want a show. A friend has a saying – come as you are, leave as you were. The seeker friendly (make your church attractive to the world) movement has, according to its authors, failed. The main job of a church is to edify believers, not appeal to the world’s ways.

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      2. There’s so much that I disagree with about your post. Let me just pick know thing. If people who goes to these churches are so hesitant to give financially, who is funding their substantial facilities? If they are unwilli g to give of thier time, who do you think is handling the service necessary to minister (or whatever you would call it, since you apparently know for a fact that there’s no real ministry going on, but it’s just a big show) to the thousands of people who come each week? Are they hiring people to do all that? If that’s your thought, then who is paying for that? Your whole argument that these churches are just a big show and no lives are being changed falls apart pretty fast.

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      3. Todd, I never said anything about church finance. I never said there is no real ministry going on. The argument that ‘no lives are being changed’ is not mine. If you want to participate in a discussion with me, you need to respond to what I’m actually saying.

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      4. I’m going out on a limb and guessing that toddprather is involved in a worship band…

        I’ve been in leadership at my church for over 20 years. In the 90’s I lead the charge at my church to install screens, drum sets and electric guitars. I championed the ‘new’ music style in the face of opposition from the ‘hymn people’. It would have been vastly easier to leave and start a new church. But that’s not how I think the church is supposed to work.

        I think the church is like family. When you have issues, you discuss them. When possible, you compromise individual preferences for the good of the group. As long as we’re not discussing doctrine, we have room for differing opinions.

        …And we are not discussing doctrine here.

        You have made your point. You haven’t grasped mine.

        Your suggestion to start a new church and ‘see if anyone shows up’ completely misunderstands my purpose in writing. The church exists for the sole purpose of building the body of Christ. It doesn’t exist to ‘bring a lot of people together on Sunday morning’. If the goal was to make a lot of people show up, I wouldn’t start a church. I’d build a football stadium.

        You are correct that people are leaving modern churches. The people leaving are people like yourself; who see church as irrelevant unless it caters to their perceived needs. (Despite what you may think, I am aware of demographics and trends.) For every devout fan of Chris Tomlin there is someone who prefers Bill Gaither. Which one will reach the most people for Jesus?

        Here’s a hint:
        …That’s a trick question.

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      5. ToddPrather can’t carry a tune in a bucket and is definitely not in a worship band.

        Perhaps this was a conversation you should have kept within your church body or leadership team then. Were you criticizing your own church here or other churches that you only have a passing association with? Or were your sweeping critical judgements just failed attempts at being funny and insightful.

        I think your head is pretty deep in the sand if you think as many people are still into Bill Gaither as are in to Tomlin. Cultures change, the message should not. The indication behind all of this is that ‘progressive’ churches water down the message. I think that’s a pretty uneducated, judgemental assessment. My parents go to a traditional church just like the one they raised me in. No ‘slick shows’ there. And in my opinion it’s like watching Top Gun being redone in old English by candle light. Those churches are dying off In Droves because they refuse to stay modern. They attract an older crowd and refuse to modernize anything using the mentality that you are promoting with your post, so they can’t attract any younger believers. Therefore the older ones die and so does thier little church. It’s happening everyday. Face it, you’re the guy banging the drum to slow down change. Just like the guy you battled years ago to bring in the drums and screens.

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      6. Last try, Todd.

        I’m not ‘promoting’ old-fashioned church services. And I’m not naive enough to think I can stall the advance of change. You are arguing against points I’ve not made.

        I’m suggesting that worship should be more than songs. If you think I’m off base, you are welcome to comment.

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  12. McQ … I would agree with you. It’s not a feeling. It is a response. It is from an intentional choice to worship the only Lord. Where we differ, I will never claim that desire is not stemmed from His Grace and the Spirits leading. I do, and always will need the Lord to draw me to Him. On my own, I will wander. Best to you.

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    1. In a face to face conversation, we could probably flesh out this point and come to more agreement than not. Best to you too sister. See you in heaven someday! 🙂

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      1. Completely agree. Email limits. It would not surprise me if we were already actually in agreement. Either way, we love Him. And yes, I’ll see you and celebrate with you then. 🙂

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  13. John, I’ll be honest…my initial response is grief that your heart is focused on others during that time period. It isn’t because I don’t struggle with the environment and purposes your defining, but simply because my own conviction has yielded me to silence my voice and contemplate words, and if called to bow when others say stand…to yield to the intimate worship He’s leading me in and trust it is pleasing and sufficient. That being said, the same conviction pricks… I have no right to judge your heart in truly having an eye and heart for those in your midst. Who am I to question the why and what He is placing upon your heart. We hold the same Spirit and I guess my prayer is He will guide and council. Thank you again for writing. I may have even lost a FB friend for my response, but it is only because I have heartfelt understanding and input on multiple viewpoints of this topic. May He lead and bless the focus of your ministry,

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  14. John Maxwell said “If you call yourself a leader and turn around to find that no one is following you……you are not a leader. You are just out taking a walk” – A person may call himself a”Worship leader”, but if no one is singing/worshiping……you are not a worship leader…..you are just a guy/gal up on the stage singing.

