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Is Evangelical Worship Headed for a Huge Crash?

Healthy Leaders

Is Evangelical Worship Headed for a Huge Crash?

Jamie BrownJamie Brown
Shared 72101 times

Recently, I spent a couple of days attending a worship leader conference featuring many well-known speakers and worship leaders. The conference was held about 15 minutes down the road from me, so it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m glad I went.

I met some new people, heard some thought-provoking teaching, enjoyed some good meals and conversations with worship leader friends, and experienced in person some of the modern worship trends that are becoming the norm in evangelicalism.

It was eye-opening in many ways.

Over the last few days, I’ve been processing some of what I saw and heard.

The hosts did a fantastic job of putting on a worship conference that exposed the attendees to a wide variety of resources, techniques, workshops, songs, new artists, approaches, teachings, and perspectives.

I thought of Mark Twain’s famous quote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait five minutes.” The same could be said of this conference. It’s an intentionally eclectic mix of different speakers, teachers, worship leaders and performers from different traditions, theological convictions and worship leading philosophies. You’ll hear and see some stuff you like and agree with, and then five minutes later you’ll hear and see some stuff you don’t agree with at all.

It’s good for worship leaders to experience this kind of wide exposure from time to time, and this national conference certainly provided it.

Yet throughout the conference, at different sessions with different worship leaders from different circles, using different approaches and leading with different bands, I picked up on a common theme.

It’s been growing over the last few decades. And to be honest, it’s a troubling theme.

And if this current generation of worship leaders doesn’t change this theme, then corporate worship in evangelicalism really is headed for a major crash.

It’s the theme of performance-ism.

It really is a problem. It really is a thing that is happening more and more. And we really can’t allow it to become the norm.

Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performance-ism while we can.

It’s not rocket science.

I am a worship music nerd. I listen to a lot of it. I follow the recent developments. I know who’s out there (sort of). I try to keep up (it’s not easy).

Even I didn’t know most of the songs that we were supposed to be singing along to at the conference. I tuned out. I sat down. I tweeted. I texted my wife. I gave up.

You’re not reading the ramblings of a curmudgeony guy complaining about all the new-fangled things the kids are doing these days, with their drums and tom-toms and electric geetars. You’re reading the heart-cry of a normal guy who’s worried about what worship leaders are doing to themselves and their congregations.

People are tuning out and giving up and just watching.

This is not a criticism of any particular individual, group, or even the conference. I do think they could make some changes to more intentionally model an approach to worship leading that isn’t so weighted on the performance side. As I said, this conference exposed us to what’s out there in the (primarily) evangelical worship world. The trend was glaringly evident to me.

It’s what’s out there that’s increasingly a problem.

Worship leaders: Step back. Take a deep breath. Think about it.

Do we really want to go down this road? It will result in a crash.

Back up. Recalibrate. Serve your congregations, point them to Jesus, help them sing along and sing with confidence.

Get out of the way, for God’s sake.

  • Kevin

    Well done Jamie, you have hit all the issues very well. I think the concern over performance driven worship leaders, unsingable songs with dodgy words etc have been around for some time. I am grateful that someone is now speaking out.

  • Mark

    Thanks Jamie for sharing this. One thing I would add is that worship takes on different forms for different settings. Certainly there may be a time for performance-based worship, like a concert or festival, but if brought to the worship service, we endanger the focus on true preaching of the gospel.

  • Richard Lynn Peachey

    I have observed that worship for the younger generation isn’t about singing, it’s about joining in emotionally. They worship at concerts hearing brand new material and expect the same experience in church. I’m not saying wether it is right or wrong. I am observing a culture shift. I don’t think worship is in for a crash because I see this is what many now want.

  • marie

    So refreshing to read this. To question the road that the ‘worship’ takes draws criticism, we are out of date etc etc. It concerns me greatly that we feel we need to present God on the same plane as secular bands. God is great , if we point those to Him for who he is our worship will be real. Worship is not just noise, even though there will certainly be time where it is. Worship comes in different forms , but when church’s become concert halls, and children are handed out ear muffs upon entry something is wrong. My daughter raised her concern about strobe lights in a children’s event, the organiser said that’s what people want. I disagree people want and need to see Jesus but in our case the children no longer attend as the lights and noise trigger sensory issues, God must weep. Oh please leaders hear what God is saying , not what the world is saying.

    • Kay

      speaking of sensory issues, the youngest of our grandchildren is autistic and the worship at their church, just causes the poor child to have a metldown!

