Shouldn’t the “Worship Experience be God’s?”

Bill Kinnon published in his blog a post titled: “Turn Up the Neighbors the Eagles are Listening”. In this post, he asked: …… ‘shouldn’t the “worship experience” be God’s?’

And, here are some quotes from his post:

We’ve been confused into thinking that “putting on the best show” is somehow about “winning the lost to Christ”. “Worship Experiences” have little to do with actually worshipping the risen Lord. We judge those “experiences” based on our own feelings – as our own “needs are met.”

Let’s be honest, shall we. Our corporate worship in the west is really about happy clappy people having a good time – in the hopes they’ll come back for more happy clappy times, begin to pay the price of admission (I think you call that “tithing”) and get signed up to serve in a “ministry” that benefits the corporation.

Should worship on occasion be joyous? Of course.

But it also should be mournful. (Read the Psalms, people! David sang the blues. Shouldn’t we? …. [My comment: Please read Michael Card’s “A Sacred Sorrow”]

It should be contemplative. (That word will overly excite a few folk.)

[My comment: Have you experienced the worship of TAIZE?]

  1. Life at Taizé from Taizé on Vimeo.
  2. Worship at Taize

It should lead us to confession.

And ultimately, the “experience of worship” should be God’s.
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In “The Big Worship Goof”, iMonk asked:

Does anyone- I mean, really, seriously- have any idea what is actually happening within the worship culture of evangelicals?

Then, his observation followed:

We have, within a matter of 50 years, completely changed the entire concept of what is a worship service. We’ve adopted an approach that demands ridiculous levels of musical, technical and financial commitment and resources.

We have tied ourselves to the Christian music industry and its endless appetite for change and profit. We have accepted that all of our worship leaders are going to be very, very young people. Traditional worship – a la Tenth Presbyterian in Philly- is on the verge of becoming a museum piece.

The reformed- of all people- have led the way in this revolution. I attended a seminar last week where a room full of reformed were instructed in why the optimum worship leadership option was “the band.” Not the choir, the worship team, etc But “the band.” Does anyone realize what that means for public worship?

Diversity, generational compatibility, even simplicity are all being blown up. Worship is now a major audience event, led by skilled entertainers, aimed at a demographic and judged by the audience reaction.

God? God has been moved around to be things like a reluctant Spirit we sing down with our songs or a divine innovator always blessing as much radical change as possible.

[Here, I would like to quote from “discerning the spirits” — By its very nature worship, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, is ridiculously incongruous. To think that we can really offer praise so worthy that god would accept it on its own merit is the height of folly.]

His explanations on “Why do I call this a goof?”

Because there is no way for this to end well. This is like a NASCAR car with the throttle stuck open. We’re stuck on a roller coaster and we can’t get off.

Worship has now become a musical term. Praise and worship means music. Let’s worship means the band will play. We need to give more time to worship doesn’t mean silent prayer or public scripture reading or any kind of participatory liturgy. It means music.

Even singing is getting lost in this. As the volume and the performance level goes up, who knows who is singing?

And who can stand for 20, 30 or 40 minutes?

We have a lot of happy people right now. They have no idea what Biblical worship is outside of the context of their favorite songs played by a kickin’ band. They have little idea of worship in vocation, in family, in ordinary work or in silence. They credit their favorite songs as major spiritual events.

We have goofed up.

His recommendations:

Simple, plain liturgy.
Diversity and inclusion.
Appreciation and full Biblical understanding.
Cross generational intentionality.
Suspicion of the profit motive.
Renouncing the spirit of competition.
Hearing the prophetic warnings about God’s disgust with much of Israel’s “big show” worship culture.

We need all of this. We need Jesus shaped worship, and we need worship that promotes a simple, direct, uncompromising Jesus shaped spirituality.

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Years ago, there was a “worship war”. Paul Basden said “I repeat, worship has the power to split churches!” He carefully delineates five prominent approaches to worship (liturgical, traditional, revivalist, praise & worship and seeker-sensitive). It seems that the evangelical churches had their worships evolved into the contemporary “praise & worship” style as described in the above two blog posts.

“Praise and worship” (P&W) describes an upbeat, loud, informal service which is a “flowing praise service” and is different from the more traditional”liturgical service” or “thematic service”. [These three formats were described in “The New Worship” by Barry Liesch]. Historically, P&W style was found in black worship and Pentecostal worship.

Basden pointed out the three strengths of P&W style:

(1) The service overflow with excitement and joy. Fueled by the worshipers expectations and the upbeat music, the praise and worship style celebrates the presence of a tender heavenly Father, a victorious Lord Jesus Christ and a powerful Holy Spirit.

(2) Worshipers experience an intimate encounter with God. They sense a deep awareness of his presence through the spiritual and emotional impact of the music, players, testimony and sermon.

(3) This style allows great freedom to respond to the perceived movement of God’s Spirit, whether by singing with raised hands, praying with outstretched arms, clapping as an expression of affirmation or saying “amen” during the sermon. Such participation causes the congregation to believe that they are participating in the dialogue and drama of worship and truly worshiping God in the Spirit, a privilege that they do not ever want to give up.

Basden also pointed out three blind spots in this style:

(1) Because experience plays such a prominent role, some Christians feel that these services shortchange theology. With the obvious emphasis on emotional response, this style is sometimes accused of providing entertainment or of degenerating into a religious pep rally.

(2) Some regard the P&W songs & lyrics as doctrinally shallow and musically simplistic, not to mention redundant. …. An unhealthy dependence of this style on Christian music’s Top 40-list is a common criticism by its detractors.

(3) Some onlookers fear that the subjectivity and freedom within the service are nothing more than organized chaos.

Even with these shortcomings, the P&W style is the dominate format today. Partly because it is the worship style of Pentecostal and non-denominational churches. And these churches are the fast growing churches in the world, particularly outside America. Then, the younger generations are more receptive to “the band” because of the contemporary culture. Worships in some traditional churches (e.g., Presbyterian and Methodist) also adopt a mix of P&W style with their more traditional style.

The dominating P&W style worship is not without problems. I believe that the problems will gradually be corrected as the churches mature. The recommendations listed above by i-Monk can be served as the “benchmarks” for the church worship leaders to consider in their arrangement of worship services.

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