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    1. Excellent point! (Maxwell is a fav of mine.) Many people I know are looking for a church where they don’t have to arrive late to avoid a migraine. Many people I know are looking for a church where, as John said, the music isn’t the main thing. Many people I know who attend very contemporary churches have no witness to the world that their church affiliation has any affect on how they live their lives. Numbers in the door doesn’t equate to saved souls. Churches that I know have gone from more traditional worship to rocking out are now facing shortages in finances and volunteers. In other words, rocking out on Sunday am isn’t changing their heart. But as I said in an earlier post, church is for the saved not the world. Church is to equip the saints to reach out to the lost so the lost can then come to church for reasons other than to be entertained. When the church loses its salt, it’s not a church.

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      1. Yes it’s definitely the traditional churches that are thriving!!! The churches that have started ‘rocking out’ (I assume you mean moved away from music styles that gained popularity in the 1800s) are really struggling financially!!!

        Seriously! What world do you live in? Are you from One of those really small
        Towns that doesn’t allow dancing?

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  15. This is such an old and, in my opinion, ridiculous take. If you are moved by choir music and old hymns go find one. There are several dying in every city. They’ll be glad to have you. And you’ll be able to sit anywhere you want.

    Do you just feel more spiritual or self righteous by criticizing the direction of the church and church music??

    Here’s a clue for you. If people weren’t inspired and finding God through this type of worship the majority of the church world wouldn’t be using this style of worship. Every modern or relevant worship director isn’t missing what God is calling them to while your favorite brother Ted in his robe leading hymns win a choir of 15 has it all figured out.

    Again, if that’s what you want, knock yourself out. It doesn’t work for me or the majority of people living in the year 2015.

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    1. I’m not offered a reply button in your previous post questioning my residence so I will reply here. I want to thank you for presenting evidence that affirms the ability of coffe and a concert to effectively present and teach about the God and Savior Who change sinful hearts.

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  16. I understand spiritual music to have (at least) three components. The most important aspect for me is that I believe worship songs are prayers set to music. Sometimes we don’t know how to pray or what to pray or even feel we can pray, but music makes prayer accessible. The second aspect is that spiritual music is a liturgical device. It teaches theologies, provides an understanding of who God is and how God interacts in our lives. It also connects us to the larger Church by introducing common songs that we all can affirm. The final aspect of spiritual music that I believe is important is that it contributes to specific kinds of sacred space. Like prayer, it invites the listener/singer into a communal faith experience. That faith experience can be as profound and healing as any sermon or other liturgy, and if the music/sermon/liturgies come together holistically and intentionally, the difference they make together can be exponentially greater.

    What is important to me in a worship experience is authenticity. I want the “prayers set to music” to be authentic prayers of those leading the music. I want the theologies of the music to be fully evaluated for consistency with the theologies of the specific church I am in. (There is some atrocious spiritual music out there.) And finally, I want the entire experience to be authentic. I want the music to connect to the preaching to the offering, etc. I want the space that gets created in communal prayer and music to be tended to. No “stop/change/start” abrupt transitions that point to various people having zero connection to the sacred space that was created.

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    1. Your diplomacy shows; calling it atricious is kind. 😉 And it’s just as likely to be the tune or the words that fit that description, in addition to, the performance of those delivering it. My favorite at one church were those who “oozed” worship “on stage” then afterward treated the servants who had been teaching/caring for their kids like they were their plantation slaves. Great witness of your humility and devotion. (Eye roll)

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  17. The majority of Christians worldwide do not worship in this style. They worship using liturgy and and in sacrament – especially the central act of Christian Worship which is the offering of Christ in Bread and Wine. This is the shape of worship that we see in the New Testament (especially in the book of Revelation) and in writings of the first Christians who were the disciples of the disciples.

    Whilst ‘Performance’ worship has its place, in cathedrals ancient and modern, it is not supposed to be the norm. Perhaps part of the problem is the size of church congregations in some cultures. A church of 120 has different resources and forces a different level of participation.

