Doesn’t Modern Worship Miss God?

No, not unless it’s telling you to miss God.

New Life (Colorado Springs, CO) worship leader Glenn Packiam is in the middle of a great two-part piece about modern worship, entitled “The Problem With Our Critique of Modern Worship.” Whether you’re a worship leader or a worshiper (hey, that’s every Christian) I would recommend reading it.

I know why Glenn’s writing this. It’s the same reason I would write something like this. Because when you’re in a place of leadership in an evangelical Christian church, every congregant has an opinion of how church should run, and their way is inevitably the “right way.” Much of this stems around the worship style.

Because we’re Christians, we can’t just tell people their ideas are stupid (even though plenty are). We need to be kind. And because we’re leaders, we must have a thoughtful response.

With regard to modern worship style and contexts, some people feel it’s missing God. They ask questions like, “Why do we need lights?” and “What’s up with all that bass?” which inevitably leads to “Are we running a rock concert or a church service?”

Assuming you already paused long enough to read Glenn’s article, his first point citing where critics often accuse modern songs of having “too many eruptions of repetitive monosyllabic sounds” is brilliant.

“Because it’s Biblical.”

And he brings in quotes from Fuller Seminary’s Old Testament professor John Goldingay to make the point. What might surprise many Christians today is that ancient Hebrew worship music was even more rhythmic and less melodic than anything we have today. And, if I might add from a modal study, our music has far more major chord voicings than anything they used in Middle East traditions, past or present.

But I’d like to offer a few additions to Glenn’s second point regarding the common accusation that our services are “too much like a rock concert.” Glenn does a great job of discerning how Christians can “inhabit the form” of something from the world while not being of the world. Like metaphor and diverse expression, the Church is a wonderful vehicle for an array of communications.

Here’s some more food for thought.

Firstly, what is so bad about a rock concert? Or any concert for that matter? Somewhere, the term “rock concert” has become synonymous in certain Christian circles as being “of the devil.”

News flash, and I know this might be a shocker, but I’ve been to hundreds of rock concerts and I’ve never seen the devil. I’ve never been encouraged to worship the devil. And I’ve never felt the devil. Granted, I may not have gone to the “proper rock concerts” to experience this, but even that proves my point: not all rock concerts are bad, and similarly, not all church services are good. So making a broad generalization is poor grounds for any argument.

Secondly, I’ve seen some amazing things in rock concerts. I’ve seen how lights can be used to minimize distractions and draw a crowd’s attention to something important. I’ve seen how quality mixing, thorough sound reinforcement, and poignant visual and video effects can provide an audience with a memorable, life-altering experience that they’ll never forget.

Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to do in the church?

So if the question isn’t one of style, but really—if we’re being honest—of content, then what are we promoting with all this technology?

I’m not sure about your church, if it falls into the “modern worship” context or not, but yesterday at mine, our worship leaders talked incessantly about Jesus, lead the church in songs about him, shared scriptures from his Bible, exhorted the church to pray and intercede for the perishing in our community, and prayed for the congregation.

Huh. I’ve never been to a rock concert where that happened. Unless you’re talking about a CCM concert, which I don’t think that’s what critics are trying to cite as evidence.

The truth is, I’ve been to secular rock shows where the front man was more humble than some pastors I’ve met on a Sunday morning. Again, not all, just some. Content always trumps environment.

Why am I so stumped when critics draw the awkward and ill-informed rock concert comparison? Because they’re choosing to use broad strokes when really all they need to say is, “I don’t like electric guitars.” Now at least that would be an honest, accurate statement that we could have a discussion about. Or just say, “I’m always going to think that things were better [in whatever decade they were saved in].” I can work with that! I’m sure that I’ll always think the 90’s were the best. (But they really weren’t).

When we use stereotypes in place of facts, it’s usually because we have not thought out our arguments and believe that generalizations will further impassion our plea. The opposite is true: they undermine our arguments and turn well-meaning people into cause-driven fanatics.