  • Daniella

    I had to stop going to the church of my choice due to the extreme nature of “worship”. I love to sing and worship. I just couldn’t take the raucus performance from the stage and the constant worship direction – “raise your hands”, “dance in the spirit”, “spin around”. I need a quiet place of worship that is not at concert decibels. And, guess what! I am not a senior citizen. I need peaceful calm worship.

    • Dan

      So suddenly you only worship when it suits your needs? I thought we were going back to the heart of worship where it’s all about Jesus and not the kind of worship we need?

  • Rene Smit Taljaard

    Thanks Jamie for speaking up… you are voicing what a lot of us feel but had nowhere to voice it.

  • Pete Bultitude

    This sums up how i have been feeling for many years about these “Show” churches. I’m sure the heart of many of them is true but they have been swept up in this culture of trying to copy Glastonbury to gets bums on seats.

  • K.P.

    Most lack the sensitivity in Holy Spirit. Then you lack it all.

  • Glimari

    So get this. So glad it’s not just me! Thank you for articulating the issue so well.

  • Dan

    I think a good step in the right direction would be to stop calling those who lead the singing ‘Worship Leaders’. Worship is the whole of your life and such lazy terminology feeds the compartmentalisation of out Christian lives. For many us just turning up at a gathering is worship.

  • Patrick Flynn

    sadly it seems we’ve replaced the Glory Cloud with smoke machines. we need to get back to focusing on God in our worship

    • Stromox

      This ‘Glory Cloud’ you’re referring to is part of the new-age worship hysteria. It’s nonsense and shouldn’t be important. You’ll find no such reference for this term in the bible.

  • Fr. Bill

    Jamie,

    Fifteen years ago I led a group of “refugees” from contemporary worship as it was being practiced in our community to found an Anglican parish using the American 1928 Book of Common Prayer for its worship liturgy. It’s about as distant from what you saw at the conference as one can get. On the other hand, it is as close to how the Church has worshiped for 2000 years as you can get and still speak or sing in English while doing it! Insofar as we were all committed Protestants and our cultural heritage is rooted primarily in England, the Anglican model for our worship was going to feel the most familiar to everyone, even those of us who were reared and lived most of our lives in evangelical climes that are historically averse to liturgical worship.

    The bullet points you list under “It’s not rocket science” above – every one of them is satisfied in a Grade-A Number 1 Super-deluxe manner via the worship you find in smellsy-bellsy Anglican or Roman or Lutheran or Orthodox worship. And, you’re right – it’s not rocket science! Rather, it’s the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom of centuries of Christians who faithfully avoided all the pitfalls you point to.

  • Mark S

    “Use your original songs in extreme moderation.”

    Glad King David didn’t read this!

  • Mari Tatlow Steed

    I’d say the issue has more to do with “worship leaders.” You used the term “worship leaders” or “worship leading” thirteen times in this piece. And end it by saying “Get out of the way, for God’s sake.”

    See the problem? “Leadership” and “leaders” getting in the way of God has always been the downfall of religion. And always will be.

  • Billy

    Thanks! Needed to be said! Our team has a common goal: we worship Jesus; everybody else can join us and we hope they do, but we’re worshipping, if you’ll forgive me for the reference that sometimes sounds corny, but the “audience of One”. Our prayer before we start is that He will accept our worship as joy. Our team were not necessarily chosen because of talent, but of dedication to what we hold, such as prayer and integrity. I don’t like the “concert style performances” myself either. We have a stage in a school auditorium that holds the screen for lyrics, but we’re on the floor, a decision we made a long time ago to “be” with our congregation instead off above them. It has been a good team, focused on the worship, and admittedly there are those who have left because they didn’t like the style. I used to play rock on stages in bars and did the whole performance thing – coming to Jesus was an experience of the ages (to put it mildly), and it would be easy to do what you described above, but that doesn’t seem “real” to me, at least in my opinion. We work out arrangements in rehearsal but even there it’s all about the worship too, and at church we’ve become”loose” as to allow the Holy spirit to guide our worship, even changing what we’re doing on the fly – we come in with a song list, but sometimes, you just know, to take things in a different direction, sometimes for just one person, and the team is in sync when this happens. There are some days we wish it wouldn’t end, moments of high worship…
    Since I’m doing this, you know what else bugs me? Worship music that has these long dragged out endings, trying to “bring in the spirit”; I went to one service where they played three songs where we’ll do 7 to 10, these long, long endings. Yes, we’ve sometimes put some extra at the end, when we are led to, but I like to think it’s when we’re told to, hard to describe, you just KNOW. I hope this makes sense. There’s a lot to the phrase “let go and let God”, and I’m pleased that I’ve been led to where I’m at, because most of my life (I’m over 50), I wasn’t at peace most of the time with corporate worship. Now I do it, for free, and in the worship I go to places I can’t put into words, where words like “love” and “joy” take on deeper meanings. You know what I mean?