    The musical genre used to support worship is pretty irrelevant in the big picture. I am happy sing hymns, songs, psalms, whatever.

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  18. I left the Church for several reasons a few years ago. A couple of those reasons related to this. Music = worship in most churches, when worship should encompass everything – from singing along to a band or CD of praise songs, to sitting at my desk at the office on a Thursday morning. I got fed up of being told: ‘Now we’re going to have a time of worship,’ when I believed we all should have been doing it already.

    Another reason I left was because I believe it’s wrong for the Church to be spending vast amounts of time and resources on putting together a ‘slick’ Sunday service with ‘professional’ music, while scores of people go hungry across the globe, or are sick, or needy. I wonder how much better the world would be if the Church refocused its wealth away from those who already ‘have’ and toward those who don’t…and how many people would start to see the Church (and therefore Jesus) as more relevant and worthwhile.

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    1. You have good perspective and wisdom. I’m sad that you aren’t sharing it with a good church. Ask God to help you find one. My experiences prove it isn’t always an easy search but the spiritual growth gained along the way is priceless and can be used for God’s glory. Don’t let Satan win by keeping you from the blessing of a church family.

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    2. And I’m sure you’re doing all that on your own, now that you have left the church? You’re just going to skip over the part of scripture that talks about ‘not giving up meeting together’ and just go out and do what you know is the right thing to do, but that all those shallow Christians in your city are just refusing to do? I’m just positive that that’s happening!!

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      1. Todd, I think your time would be better spent writing some ‘churchideasthatwork’ on your own blog. Clearly the rest of us in this discussion need help. Leaving your blog empty denies us the benefits of your evangelical wisdom.

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      2. John, I don’t have a blog.

        I am working on a website for pastors to share things that have been effective in thier churches. Maybe that’s the confusion. You probaly won’t be interested, though, because there won’t be a forum to simply criticize what other people are doing. Maybe you could start a website for that. I like L’s thoughts. How about speckfinders.com.

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      3. Actually, your original post offered very little as far as ideas. It offered a lot in the way of criticism and nitpicking and spec finding in what I think you thought would be a very accurate summation of what a modern worship leader looks like.

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  19. Really good point of view in the article. Then really good, equally valid points of view in all the comments. Wish I could ‘like’ most of them, since most of them have… a good point! Such is the complexity of worship (or ANY ministry in the church), and it ain’t easy.

    I’ll offer a few points for consideration:

    In my previous church, we had the old v. new problem. In the band we had to try to get a balance between ‘old’ songs and ‘new’ songs. We did! Mathematically, I could look at songs we did over a period and conclude that we had got a fairly good balance. The result? The oldies said there were too many new songs. The young people said there were too many old ones!

    Many say ‘the old ones are the best!’ – question? How old? 200 year-old hymns? 100-year old Salvation Army pub tunes? 50-year old revival gospel hall songs? 20-year old Graham Kendrick ‘classics’? Fans of Charles Wesley will cite his dozen or so ‘great hymns’ but consider that he wrote over 4000 of them!! It would appear that over 99% of them have not lasted the course of time!

    A friend of mine who is a Presbyterian minister would like to say goodbye to the church’s pipe organ but he would face a revolt if he tried, yet a church historian pointed out the struggle they had in the 19th century to get pipe organs INTO the church!!!

    30 years ago I was in a Christian rock band, trying our best to reach the youth of our day. Some old people said to us “I don’t like your rock music, but if it gets the message out there, God bless you!” In recounting this to a younger member of our worship band recently, I said “you are the church of the future”. He then rebuked me and said “No! We are here NOW!” Touché!

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    1. Good thoughts, Gram.

      I especially appreciate your attitude about the ‘rebuke’ you received.

      I’m with you in the fight against symbolism. Pipe organs, communion tables, flags and even crosses can become idols if we’re not careful. Any time a person needs a particular artifact in order to worship, there’s a problem.

      It is my belief that people don’t become disciples as the direct result of ANYTHING we do on Sunday morning. Pagans don’t show up at church unless they are brought. They are brought by Christian people who have built a relationship with them. Our daily lives preach the gospel to the lost.

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      1. Emmm, yes you’re right about building relationships but sometimes unbelievers do just walk into a church, maybe out of curiosity, maybe because some Christian HAS built a relationship with them. But it IS rare. Church should be for believers, outreach for the rest. I grew tired of ‘invite someone to the gospel service!’ when in truth the gospel service bored ME! At my new church, hampers were given out randomly to people’s homes this Xmas. That has produced some welcome reactions.