If we’re going to critique anything, let it be whether or not we see the love of Jesus at work among his people. Whether or not we see people using their creative gifts to full effect in directing attention to God and creating an unforgettable experience for others. And whether or not people walk away remembering how exciting it is to see “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).

  • AnneMarie Lachance-Sureau

    YES! For me, I’m at a place where we are inviting our teen daughters’ friends to church (TFH) or to Kingdom Bound and what I love about “loud rock and roll Jesus music” is that I turn to the teens and say “and you probably thought church was boring. Well, if you leave with anything today it’s that God is NOT boring.” I think it’s important that the generation that loves the electric guitars, the bass, the volume cranked is that they don’t have to be “hymn lovers” to “tolerate church”.
    Last summer we brought a non-believing French teenager with us to Kingdom Bound. Total agnostic, humanistic upbringing and she was totally completely and utterly FLOORED by all these bands preaching Jesus and rocking out. She left for France with TEN Christian CD’s!! Seeds were planted in a huge way…why? Because GOD IS NOT BORING…not even when it comes to worship.

    • I just love how you and Pascal are still young at heart, and desire means and methods that engage your daughters and their peers. This is the heart of the Father to me. And love all those seeds that were planted for you exchange student. God is faithful and creative!

      • AnneMarie Lachance-Sureau

        FRONT ROW SKILLET BABY!! Yeah!! After all, I’m a 70’s girl…we’re talking Zeppelin, Rush, Aerosmith, Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, The Who, NEIL YOUNG, Lynyrd Skynyrd…come on, Freebird??..sorry guys, but that was the best decade for music hands down! 🙂

  • Jon Cleek

    I agree with most of what you’re saying… except that the 90’s were, in fact, the best haha. But that’s exactly right, where is your heart? I think there is a balance and any time you have more than a few people, someone will likely get lost (too many instruments, not enough instruments! You can’t win haha). This is a good thing for all to reflect and make sure they have their focus, their heart, in the right spot.

    • Thanks, Jon. Yes, heart is what God’s after and what God sees. I like how you singled that element out.
      And the 90’s were the best. You’re right. 😉

    • (PS – Hope all in well with you, old friend. Love seeing your name pop up on here).

  • Jason Rodgers

    Very insightful, I wonder if there’s another point when it comes to being the center of attention. If the argument is made that modern worship is too much like a rock concert in that it draws the attention to the band. Is this always a bad thing, I submit that Paul did the very same. Paul said “follow me as I follow Christ.” He deliberately drew attention to himself. When we see Paul do this in scripture we call it discipleship. In another parallel doesn’t a preacher draw attention to himself in an even a greater capacity? The way modern church services are setup you have no choice but to be drawn the Pastor during a sermon. The pastor for however long his or her message may be is the center of attention. Most would say yes but they are teaching, preaching, exhorting or possibly correcting and using scripture to do it. I submit that as worship leaders and musicians we should be trying to do the very same thing with our medium. Sometimes it’s loud and sometimes it’s quiet, sometimes there are visual elements that burn the events of the sacred into our hearts and minds (ie Moses and the burning bush) what a spectacular lighting display. 😉 I think in most modern churches it comes down to heart of those trying to relay the message God has charged them to reverberate.

    • Jason,

      Such great points here. Never even thought about that. In terms of being the center of attention, how come critics never cite the pastor as the main rock star? I mean, I’m sure some do. But this is further proof that what people are really trying to say is they don’t like something, and that their broad generalizing comparison breaks down further in your analysis.
      Thanks for the valuable, thoughtful addition.

  • Erica D Lehman

    CCM rocks! Pardon the pun, but I love K-Love! I’m a CCM nut. Actually been to a few CCM concerts. In fact, I think you were at the last one I went to. I was at your church when Audio A came. Pastor Chris was there and I thought it might be you. My family got shirts.

    • Thanks, Erica! I’m honored that you’d remember. And Christian radio is indeed a blessing for so many people around the world. Good point.

      • Erica D Lehman

        The shirt keeps the memory alive. I have a good memory.