  • maggie

    We have for a long time been discontented with the direction to larger churches, more electronics, bands and big screens. We grew up in churches with a minister, a choir master/organist, and a secretary. It just doesn’t feel right to be spending so much of the tithes of the congregation on these huge coliseum sanctuaries, sound systems, etc. not to mention the huge full time staffs. In church the purpose was to cover the mortgage and the pastor’s salary, which was a pittance, and to serve those who needed the assistance as needs arose. Then we saw the admonitions to give “til it hurts” to the church, and we saw families who couldn’t keep shoes and coats on the kids, and sometimes couldn’t buy groceries, admonished to give to the church and trust in God to provide for their needs. What is the justification in these huge buildings and staff in an area where the schools are falling apart and children are hungry? Where is the justification of basketball courts, bowling alleys, and swimming pools in the church buildings where families who can’t afford necessities are paying for all this?

  • Linda Rodriguez Pitzen

    My husband and I have been seeing and feeling this for years. It’s one of the reasons my soul/spirit feels battered when I attend the four-walls organizations. I hate the loud noise of the “band” and concert being held without hearing any of the people singing. I can worship alone and enter God’s presence….why would I subject myself to such hype? It’s chased me away and I think Holy Spirit has left the building.

  • James Abrahams

    I wonder if this blog post goes far enough? I think the author is correct to pick up on something and his list of things to sort out worship I think form a trend that points in the right direction but is it enough?

    As someone mentioned, Mat Redman’s “heart of worship” kind of said the same thing and this happened a long time ago. I found this post because Mike Pilavachi saw it and shared it as it is what he has been thinking for a while. I don’t know what is in his head and what he is referring to but to some degree of course that is what he has been thinking it because he has been thinking and saying it for years.

    However, way back then their immediate (though probably not only) solution was to cut out worship for a bit, go back to an acoustic guitar without all the fuss of a full life band. I think this is good … but is it enough? I wonder if way back then they fell prey to the same issue that this blog post has.

    Both think the solution to the problem that worship music provides is to some degree musical. Whilst the author hasn’t said this in the rest of the post, the list of things that need to happen are things to do with the selection of songs. Whereas some seem to think that cool expensive lighting will make a difference to the presence of the Holy Spirit, he almost goes the other way too much by saying that getting rid of the lighting would make a difference.

    It might, for a time, just as it did with soul survivor. But I’ll bet if worship leaders started following what this blog post had to say, less lighting, more well known songs. Within about 5 years a new blog post by someone else would post up saying much the same thing but this time complaining that people are to complacent in their lighting or saying that worship leaders are too ego-centric because they only go for the songs they know and like rather then thinking about what their congregation really needs.

    I think the author got it spot on almost with: “Back up. Recalibrate. Serve your congregations, point them to Jesus, help them sing along and sing with confidence.”

    I also think there is a trend behind all those points that the author is trying to get to. If you take each bullet point and ask “why”? Why go for songs with more theological lyrics, why sing in a key that is easy to sing to, etc. You’ll see that the author is seeking out for worship leaders who are aiming to both serve others, point to jesus and help others get to a place where they can point to jesus. He is suggesting that a worship leader who has keys that only they can sing but a congregation can’t is probably not thinking about what is best for them. Instead this worship leader should be focusing to some degree on what is best for them (other points are more to do with pointing to Jesus).

    But then the author still focuses on the singing?

    I’ve heard, though I’m no expert on Greek, that when the word worship is used in the bible it is sometimes used to mean “lie prostrate”, like literally bowing before a king, sometimes it is used to mean “service”.

    I wonder if we are to go back to the “heart of worship” it requires more then singing the song “heart of worship” or changing our music sessions at all. I wonder if the answer to this author’s worries lies in the church getting too fussed about arguments about whether or not we should raise our hands or not raise our hands and instead we have a church where we serve god and we serve others.

    Does this author really want a worship leader to follow these recommendations to the letter? Or would they be happy with a worship leader that truly loves God and their congregations, who meditates on what is both best for their congregations, the people they are surrounded with, and the wider, even non-christian community they are part of and then responds in love accordingly. Maybe that worship leader will choose songs that are easy to sing, because that is what people need, maybe that worship leader will deliberately choose songs that are so difficult to sing that people give up on the singing and focus on the God behind the words, maybe that worship leader will give up on music entirely and worship by cooking them a meal or teaching them to cook for others.