        Yes, worship music should serve believers to help them worship, not be ‘inviting’ to others. What ‘invites’ them to come to Christ is the working of the Holy Spirit and our testimony (by which I mean how we live, not “let me tell you how awful a sinner I was…” 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we can discuss differences without being accusatory.

        My original post was about ideas. There was no judgment levied against an individual person. Some of the comments have gotten personal but I can’t control what people write.

        Christians are free to debate, discuss and even disagree about ideas. Iron sharpens iron.

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  20. and this article is beneficial? In its appraisal of Christ’s bride? Rather than building her up in Christ as we’re instructed to do you’re publically fat-shaming her?

    Just out if interest are you American John? I’m going to make a confident guess you are – can you American Christians stop giving us the reputation we have please. You’re ruining it for everybody.

    Sincerely, the ROW Christian population.

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    1. Got it, Neil. I’ll try to emulate your example of building up fellow believers. I don’t know what ROW Christian means but I apologize for ‘ruining it’. I should have chosen a different nationality.

      I had no idea that I was adversely affecting the reputation of a group to which I don’t even belong!

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      1. Neil I actually think your point was very well stated. For future reference, John does not like people to disagree with him. He only likes to blog and have the people who agree with him reply.

        John I know you got two or three people who have responded to agree with you. But I really think you’re coming off as a jerk. Both in your original blog. And then your response to anyone who disagrees with you.

        I know you don’t value my opinion because I don’t agree with you. But that’s my two cents.

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  21. Hi John –

    As a fellow plank eyed guy – I’ve have experienced acapella hymnal, “high church” liturgical pipe organ, hymnal with musical accompaniment, and contemporary praise band music during my 44 years. I appreciate and enjoy each of these styles (though the introduction of Kumbaya in any style would likely cause a loss of said appreciation and enjoyment).

    I’m currently one of the rotating drummers for my church praise band. I am cognizant of the concerns you mention – and have experienced them myself at other churches. It’s something our praise band routinely discusses; we are NOT the headliners. We always pray that we humbly play for the glory of Christ. If I ever feel that it has become about the band itself – I’ll step down. With our current line-up of volunteers – I don’t expect that to be an issue. Though dressing up like Stryper would be funny – but I digress.

    All of that being said – my favorite part of sitting behind the drum kit is being able to witness the church. To see the church members (visitors too) participate in varying ways is amazing. Some of my favorite memories are of a late member (now passed away) holding her hands and head high as she sat in her wheelchair along the back wall of the sanctuary. No one else could see her – but we always could. Her reaction only helped my worship experience. She brought me to the feet of Christ on many Sunday mornings. And I’m not even a holding up your hands kinda guy – but that’s not the point. So – at least in my experience – the people sitting in the pews are a vital part of the contemporary praise band whether they’re “in the band” or not.

    Some people preach. Some people teach children’s Sunday school. Some people count the offering. Some people mow the church lawn. Some people perform the church housekeeping. Some people play with the church praise band. Some people minister to prisoners. The list obviously goes on. Each of these talents is important. Each of these talents are supposed to be used for the glory of Him. We’re all “part” of the body of Christ. Admittedly though – I sometimes feel like one His back hairs – but I’m hanging on (odd visual) and trying to be the best back hair I can be.

    At any rate – a praise band, a choir, a pastor, a church, a denomination, etc. that does not have Christ as their focus and does not humble themselves before Him will eventually fade away. The Church itself will never fade away.

    Glad your back – you were sorely missed during your blog hiatus.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    Kevin

    P.S. – Consider this an invitation to come sing with our praise band. I’ll let you play the cowbell – though it’s rarely appropriate. We’ll think of something though.

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      1. If that’s what you were trying to suggest you might want to consider a ghost writer. Maybe Kevin can blog for you. That’s not even remotely what it seemed like you were trying to convey

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    1. I actually STOPPED looking at the congregation in my last church! There are some who will be lost in rapturous praise no matter what song you play, and they are great to see, and many whose reactions vary according to the song, but then there are some who, either for certain songs they ‘disapprove of’ or just for ALL worship, stand motionless and silent with glum faces and stare at the screen. They are SO off-putting, it depressed me no end!

      And no, I don’t think anything would change them, so I resigned myself to the knowledge that such behaviour was their choice, and left it at that. Still stopped me looking!

