I’ve had a curious thought about the worship movement. Yes, “worship movement.” It seems to me that out of the Vineyard movement and similar neo-charismatic movements have come something that could be called a “worship movement,” that trend that is infiltrating a wide array of church traditions these days. You can tell by the ignoring or absence of hymnals in favour of the projection of lyrics on a screen. The selection of hymns is drastically reduced as well, giving way to choruses from the Vineyard, Hillsong, Integrity/Hosanna, Matt Redman, Third Day, and a cross section of people with soul patches. Not to mention that wherever church organs remain, they’re getting dusty. Not only have guitars and drums invaded, there are now bongos, conga drums, and djembes involved.
Some of the impetus has to do, I think, with “modernization” and cultural relevance, but also with the feeling or perception that many of these new styles of songs make it easier for people to connect with God. In this context, worship comes to be seen as a renewing factor in the church and a gauge of spiritual intimacy with God.
Now, I’m not against this sort of worship at all (or not completely, rather), and the thought that struck me may sound like a massive generalization. In fact, it’s far too much of a generalization to make, so please don’t hear me making that kind of statement in any way.
The thought is this — is the proliferance of this trend to renewed forms of worship covering a lack of true spiritual formation in some circles? In many or most context contexts where these forms of worship are found, they are genuine expressions of worship or adoration. In some contexts, they are perhaps a veneer of the “appropriate” format. In others — and here’s where I place the question — the forms of worship are imported from other contexts. Sometimes there is the hope of renewal, of fostering deeper devotion to God, and naturally, of being culturally relevant. The real question is whether some or many of the churches who are looking to a change in worship format to help provide renewal in the congregation are unwittingly just spinning their wheels.
Renewing the worship format is essentially just changing behaviour without necessarily changing the heart. True, some behaviours help form our hearts and attitudes… but not all. I don’t think any particular worship format is singularly capable of producing this kind of change, of spiritual formation — just of giving voice to such change. For this reason, some churches may be looking to the worship movement to help foster change that it can’t possibly instill.
Having been in a church a few years ago that did the very thing, there is much truth to your question. Alot of times churches that are in situations where ” real ” change has to be made, the fist thing they think about is their worship music. Too often it’s nothing more than like the band playing on the deck of the Titanic, nothing more than to distract peoples attention to the reality that the church should changed it’s courese.
yes and no. yes, renewed forms of worship (sometimes) cover a lack of true spiritual formation, but i think no more so than dogged clinging to traditional worship formats for tradition’s sake may do the same.
here’s a petty and shallow example that is not intended to irritate or make light of the issue : are movies better now that you have an HDTV? Well, no- the movie is (mostly) the same, however (and i’m guessing here since my example doesn’t apply to me) you may well watch them more often or with more relish than before on your old LCD.
I think that a similar thing occurs with worship. Perhaps the worship is no more sincere, but perhaps some will give it a try more often, or perhaps listen more carefully for the simple reason that we sometimes hear better when the message comes wrapped differently. Take Eugene Petersons’s “The Message”. Is the word of God new? No. Because of this different interpretation do some people suddenly read it anew with increased vigor resulting in deeper more sincere knowledge of the Holy. Yes. Should everyone then make The Message their primary bible for meditation and study? Probably not.
Here is one more example. My husband and I lead worship music in a service at our church. We play traditional as well as contemporary songs. I can’t count the number of times someone has come up to me and said “I really like that new song. The words are wonderful!” when in fact, the “new” song was written by some young whippersnapper like Charles Wesley and that person has been singing it for 40 years in traditional worship format. When we change the accompaniment to guitar, and put the words on a screen, the song is suddenly new and the “old” speaks in a new way.
I think the essential problem you’re describing comes from our tendency to put all our eggs in one basket. When we put all of our hope for spiritual formation into music or worship style, we will always be dissatisfied with the result, for spiritual formation cannot occur from only corporate worship. God is too big for that. We wish He were smaller and could be found so easily- and so we put way too much stock in worship style. But He isn’t, and that is to my great relief.
“…just changing behaviour without necessarily changing the heart.” Isaiah heard it first from the Lord, “This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” (Is. 29:13). It is a bit presumptuous to sing songs of great love and dedication with little or, worse, no attending action of love and dedication. It’s not terribly surprising that this is the case given that we live in a society consumed with looking good rather than actually being good.