    I’ll bet the author would be ok with that, I’ll bet the author in a congregation with a worship leader who does the exact opposite to everything said in that list of bullet points would still find himself turning away from his phone if in a congregation full of people (including the worship leader) who wanted nothing more then to serve both him (the author), each other and the people around them because they were full of God’s love for them.

    Paul was able to worship God with all his heart in the middle of a prison surrounded by physical pain. Surely we can worship God in a place with loud lights, annoying people “showing off with their dancing”, terrible keys, etc

    We have a motto where we work “Supporting individuals in their pursuit of God” although I like to add “together” at the end of that. I’d like to suggest that behind everything the author is finding annoying and pointing out, he is pointing to something similar. That the church in its aim to fight some aspects of western individualism has become to focused on itself, that instead all of us as Christians need to spend more of our energies supporting other individuals in their pursuit of God, this is service.

    It may be through theological teaching, it may be through music, but it may be through none of those things.

    I’ll bet you anything, that if you were part of a community, supporting individuals in their pursuit of God, and then you did this yourself. You would find yourself moved to worship whereever you are because there is so much horrible things in this world in need of God’s love and there is so much of God’s love still left to pour out. The music will sort itself out, when people’s hearts are drawn to him.

  • Barry Hall

    I agree with so many of these sentiments. I’ve been to a few places where the “performance” of the worship leader was just that – a performance. And sometimes you just don’t know where these guys are going next with repetitions of verses or choruses in songs. You have intelligent people out there in the congregations who just want to find a connection with God. That’s the most important thing of all. When God connects, all kinds of things are possible. Indeed, get out of the way!

  • Jerry O’Neal

    And start by asking God to forgive us, and then ask God to lead us in his will not ours, and quit following everything but God! Lastly don’t let up, follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and The Father!

  • David Wenger

    Jamie,
    I have served as a worship pastor for the past 20 years and have been saying this for at least the last 15. In so many of our churches the the stage performs, the congregation is the audience, and God facilitates the gathering. The stage should facilitate, the congregation should praise, and God is our Audience. Sadly, most of our people are watching; not worshiping.

    Dave

  • Actually it does sound like you an old man complaining about these new fangled things. The truth is that thousands of people are being reached with the new styles of worship . Just to give some perspective. I have a congregation of older folks and they have complaints about the new styles of worship also, but when I asked them why many of there own generation don’t go to church they answer, because we hated being forced to go to church and sing those boring hymns. Every generation has something to complain about. I for one love the energy in the new worship styles and as far as good or bad theology, that’s the job of the minister. Most worship songs are just fine theologically, it’s up to the minister to make sure the whole service points to a deeper relationship with God, and that starts by showing up. If your service is so boring no one wants to come, you can’t do much discipleship

  • cfischer69

    One word: AMEN!

  • Spencer

    This article is SPOT ON. If only everyone would listen carefully and see how much truth there is in what this guy is saying. Worship needs strong theology, spiritual reflection and a “Be still and know that I am God” element. And worship leaders MUST find a way to include EVERYBODY. So much worship today is proud that it is “cutting edge” and leaves many people out. If worship is truly of God, it won’t be divisive to the body of true Christians. This article is a ray of hope . . . a possibility of a start . . . to true worship. The article encourages me. However, sadly, so many of the responses are defensive, reactive, and consist of picking apart the language. Some of the responses make me think, after this man’s wise analysis gave me hope, that there is no hope after all.

  • Spencer

    There ARE “Biblical absolutes” about worship, and they are NOT stylistic preferences. Corporate worship should be planned to include everyone. The service should be built on and emphasize theology. The music and words of worship should engage the mind as well as the emotions. And the leaders and the people should be filled with humility.

  • Spencer

    The problem with the songs is not that “we don’t know it.” Most of them are so shallow and repetitious that it’s no problem to “Learn them.” The problem is that they are short on theology, do not engage the mind as well as the emotions, and promote a visceral, physical high rather than a serious and edifying learning and affirmation of Scriptural truth.

    • Glenda Engquist

      I total agree with what you have said.

  • Peter L

    I don’t see anything judgmental. Please avoid the ‘Christian’ reflex to dismiss criticism as judgmental. The auhor simply identifies real issues and I think it’s wise to consider those.