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  22. Thank you for a creative and perceptive take on what is not going so well in our churches today. I didn’t read all the comments, so maybe someone said this, but the biggest issue is a theological one. Any style of gathering will have supporters and detractors, and different generations and cultures will express their worship in different but legitimate ways. However, if a form is not biblically valid, then it is worthy of criticism. For example, do the concert-style musical times help us to experience community, or do they isolate us? If I cannot hear my neighbor singing – even if off-key – I am missing part of the revelation of God. If I cannot hear myself sing, then I am unnecessary and will disengage. Is the priesthood of all believers being lived out if only a few are allowed to demonstrate their (admittedly admirable) musical talents on the stage and all the rest are simply audience? And yes, it is terribly limiting to think that the only way to worship is with music. Etc.

    I’ve written a book to speak to some of the lacks and excesses of today’s church gatherings. If interested, have a look at it:

    http://www.lulu.com/shop/amy-s-anderson/when-you-come-together/paperback/product-14960009.html

    It is 30% off through 31 December, and if the hard copy is still too expensive, the electronic version is very cheap.

    Amy Anderson

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  23. If:
    The only purpose of the music is to glorify God,
    Then:
    There is no reason for congregational applause at the end of a song.

    If:
    The song leaders sing ‘parts’ while ‘lyrics’ without ‘notes’ are projected onto the overhead screen,
    Then:
    Most in the congregation know that they have just received an insult from those worship leaders.

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  24. As a worship pastor I do not appreciate this post. One main thing I find in this disturbing is the fact that as the writer of this column you obviously make worship just as much about the music as the people you accuse of doing it. If you in fact were worshiping in spite of the elements in worship as to your dislike you wouldn’t feel this way. The great part about worship is that it isn’t about you, or the team leading. Also why are you judging someone else’s worship. If we boil it down it’s because you don’t really like this style of worship. Don’t get me wrong, some teams out there need a reality check as to who worship is about. There are divas out there who make it more about themselves and the production side of worship than the worship of God himself. But if I can say that the progress modern worship has taken is a phenomenal thing for the current day church. You brought up visitors so let me hit that real quick. If a visitor who hasn’t stepped into a church either ever or in a long time were to walk in and find that church was just as boring and out of date as it was when they were there last then how are they going to respond? Don’t get me wrong, God can minister to people through any type of church service. He doesn’t even need a church service to do that! But how would that person respond in all reality? They probably wouldn’t want to even stay, they would be tolerating it. In a world that is progressing technologically and ideologically we can’t afford to stick with low key, non eye grabbing, boring worship services. We weren’t even called to do that! We were called to make loud shouts of praise, get the band loud and dance like crazy in worship to God. Psalms lays all of these things out for us. I leave you with this. If you went to a big name band’s concert who you know put on an AMAZING show then got there to find they have seats out and books with their lyrics on them. No exciting theatrics on the stage and no true excitement in the atmosphere. The band stays still and the lead singer encourages everyone to sing along if they want or can in a calm voice. You probably wouldn’t enjoy that. That is the sad reality of churches and people who don’t catch on to this exciting era of worship. And again I say that if God is the true audience or congregation of our worship then why again are you making it about how you think it should be? If you don’t like it don’t leave, just refocus your attention to where it’s supposed to be and you’ll find that it won’t be a big deal to you anymore. Thanks for reading – Noah Upton

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    1. Noah, I used to think like this too. But you are demonstrating a lack of biblical and theological training. You referred to passages in the Bible that encourage us to be loud and joyful in praise, and we certainly should do that. But that is not the whole teaching of scripture. There are also passages that teach about community, family, priesthood of all believers, that all believers should bring their gifts to gatherings, and so on. I Cor 14:26, for a small example.

      The Holy Spirit should be in charge of our gatherings. Sometimes He will tell us to celebrate loudly. But not every time we meet. Church is way more fun and challenges us to grow more when the leadership tries harder to hear what the Spirit is doing and adjust to His guidance – which might be silence, or the testimony of a regular person, or the reading of scripture. I actually get bored stiff in loud musical worship because I am starved for the revelation of God.

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      1. Amy, Your scripture reference lays out a church service and the gifts that can be brought as is typical of all bible believing churches. Singing, teaching, prophesying, speaking in tongues and interpretation. I would like however for you to point out the scripture where the Bible references worship as a quiet time. In reference to quieting of a soul it is not in reference to worship but to needing security in God. You will not find a scripture that says to worship quietly. He can be glorified in the quiet moments no doubt but in no corporate setting does the word give instruction for quiet praise.

