I Will Worship God…But Only if I Can Do It My Way!
Today professes to be a pretty exciting day. Some friends of mine started a music festival called Awakeningfest and my wife and I get to check it out again. The first time we went a few years ago it had just gone main stream with several thousand attendees. Last year it had tens of thousands; this year, who knows. Music festivals have popped over the last few decades as an evangelistic effort to invite people to worship God outside of the four walled setting of the Sunday morning experience. I just read an bloggers article on worship and I really felt compelled to respond; in an explanatory way, not a negative shoot back at you way. If you can imagine someone writing a blog about the way you experience intimacy with your spouse and in the blog you felt like “hey, that’s not true at all, you’ve got it all wrong…here is the truth!” Then you can understand why I feel compelled to respond. Some of you may already feel the old “oh no, not the contemporary vs traditional worship” conversation coming on. This is more like the “will I worship God my way…or any way possible” conversation.
As I read the article the blogger stated by discussing the order of worship and how sacraments and tradition were being forsaken in favor of “flow”. Also, ancient and traditional practices were being “modernized”. The author also stated that he had been in churches were no scriptures were read and in at least three churches in as many years where sermons were preached based on the internet or children’s books but no reference was made to the Bible. I must say that what the author experienced is not the church. The church is the literal body of Christ and where the church is gathered true worship exists. I must also say that to judge all contemporary worship celebration or those that use modern means to experience and worship God based on the three bad churches the author visited is on par with those who have walked into one traditional service and left claiming it was extremely boring and devoid of true worship. If God really only had one way or one style of worship which He preferred He surely would have communicated it to us in His Word. Instead, He allows us to come to Him old school, new school, traditional, with drums banging, or with tambourines clanging. At the CrossRoads we have committed to using every single resource available to worshipping God: we use a band, a choir, dance, drama, video, poetry, candles, communion, spoken word, or anything we have at our disposal. If we could really hear the rocks crying out…we’d put them on stage and worship God right along with them.
The author also claims that based on his research too many pastors claimed that worship is about making people feel good. On this point I agree with the author that worship is about experiencing God. In my humble opinion, at every Celebration the goal should be to effectively communicate the word of God and to experience God in a corporate setting that we might draw closer to Him as the body, and that those who don’t know Him might experience Him as Lord. Seriously, you could word this 1,000 different ways and if you ask 1,000 different pastors who were called into the ministry by God you would get 1,000 different variations of the same answer.
Next the author criticizes the time spent in a service, especially the carefully orchestrated full blown TV productions. Are you kidding me? God has provided a vehicle to take the Gospel across the globe in an instant and we are criticizing it? We should be praising God that Christians are allowed to preach on TV instead of criticizing the way they do it. Granted there are some televangelists that are more about the production and their minute of fame than they are about providing an opportunity for people to worship God but does that mean that every preacher on TV is a glory hound? Of course not. Again, don’t kill the medium because of a few TV hacks. And who cares if worship services are limited to an hour. Each pastor should know their flock well enough and their community well enough to determine the proper length of a celebration. Obviously, some have to end the services quickly because they have to rush to another celebration since some pastors hold celebrations for more than one congregation. Others have to limit time because they have multiple Celebrations in the same location. Truth be told, if they are like me, they have a set starting time and stopping time but they start when God starts and they stop when He stops.
And then of course there is the paragraph on music. Here is the short and sweet on that: many of the hymns at the time were considered “contemporary” when they were written. New hymns were added over a period of time as well. Some of the hymns are slower and some are faster. Some denominations include hymns that other denominations do not allow. The reality is that we are not going to get to heaven and have a hymn section, a country gospel section, a gospel section, and a contemporary section. We’re just going to have worship. And if we all believe what the Bible says, which I hope we do, we’re going to see and hear things in heaven that will make our heads spin. So don’t get caught up over what type of music we worship to…just be glad we worship. Would someone really be in heaven and say “sorry Jesus, I will not worship at your feet while that music is playing, can we change the station?
On the authors point about the messages being delivered I would have to agree…if you are not going to use the Bible to deliver your message why should people attend your celebration? In my just over two years at CrossRoads I have shared one message where I did not have people open their Bibles and that was a time of me having a personal talk about our vision and values after a merger. I think I did reference scripture but did not have everyone open their Bibles and turn to the scriptures I was referencing. At CrossRoads we often teach verse by verse or chapter by chapter through specific book of the Bible while also doing topical teaching based on the needs of the congregation and the direction God is taking us at the time. The main reason we use so much scripture…it’s the Word of God…and we want everyone to know we are not just making this stuff up.
The author’s last point of saying you cannot have community in a setting where the message is broadcast is difficult to comprehend. If Jesus said where two or more are gathered there His is in the midst, and He can gather with us while we read His word, or watch a clip for a Bible study why can’t He show up when we gather in front of huge screen where the pastor if giving a message via video feed? To me, this is akin to what the Israelites did…they limited God by putting God in a box and saying God could only act, could only be present in a certain fashion, in a certain way, or in a certain venue. To those who say that or think that, I would ask why? Why can’t God show up in a coffee house setting, or in a traditional setting, or in a video venue setting, or in a contemporary worship setting, or in a mega church stadium setting…why? I believe God can as long as we are worshipping Him with all that we have and all that we are. Having true worship and a spirit of community and fellowship is not dependent upon where we are, but who we are. This is why the New Testament church learned to worship in houses, in prisons, under bridges, in upper rooms, and wherever they could gather. They worshipped God with songs, with praises, with instruments and without them. There was no limit to how they worshipped or where they worshipped or when they worshipped or with whom. If we truly want to be the church, we won’t allow that to limit us either. If using a drum verses a tambourine or a full blown band verses an organ allows an entire generation of people to come into contact with the King of Kings, does it matter if they don’t sing the songs I sang growing up? The burden of responsibility is on this generation of church leaders to ensure that the people understand that God is looking for, searching for people that will worship Him in spirit and in truth.