  • Kiann

    I think you’ve entirely missed the point he was making. It’s not about whether your worship is loud or soft. He is saying people are making it to where the church can’t get Involved. It’s a stage, a concert. A place to be seen and an atmosphere reflecting what is self pleasing. It has nothing to do with loud music. Where’s the heart of these worship leaders? He’s not pointing fingers, he’s pleading with their hearts to come back to focus.

    • Mike C

      Where’s the heart of these worship leaders? You really can’t judge that if you’re just looking at them on stage.

      I know many worship leaders, some on large stages with lots of lights, speakers, and instruments, and some in small rooms with a few chairs. Some of the large stage leaders are among the most humble people I know, and some of the small room leaders have the biggest egos. And vice versa. Judging one’s heart based on their level of production won’t get you very far.

      Conversely, I agree, this is an enormous issue for the church, and one that isn’t going away any time soon. It’s something we constantly need to address. But let’s not pretend that it’s a sudden crisis brought on by the advent of good production in modern churches – it’s the same issue as it’s been for the past two thousand years (and beyond). It’s about glorifying God instead of ourselves, and that’s a struggle for anyone – on stage or off.

  • Rod Du Toit

    I think that because many young talented people- get their first platform for their musical talent in the Church=- the culture of “being on stage” to Ï am the star” evolves- the initial entrance is to worship God- and that is sincere- however they move to the feeling like being a rock star soon follows. The focus moves from facilitating the congregation to worship- to a concert for themselves and the attitude that the congregation comes to see them and not the Lord! Agreed- dangerous ground.

  • Jörg Pasquay

    just to throw in my 2 Cents here as a worship-leader. It’s not about the worship leader or the needs of the people. It’s all about GOD being worshipped. “I need a peaceful calm worship.” I read. I say – no you don’t. You don’t need worship at all. GOD deserves it, he delights in us worshipping HIM. It’s not about us. The presence of the Lord is to be hosted, loved, perceived, cherished. I hope we can agree to that… 🙂

  • Garnet Campbell

    personally I’m inspired by the big show worship videos and conferences by groups like Hillsong in Australia and Jesus Culture in Redding, CA, what guys like Tim Hughes is doing with Worship Central.

    If a soundman wants a better mic for a kick drum why should I tell him its not important. If an architect wants to design a better room for lighting and sound, go for it! Honestly I think we need explore creativity deeper and harder than we are doing now… some say forget about lighting … I say we haven’t even begun to explore the possibilities of light and sound in a worship experience. Be creative and stop copying off of everyone else, get out of your box.

    I think people want a diversity of worship experiences… some want stained glass and candles and others want a concert type atmosphere, both can be spirit filled and powerful.

    My beef with most church worship programs is that they invest a lot of time into practising a set list for THE SHOW, that’s not a bad thing.. in fact most musicians, singers need to practice their craft more. It’s distracting when you play the wrong notes, sing off pitch, and cant keep solid time. Nobody wants to listen to that, sadly the sound man often gets blamed for music that is too loud when the reality is that its not too loud… its off pitch, out of time, and subpar music. So ‘be excellent’

    Now let me contradict myself… my beef is that we spend too much time practicing songs, setting up lighting, soundchecking instruments but not enough time actually practicing worship.

    I’ve been to a thousand ‘setlist’ practices, sure you pray at the beginning, maybe sing an acapella song to get everyone unified before you start your practice but I’ve never seen people practice worship. I know it sounds crazy but think about it.. there is a difference. I think it’s why alot of worship services feel empty. It’s ok if you don’t know how to ‘practice’ worship… but don’t be afraid to ask if it’s a possibility.

    Your church or bible study might not have fancy lights, your guitar might be out of tune, and maybe you can’t sing worth beans, but when the worship is authentic it doesnt matter. So to summarize, I’m for better sound, better lighting, more guitar pedals, a better kickdrum mic. but not without authentic worship. I want the worship cake and the ice cream too.

  • betsy

    THANK YOU for posting this. True at every level. I am so tired of going to churches where the “praise and worship team” is nothing but a rock band performing for a clapping (and maybe hand raising) audience. For some reason, it seems like churches have turned to music as entertainment in order to “stay relevant” or “attract millennials”. There’s a place for Christian music as enteterainment, and that is at a concert or listening in the car, at home, etc. At church, music needs to be able to be shared and sung corporately. The lyrics need to be memorable and sound theologically. Like hymns or not, they did/do just that. Finally, it seems that so much of popular Christian music is about “what you do for me”, “how you love me”…its all about me and the God who saves/loves/carries ME theology and God can do for me. That’s not worship, that’s narcissism . Regardless of what God has and does for us, worship is about celebrating and praising Him for who He is. Looking forward to and praying for a renewed center on corporate worship!