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    2. Noah, this is clearly a personal preference thing. If I were a visitor walking in to your church and felt you were focusing more on how bored I was when I left than how challenged I was when I left, I would not come back. My relatives and I don’t attend church to be entertained, we attend to worship and to grow in faith. While those goals may overlap at times, worship should never take a backseat to entertainment. If the group you are trying to attract is the one with short attention spans, that’s all good but realize it may be at the expense of other people who need a different type of experience. For example, some people need contemplation before they are able to engage with the Word so the bells and whistles actually prevent them from engaging in a service (this would be my spouse!). There is no shame in admitting one needs a different (more challenging or intellectual or interactive or etc) kind of worship experience. Ideally, the music supports the service. If the music is detracting from the service for John, then there’s a problem. It may be his problem… but it may be his congregation’s problem. Either way, I think it’s healthy to examine it.

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    1. Glad to hear that we have a common tradition. I teach Greek and New Testament at NCU. I have a Chi Alpha background and was a campus missionary in Germany for nine years. It is the XA background that has probably influenced me the most, including the wonderful experience of being in Christians In Action, led by Jim Bradford, in the 1980s. (Yep, I’m old.) I saw what is possible when the leadership is determined to hear from God and truly pastor a church to maturity in the gifts and community, and was privileged to see similar ministry develop in both Germany and England. I guess it spoiled me and makes me impatient at the lack of imagination in many of our churches in the US.

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  25. I Cor 14:26 is at the end of a long teaching by Paul to a church that was very one-sided in their gatherings (a good parallel to many of today’s churches). He made two main points: order, which is obedience to the Holy Spirit (and therefore not at all what we tend to think of as order!), and diversity. There is a small amount of diversity when one person preaches and a half dozen others play instruments on a stage. It is clear that Paul meant the whole body to come to the fore a lot more than that.

    Otherwise, I it seems that you and I are thinking of different definitions of worship. My focus is on the gathering of believers and the entirety of what ought to be happening. Even so, I am surprised that you do not know of scriptures that teach other ways of worshipping besides singing. If you wish to learn more, I would strongly encourage you to read When You Come Together, which unpacks biblical teaching on the gathering believers much more effectively than I can do it in this forum. Link is provided in a comment above.

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  26. To be clear – the purpose of this article was not to bring solution, but just to bring attention to an issue? Because I see a lot of criticism but not a lot of direction. Not that thats a bad thing – but as someone who is in charge of music at my church, I always want to make things better. As a musician, good musicianship never really takes me out of my worship “zone” (or whatever you want to call it). What does take me out is when anyone misses a note – my automatic response is I immediately forget whats going on and I only focus on that. Another thing that completely takes me out of my “zone” is when the worship leader tells everyone to do something like, “everyone just lift your hands in a sign of surrender”, like you mentioned. My initial response every single time is to just go – no – and stop singing. Who am I surrendering to, anyway? Jesus? Or you? Because of these two things that I struggle with, my main goal for my teams are to play with high quality and then to just get out of the way. Play your notes right, sing songs that people recognize (or play them enough that they will eventually recognize them) and then lead them into worship in music by worshiping. However, as someone who was raised in music almost to the point where its more comfortable to me than preaching (and I’m a youth pastor!) I don’t really understand the struggle that many people have that don’t have the same background. Because of that, I appreciate posts like this. Thanks.

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    1. Yea. This kind of stuff DRIVES ME CRAZY!!’ Just throwing stones but not offering any solutions in an attempt to make yourself seem wise or holier then thou is just absolutely poison to the body in my opinion. Who among us couldn’t take anyone in the church and pick at they way they live out thier calling? But what’s the point. If this was a conversation one on one in private or amongst a leadership team I think it would be highly beneficial and critical for edification and growth of a ministry. As a public blog, it just comes off as totally self serving and pointless to me. I haven’t been involved in church leadership in sometime, but the critical spirit of some expressed in the manner of this post was absolutely crushing or took amazing maturity and focus to ignore back in the day. Just riles me up!!!

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      1. Maybe he’s not offering solutions because he doesn’t know the solution? He’s just bringing up an issue that he has seen and is bringing attention to it. I never got the feeling of self-serving or holier than thou from his post, just someone bringing up something that he thinks all church leaders need to think critically about. We get so hung up on what we should be doing to keep up that we forget that God might want to do something else. Sometimes its good to look critically at what we are doing in order to take it down a few notches, nothing should be more important than what God is trying to do. Music is not essential to a worship service, and if we have decided it is, it has become an idol.

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      2. Absolutely true and good points.

        I think the spirit of the post and johns response to anyone who didn’t jump on his band wagon very condesending and not the least bit edifying.

        All of it Totally Rubbed me the wrong way and would have been very insulting to me if I was a worship leader doing my best to follow what I think is a very difficult calling.