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22)
A picture is worth a thousand words …
And that picture says it all. It just creeps me out. Those people look like pod-people …
I think what I’m trying to say is that when people are externally copying something that is supposed to be generated from an internal change this is the end result … pod-people. We see this not only in worship but in fellowship and all the other bits and pieces of institutional church.
To be fair, I think that most folks desire the change, but don’t know how to pursue it. Or have been lead down a path that leads nowhere or something …
Am I making any sort of sense?
I believe that “worship” in most churches, whether traditional or more contemporary, is used as a substitute for spiritual formation that should be taking place through the week. I’ve heard it said that if we live in such a way as to worship God in all that we do, there will be no “worship wars” because the Sunday gathering will simply be an overflow of what we have done through the week
I agree with John. Worship is spawned from the heart, and it matters not what the music is, for singing is not worship. The experience or corporate singing is emotionalism, which can be emotions expressing the spirit through the heart, but not necessarily. I just started watching American Idol and was struck by the worship given to the singers as the same as in a church service. People were waving their hands on American Idol and cheering the singers. Worship is not a corporate experience, first but an individual experience that is shared with other individuals before it becomes corporate. If the individual hearts are not already worshiping the Father, singing won’t create the worship. Try coming to a church service when you are disobedient to God and see how well you sing. You won’t. Worship begins with an obedient heart.
I agree that true formation may be neglected. The worship movement may indeed do that. However, it is a desire, need and biblical mandate for a communal experience that is indeed part of an individuals spiritual formation and engaging in worship forms that are more indigenous makes sense rather than forms that may meaningless and detached. It is a “both and” where your experience and renewal as a group can be a part of your formation overall. It is when Christians see worship singing as their formation for lack of other disciplines where the problem lies. It is not in the worship movement at all. Only in our desire for short cuts in our life with Christ. This is coming from a worship leader who desires such in his church.
“…is the proliferance of this trend to renewed forms of worship covering a lack of true spiritual formation in some circles?”
I think that’s very likely, but I don’t think it’s any more prevalent than the way some other congregations mask spiritual disengagement with their death-grip on rote traditional forms.
“I don’t think any particular worship format is singularly capable of producing this kind of change, of spiritual formation — just of giving voice to such change. For this reason, some churches may be looking to the worship movement to help foster change that it can’t possibly instill.”
Maybe I’m cynical [/understatement], but I think the vast majority of assemblies who make the switch to more contemporary forms of “worship” do so in an attempt to be more attractive to young people and to compete with the church up the street. More butts in the seats is the primary “change” most church leaders are looking for.
Rich, that’s what i was trying to say but apparently didn’t say very well. thank you.
I think too often “church” gatherings are an excuse or substitute for “spiritual formation”. Perhaps we need a fresh perspective on “christianity”…one not from my but from gods perspective somewhere outside of out weel ordered natural realm.
Per haps there may well be a perhaps (skewed) perspective which views worship as the presentation of ones body to God as a reasonable act of worship could worship be a 24/7 expression since our bodies are now the temple of God…the holy place in which the Spirit of Christ dwells. i also think we confuse “worship” and “praise” (the fruit of the lips). Why is singing hymns or choruses “worship” and the purpose for which we gather? I’m not trying to construct some new or strange doctrine but perhaps we have substituted meeting on Sunday to worship (sing and hear preaching and maybe make some prayers) for s lifestyle of glorifying god!?
It is evident to me that the reason for gathering is oh so much more then to have a worship service! I wonder what that might be or look like?
Perhaps we can prayerfully study the scriptures to discern what it means to truly “worship” (to fall down prostrate) the living God.
Well, firstly I think the word “worship” would vie with the word “church” for title of most abused and misunderstood word in Western Christianity. I think we have a real, real problem when renewing our worship and changing our instruments are seem as synonymous terms. Worship need not be accompanied by any instrument.
And yes, sometimes this process should be seen as a triumph of style over substance. Not that I’m against style, nor that I’m a particular fan of ancient hymns, its just that when dumbing-down and romanticizing-up the lyrics is seen as part and parcel of the process of becoming “relevant” I have to wonder how missional it is, particularly when the missio Dei goes AWOL in our lyrics. Style is important, but secondary, and should always remain subordinate to substance.
So I have to wonder about the psychology and spirituality behind mass “worship” consumption.