  • zoopunk

    I tend to agree with much of what the article discusses, although I don’t see that trend changing. As some already commented, music and sing-a-longs are not the only form of worship, as we are called to live our lives worshipping God in sacrifice (giving of ourselves) in all we do as worship to the Lord, yet corporate worship can be very powerful/impactful in growing spiritually. While many worship leaders “seem to” fall into the performance trap, I think many pastoral leaders also fall into the perfection and performance trap of what they expect out of their creative arts leaders. It’s often what leaders feel draw in people in (typically a seeker) church, yet lacks so much. Unfortunately I don’t see many walking away from this trend for various reasons, but hopefully those who truly want to grow in their spirit can and will find alternative churches.

  • oldagg

    The number one problem with modern worship is that the “worshippers” do what makes them feel good while biblical worship is about doing what God wants. And how do we know what that is? Read the bible – he tells you. Want a good example of what I am talking about? See Leviticus 10:1-2).

  • Glenda Engquist

    I have grown up in the church. My parents were pastors. Today, the songs we sing in our church have very little message about the cross and God’s redeeming power. You can call me an old “Foggie” but I and many others of my generation can’t really worship with all the songs that are sung and having to read the words “Off-the-wall” as my Uncle called it. Worship leaders today don’t bring in the old hymns that have such a great meaning. I find myself sitting out most music as there is to much “twanging” guitar, bass is to loud and volume so loud, worship has just lost it’s meaning. Yes, I am from the 50’s and 60’s and I enjoy worshiping my heavenly Father. There is just to much show “performance” and “rock band” feeling. I do not like to be told to raise my hands. I like to feel the presents of the Lord and raise my hands when I feel like it, not told when to dance, raise my hands and how to Praise my Lord and Savior.

  • Thanks for the great article Jamie, My wife first read the piece and immediately forwarded the link to me. You’ve captured things I’ve been saying for nearly 30 years now. One recent church I led worship at I was asked to move away from older (hymn based) worship music in favor of the very contemporary styles. Don’t get me wrong, only about 20% of our worship was hymn based even at that point but I refused to do so. When asked why I told them I wouldn’t leave our aging members with no place to sing to Christ in a congregational setting. I was only a stand-in at that church until their reach committee found a permanent leader (they wanted a youth pastor too so I wasn’t the fit they needed). The new guy charged headlong into all the modern music and last I heard was having difficulty with the leadership once they realized they elderly were leaving (along with their otherwise reliable financial support).

    The next church I was at included me as a worship leader, one of three at that point. Each leader had very different styles to the point that even the common songs we used were all done differently thus making it difficult for the congregation to follow any of us. By the time my professional work took me out of the area the church was up to seven leaders, I was bowing out anyway after that.

    Another area you didn’t touch on but certainly could have is with the musicians themselves. Many have become quite elitist and prefer not to play if too many newer, less skilled musicians are onboard. Now we have drum cages, in-ear monitoring or over the ear headphone with all the instruments being run through the main mixing boards for the perfect mix and for syncing with the big screen displays that you’d think the church was a recording studio with a live audience.

    Thanks for the needed jolt to those that are reading this and wondering what they can do to return to a better way.

  • Constantine

    You need to go visit your nearest Orthodox Church.

  • ecwalke

    I went to a great church with a big, fantastic choir I participated in, but the pastor wanted to modernize the service. He hired a cool rock band that sounded like something off K-love. Then, he just got rid of everything the congregation could participate in like choir. The music got louder and I felt like I was kicked out of worship. It was terrible. Most of the choir went where they could be active participants in the service. It was very sad and hurtful, but the worship service is way more cool.

  • Audrey

    I attended church for the greater part of my life. Then they changed the music to more rock oriented. The music was so loud, I had to wear ear plugs. Comfortable pews turned to folding chairs. The sermons were based on how loud they could shout. They were not really based in biblical principles, but politics, commercialism, and personal relatis.onships. Tried going to different denominations and fell asleep. There was a couple of good ones, but we moved away. Then I was injured and couldn’t sit during a service. Now I just remember the past and listen to hymn. I would love to see worship services go back to what they used to be.