        But that’s just my take on his take.

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      3. I am a worship leader doing my best to follow what definitely is a very difficult calling, and its not insulting. It definitely rustled me a bit initially when I read it, but something I have come to figure out in the last few years is that if you are unwilling to challenge something, including your practice, theology, or even just your personal preference, you need to think harder about why you believe it or not. If what we believe is truth, and what we do is right, if challenged, it will always come back to that. What John’s post did for me was made me think outside of the brain of a worship leader, and think about everyone instead of just those I typically try and reach with my music. I think the people that are rubbed the wrong way by this post have decided that they have found the “correct” way of doing things, even if they aren’t sure why they are correct. They just know it seems good and gets people in the door so it must be of God. And don’t get me wrong – I am in the boat too, I have not been actively seeking ways to change from the typical model. But if you refuse to think about what you are doing in a different light, even a critical one, it actually might show a bit of a lack of faith in what you are actually doing/teaching. Also – the people you are talking about not jumping on his band wagon aren’t exactly bringing solutions to this issue, just angry people hiding behind computer screens. He is responding to them in a way I think might be taken differently if done face to face – thats the problem with internet arguments, no body language. His criticism is harsh, and it definitely hurt a bit at first for me, but as with muscles, no pain no gain.

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      4. I dunno, his suggestions seem pretty clear to me: Incorporate more music that is accessible to real people, real voices (possibly even male voices) and find ways to be truly welcoming of worshipers versus putting on a one sided performance. The implied suggestions are obvious, if you aren’t completely closed minded to the idea that maybe the contemporary style of worship could be improved upon. Does it really need to be blatantly spelled out? Join the conversation instead of shutting it down.

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  27. “Do you know any ‘Worship Leaders’ who don’t sing or play an instrument?”

    Yes! My “worship leader” is an ELCA pastor. She has a degree in music so she’s accomplished on several instruments and a fine vocalist. However she doesn’t play instruments while leading worship and only sings during parts of the traditional liturgy that are enhanced by music. If you are burned out by the “Jesus frenzy” (as my teen calls contemporary evangelical services), you might consider visiting a mainline protestant church with a more traditional liturgy. Contrary to what many contemporary mega-churches are pushing, there is not one “correct” worship style. If yours isn’t working for you any more, investigate a new one.

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    1. Wow! You should put your worship leader in a glass box. People will come and buy tickets just to gaze at her. I seriously didn’t know creatures like that actually exist!

      My reason for asking the question was to demonstrate that ‘worship’ and ‘music’ are the same thing. A ‘worship leader’ means ‘a music person’ almost universally. Even your ELCA pastor is no exception. (She doesn’t play an instrument, but she could.)

      I completely agree that there is no ‘correct’ worship style. And I appreciate your encouragment to ‘investigate a new one’. That’s why I wrote this article!

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    2. I’m assuming ‘Jesus frenzy’ is supposed to be a derogatory term?

      I’ve certainly been Accused of worse things then being in a frenzy for Jesus.

      I love how in one comment the ‘mega churches’ are accused of ‘pushing an agenda’ and in the next they are accused of just doing ‘whatever anyone wants.’ To get people In The door.

      It’s like no one considers that maybe they are large churches because they are impacting a lot of people and those people tell other people and they want to come too and over time the community grows. Kind of like the church of acts.

      People seem to think theres something super spiritual about thier tiny little churches that very few people are attending.

      I don’t get that rational.

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  28. In the past, I might have entertained an argument. But my daughter got sick. Really sick. And now those things that once mattered, no matter seem important. Just connect with God. That is all.

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  29. As an erstwhile ‘worship leader’ myself (I hate that term when it simply means I stand at a microphone with a guitar slung around my neck) I found John’s post thought-provoking. Like all good posts, he picked on one issue and made several great points through caricature, many which made me laugh out loud in recognition.
    Todd, lighten up a little. I’m off to look out my staff. #LeanForTheLord

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  30. I am blessed to lead a group in a Catholic Church. On several occasions I have had a person approach me after the liturgy with a comment along the lines of “this didn’t feel like a Catholic Mass”. Initially, I took these comments as complements. Are group, when everyone is there consists of guitars, mandalin, drums, bass, flute, violins, cello, and singers. With the exception of a prelude song, and a song during the communion portion of the liturgy, all songs are expected to be sung by the entire congregation. The worship team, as many churches refer to them, is responsible for leading the congregation. Music, when properly placed and executed in liturgy should enhance each person’s growing relationship with God. There are times at the end of the liturgy, when we have worshiped well, that I want to tell people in the congregation, “That was worship!” I am responsible for putting all my attention and passion into experiencing God in the readings, the prayers, the songs, the conversations with fellow parishioners. When we are firing on all the right cylinders, I believe the Angels and saints are present and joining in, and God looks down with a smile.

