>Critique of (Some) Worship Music

>Another good cartoon from David Hayward.  Gets at one facet of the discussion of contemporary and traditional music.  The argument that it’s cliche’ is usually levied against contemporary music…but I think it can be said about some of our good, old traditional pieces as well.

>Worship is All About MEEEEEE !

>Michael W. Smith during a concert in Bloomsbur...Image via WikipediaWe have had some ongoing dialogue at Girdwood Chapel this year about worship style.  This is because we have some folks who would really prefer some more contemporary music–music which may be unfamiliar and of a far more different style than some of our more traditional folks are used to.  I, frankly appreciate a wide range of music styles.  Our limiting factor has usually been instrumentation.  We just don’t have musicians who can handle contemporary Christian music at the level which is needed.  If you’re going to go contemporary, it has to be done well.

This brought about good conversation of music style and worship and congregants “getting something out of worship.”  I understand…I really do…that attending a “high church” worship service when you’re a “low church” kind of person can make it hard to experience God fully in that place.  I understand that.  I also understand that, if you’re a “high church” kind of person some contemporary Christian music, the latest by Steven Curtis Chapman or Third Day or Michael W. Smith or Chris Tomlin, can seem less theological and too “touchy feely.”  It can seem shallow.  I understand that.

But, theologically speaking, isn’t worship about God and not “what you GET” out of it?  Isn’t God worthy to be praised, and, whether that’s in a language or style that’s comfortable to you, the act of worship is more important than how your spiritual batteries feel charged from that experience?  By catering to every experiential need of persons churches have turned the focus of worship to the individual worshiper and away from the God who should be at the center of the worship.  We have churches who are beginning worship design by asking what the churched or unchurched persons in their communities want, rather than beginning with the assumption that, no matter how it’s done, it is a right an good thing to offer praise to our most Holy and awesome God.  It also forces smaller churches to try to keep up with the customer satisfaction of their bigger church neighbors, which may be completely impossible for them given limitations.

Mark Altrogge over at Blazing Center had and interesting article yesterday, about how we turn Scripture and religion on its head, making it all about us.  I’d never say out loud what he says about worship.  But I can remember a time when the thought may have crossed my mind.

Ever heard someone say, “Worship didn’t do much for me this morning.”  Awww, we’re sorry your majesty wasn’t entertained and enthralled today.  Maybe we should get Paul McCartney to lead worship next Sunday.  Sorry the smoke machines didn’t fill the room and a few of the explosions were softer than normal.  Maybe we should ask Jesus if he got anything out of our worship this morning.

And, this is not a critique of EITHER contemporary or traditional worship, a least from where I’m coming from.  The same words could apply either way. I think it merely gets to the backwards way we sometimes think of worship, beginning with US and not GOD.  It’s all about MEEEE !

Well, here’s what we’re doing at Girdwood Chapel.  We are using more contemporary music.  And, yes,  it’s the Third Day, Casting Crowns, and Steven Curtis Chapman variety.  But, in order to have pretty high quality music, we’re using worship videos from YouTube that have already been designed by others.  The videos yesterday were for these two songs:


The Third Day song was to lead us into our discussion about prayer.  “I Will Follow,” by Chris Tomlin is being sung each week as our sermon series theme is about following Jesus…and our folks seem to be appreciating the song.

For the 8:30 AM (older, smaller crowd) worship we use more traditional hymns in their place.  And at 10 AM we use the contemporary. 

I’ve enjoyed it.  I know I get something out of both styles and everything in between and I know that there will always be persons who don’t like this or that song…this or that style…this or that prayer….  I merely hope that the change is helping our folk praise God, who should always be at the center of our worship.

It’s not about us.

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>The Rich Man and Lararus — Preparing for Soup and Worship Tonight

>EthiopiaImage by babasteve via FlickrWhat a passage as we continue discussion about water and sanitation issues around the world.  Tonight, it’s Ethiopia.

    19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
   22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
   25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
   27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
   29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
   30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
   31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31, New International Version, ©2011)

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>Bored with Contemporary Worship — Reflections from Mike Slaughter


Here is a good reflection on contemporary worship by one of the pioneers of it in United Methodism, Mike Slaughter.  (HT to Allan Bevere for the link).  I thought this was a good read, particularly since we’re trying to find a way to appeal to the traditional folk and the contemporary folk and the folk who don’t care what goes on in worship but love being there with each other. 

In our congregation, for a sermon series on the person and work of Christ, we don’t have unison prayers.  There’s no prayer of confession.  There are no responsive readings.  There’s no creed.  We DO have communion, with the full liturgy from the Book of Worship, but the whole service has a more informal feel than some folks are used to.

And, I know this is a style that appeals to some folks.   I like it. Although I like the really high church services as well and wonder how we keep connected with the ancient traditions of the past while we try to move, still, into the future of worship.

Here what Mike Slaughter has to say.

I was sharing with my friend Adam Hamilton not long ago that contemporary worship has become boring for me. Those of us influenced by the Jesus’ movement of the 60’s and 70’s pioneered early models of contemporary liturgies, which began in the informal gatherings of believers meeting together on college campuses, apartments and coffee houses, along with the influences of Christian rock and Jesus music festivals. The fresh new forms of relevant music, participatory sharing and free flowing spontaneous prayer created a welcoming space for our friends who had no connection to the ancient forms of traditional worship and for those of us who were just plain bored by tired repetitive traditional liturgies that had no connection to daily life. As many of us began to find our way back into the traditional church, we brought our guitars and new contemporary styles with us. I participated in some powerful guitar masses in Cincinnati in the early 1970’s. Contemporary worship forms were bringing Christians together from many different traditions. The Catholic and Protestant Charismatic renewals brought Catholics and Protestants together in conferences and worship experiences with the promising hope of a new horizon for Christian unity. The movement peaked in the 70’s and began to decline, somewhat due to emotional and theological excesses, in the 80’s. The contemporary movement became more distinctly evangelical protestant, connected to the church growth-seeker model in the 80’s. Drama, media and other artistic forms were also introduced during the next decade. Mainline churches began to experiment with the addition of contemporary worship services while maintaining traditional worship options.
So what are my issues with contemporary worship, which is a form that I have advocated and helped pioneer? 
•So much of contemporary worship has become a tired and predicable ritual. The same old-same old that begins with three songs, a drama, film clip, announcements and message, week after week after week after…
•Much of the music is just plain trite. Nothing like the words written by some of the early pioneers of the Jesus’ movement (check out Larry Norman).
•In our attempt to be relevant have we focused more on methodology than theology?

•I had an opportunity to worship with the good people at Custer Road UMC in Plano, Texas last week. Affirming our faith together through the Apostles Creed and the communion liturgy was meaningful. Much of what we have done in contemporary worship has lost all connection to the creeds and ancient traditions of the past.

I am not advocating for a return to traditional worship, which doesn’t work for many of us in the church nor is it relevant for those on the outside. What is a third way beyond traditional and contemporary that is ancient and future? Jim Belcher in his book, Deep Church, says: “Deep worship is rooted in two thousand years of the church and the historic flow of worship. The order of the service, the liturgy, should be both old and new. The goal is to take the best of the tradition and breathe new life into it for the 21st century.” He goes on to state that relevant worship “combines the best of the free church-moving extemporaneous prayers, longer sermons and room for the Spirit- with the ancient church’s commitment to set prayers and a liturgy of Word and Table.”