  • François Foisil

    From Britanny, France. Many thanks brother. As pastor and worship leader, I agree 200%. Many ones mix concert and worship, service to God and self service! On day an italian pastor said how the Lord showed him he took a part of the glory of God instead of giving back glory full 100% to Him… this is the problem when songs ans music become idols. Be blessed for your papper. I am translating it to send it to internet France.

  • Pittctycitizen

    I have been warning of this since the 1990’s when this began to crop up around the country. All worship should be God centered and focused, but man focused. The havoc this performer centered approach has done to the music ministries of many churches is unbelievable. My former seminary which used to have a very well rounded curriculum which gave instruction on working with all ages and multiple music groups has thrown the baby out with the bath water and now the curriculum is solely based on the praise band. Very sad.

  • Pittctycitizen

    Please don’t throw out the “judgemental” argument To judge means to discern right from wrong. The writer is giving their opinion which they are fully entitled to do. You may disagree, but don’t throw the worldly attitude of “don’t judge.” We are called to discern right from wrong given the full context of the guidelines provided by the Bible. Not just a few words taken completely out of context.

  • Lynda Ranahan

    I believe we are to sing from our hearts to Him!!! Loving on Him through our songs. Ministering to Him….entering His throne room. Focused on Him.. pleasing Him with our hearts. That’s leading….anyone who wants to will follow

  • Ashley J

    There was a time when I needed exactly what you described that I didn’t. I was a teenager and my church felt very “old” in many senses. The way everybody stood on the stage felt very regimented, the ratio of backing vocals to leading vocals always remained the same. The lights were bright and I felt like everybody could seem me as I sat in the front and it made me very self-conscious. I remember thinking “these are ok songs (some older worship songs are GREAT, some are really just ok) but there are SO MANY great songs today. Why can’t they choose one??”
    So I NEEDED a place where it was dark, where it felt like I was alone, to worship freely as I ought. I needed to hear new songs, whether or not I knew them, though they were mostly the ones I worshiped with at home.
    Light shows seemed flamboyant (although very cool to my teenage mind). I would have preferred to just have words on the screen, not faces of musicians, though I understand that cinematography is a ministry in some churches and they record the service to put online.

    Today, in my mid-20s, I don’t NEED that. Admittedly, my church has moved into the 21st century, finally. Natural light pours in while the lights stay off (a look I like because it feels calm, though not necessary). I can relate more to the songs today, including the older ones that they do. I couldn’t tell you who led worship on Sunday because it wasn’t the same group as last week and I wasn’t focusing on them.

    The point is, though, that there are people (mostly young, “bored” or new Christians, maybe) who do need everything that you described. There are people who worship in these places because they feel they can relate. So long as worship is Christ-centered and gets the gospel across, there is no wrong way to do it.

    Just a thought: why did you resort to tweeting during worship songs that you simply didn’t know? Why not learn them instead? Did you feel like you were stifling the spirit when you shut out the music you didn’t know to catch up on social media? Just honest questions, not judgments.

  • Susan Obaza

    I have been on a worship team over the course of my adult life for probably 15 years, most recently about two years ago. I became a Christian in the mid-seventies when modern worship was just taking hold, and I came from a Catholic background. Presently I look back and treasure the years I “grew up” in the church, learning scripture and Biblical concepts from the great hymns of the past which I had never heard, and the scripture songs I learned from the Catholic charismatic movement and evangelical churches I attended. I went back to study piano in my 30s because I felt God’s leading to participate in worship. So I’ve heard a lot of music and been through a lot of change over the years. I went through a very rough patch in my life, more or less dropped out of church for a year, and then tried to get back. I found I had to do a lot of searching to find a place I belonged. A wise friend in the ministry told me recently that not every area of any church will entirely speak to you, and I know that. I was open to pretty much anything that God had for me being where I was. And I did find that a church with a more performance based type worship was the place for me. The people are wonderful, the sermons impacting and powerful, ministry great- and I came to serve. But the worship was hard for me and the teams are just so good-humble, loving folks, wonderful musicians. What I finally felt God say was to pray, if I really struggled to sing, pray for everyone around me, focus on the lyrics or be still and quiet. But I’m trying to perhaps create a place for myself and offer an alternative in one of the areas where I serve-do something that is unplugged. I just feel like I need to be part of the solution, or at least don’t gripe if I won’t give. But it was good to read that a leader was feeling the same way I was, and believe me, more mornings than I care to admit I just stood there frustrated. I decided I could not remain that way. I just don’t know where it is all going-seems like our younger folks really don’t know the origins of some of the combined songs we sing that include familiar hymn lyrics. That does trouble me. I’ve just felt like it is not my place to speak up. Not sure what is right.