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  31. Quota: ‘“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.”
    So…
    …why isn’t staff leaning part of Sunday worship service?
    I’m certain that I could participate with competency.
    Don’t need to carry a tune.
    Don’t need rhythm.
    …just need a stick.
    …Anybody can get hold of a stick.
    Think about it.
    Staffs are for the lame.
    Weak, sickly people who need aid in order to stand.’

    To call a staff a stick for the lame and an aid in order to stand, show a lack of understand of what a staff is; to a shepherd which is Joseph’s background, a staff or to give it its correct name a quarterstaff is a tool, it is used to guide the sheep, block a path, push a sheep along a path. And like a pilgrim it can be used to support you when carrying a heavy load (A sheep), a third leg when climbing or closing a fast river (Provides support), to find a path a path at night or to cross a river. In the hands of shepherd or a pilgrim, a staff becomes a defensive weapon. With training it becomes an effective defensive or offensive weapon. (Quarterstaff fighting is an English Marshal Art) A shepherd would use it drive off wild animals, robbers who come to take the sheep and to protect himself likewise a pilgrim, monk or friar. To Jacob, his staff is an old friend, whom he would have lent on before. Staff appear many times in the bible and can be seen as a part of the Christ’s ‘kit’.

    PS: I would love to walk into church carrying a staff, but I wonder how many people would understand what I am saying – I am a pilgrim on a journey.

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  32. There is a route to freedom for those Christians who can’t find peace in an evangelical or charismatic or non-denominational church setting. Leaving for a tradition that proscribes what true worship is and how it is conducted is a good way to go. The two church traditions that best provide this are Eastern Orthodoxy (in both it’s “Greek” and “Coptic” forms and Confessional Lutheranism (such as the LCMS, for example.).

    There is a reason Lutherans refer to their services as “Divine Worship” and the Orthodox, both “Greek” and “Coptic” refer to their services as The Divine Liturgy. In these traditions, worship is not a democratic choice or a cafeteria approach. These traditions spell out what worship is and how it will be conducted. I could never find peace in this area until I journeyed into these traditions. I was once in the LCMS, and now I’m Eastern Orthodox.

    I heartily recommend this route for those frustrated by the modern evangelical / charismatic approach to worship.

    Blessings,

    Columba Silouan

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    1. Can’t believe I’m typing these words but – I would rather put in ear plugs if a loud, leg kicking praise band had to be endured to hear good expository preaching than sit through man’s “tradition.” People, you don’t need anything to encounter/get in touch with/experience/feel like worshipping God. It’s a choice of acknowledging who you aren’t and Who He is. A quadriplegic can look outside the window and worship God for His creation. Stop thinking anybody needs you or your music, whatever kind you prefer. Stop thinking you need anybody else’s music, whatever kind you prefer. Read the Bible, pray, surrendered your life to His plan, Obey His rules, His Spirit – that is worship at its finest. If whatever you think is necessary “to do” doesn’t translate to church in a Third World country, then it’s not God but you. Prosperity gospel? Tell it to a kid with no shoes. Name it claim it? Tell it to a widow with 4 kids under 7 in a refugee camp. Get over your American, church growth, research says, rock star pastor’s book declares, nonsense and spend your time and energy on things that keep people out of hell instead of telling them that showing up for coffee, concerts, and community is the gospel. God wrote a book and it’s been a best seller for years but since he doesn’t do interviews or book signing tours or satellite conferences nobody spends time reading it. If they did, they’d realize that way too much of what calls itself “the church” is nothing like His idea. And I’m not talking about music.

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      1. Hi McQ,
        I agree almost entirely with your challenge here. It is true that we can and should worship God in any situation. This type of response almost always occurs on threads that discuss worship gatherings. The problem is that it ignores the responsibility of the pastor and other church leadership to be seeking God’s guidance, obeying the Holy Spirit. Worshippers should worship no matter what, but pastors should be nurturing and maturing the flock. A truly charismatic or pentecostal worship gathering would not be characterized by loudness or Me-centered songs, for example (though there is a place for these). A pentecostal worship pastor would be listening to the Holy Spirit and willing to adjust at any point to God’s guidance in the gathering. A charismatic worship pastor would be aware of the giftedness of the body. Not to mention praying about how to bring such aspects as true community/family to the fore in any gathering.

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