  • John Oaks

    what an amazing article. Exactly what our family has been saying for a long long time now! (You DID however leave out the light show and smoke machines—at a church we attended in Florida)! This is well said and I am also glad that a young person said it so I can’t be accused of being too old. (I am 76)! Thank you!

  • Guest

    I agree with the major theme of this post. Just have a comment about this sentence: “Don’t sing songs with bad lyrics or weak theology.” This applies both to new and older music. Over the years, we have sung some hymns with weak (or worse) theology.

  • John Earll

    I don’t agree with Jamie but he’s on the right track. “Performancism” has been and will always be a problem. People are people. The REAL problem is the “Primacy” of the new worship movement. Evangelical services are approximately 2/3 music, which takes away from teaching, preaching and reading of the word. It doesn’t reflect the proportions of what is in the bible. Sure, we are commanded to sing, praise, clap, play instruments, etc. I’m all for that regardless of form (assuming it represents good doctrine). It’s just not 2/3s. Not even half…

  • DWTV

    Extremely well written. Insightful.

  • Deb

    You know when those old hymns first came out the people objected to them as well. Also back in those days the priests objected to people reading the bible for themselves.

  • Deb

    “Do not stop him, Jesus replied, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:50 Some really great worship music is being written and shared today for the youth, which I enjoy as well at 63, that were being pushed out of the church by old fashion traditions. As long as the name of the Lord is being honored and people are being brought to the Lord I say go for it.

  • Kay

    our youngest grandson is high-functioning autistic, and the typical church worship, all the lights, sound, drums, it’s too much for him. The bible allows for worship in your home, where you live. Just engage in worship or with a few others who share your heart. We attend two bible studies, don’t attend ‘church’ even though for us in our 70’s now, the bible studies work, a gentle guitar, a mix. Just hearts united in true worship, I’m sure it’s pleasing to God.

  • Mark Woodson

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. I’m reminded of some things A.W. Tozer said in, The Pursuit of God. We have made the mosterous substitution of entertainment and noise for the presence of God…and sadly the church at large doesn’t miss or even recognize the lack of His manifest presence.

  • Anonymouse

    one more…..
    Turn down the amps!
    When the congregation can’t hear themselves sing, they’re not GONNA sing. At that point it becomes about the band and what’s the point of that.
    Also, I’m glad you touched on playing the songs in singable keys. I find myself often not singing, because I can’t reach the notes.
    …and what’s the deal with jumping octaves. The worship leader starts quite low in one octave and midway thru skips to the next octave. Most people can’t do that….and again, it becomes about the worship leader being on display. ugh.

  • Mark W

    Our church still has the paper format as well as the screen. While many do only use the screen there are still a good amount that prefer the paper. Maybe a suggestion to make at your church.

  • Mark W

    Hi Robert- help me understand what you mean by exuberance.

  • David Traverzo

    This is a balanced, thoughtful, and honest presentation. It is also a critique much needed. Western Christianity as a whole has compromised the gospel for a capitalistic, individualistic, and egotistic version of the Christian faith. As a close friend once stated, “it’s not about the money, IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY!” This version of what is called “evangelical” is not very evangelical. It’s more opportunistic in the goal for more consumption, more monetary benefits, more fame, and more space, buildings, assets, and staffing. This was a good piece, but much more needs to be said to condemn the apostasy that has become a staple of “evangelicalism” in the western world.

  • ESLCommando English

    Performance-itis is part and parcel of the consumer culture, business model style of church that has been recently plagued the church at large. It is a nightmare.

  • TruthvLIes

    Could be right. A church I have just left as the system takes president over people, has a focus on praise and worship and it is good BUT…. I noticed that when the band stopped playing and just the people sang (400-500), it was very quiet.

    No doubt that volume can get one very excited or so it seems.

  • Eva Trice

    A short while ago the (very demonstrative) worship leader in our church remonstrated with the congregation for not raising hands when the lyrics said that’s what we do. I felt crushed because I’m really not like that.

    The next verse talked about kneeling before God. Nobody did it. Nobody complained.

    I appreciate the challenge, but I try not to let it bother me if I think differently.

  • I. E. Konstas

    Good article Jamie. During the Time of the Common Tradition, when the
    Church was one, following the ascetic and (therefore) psychotherapeutic
    theology of the Church Fathers and the OT prophets, worship was liturgical and they had no
    such problems. Trying to reinvent the Church has the side effect of
    reinventing problems that have been solved since the wilderness
    Tabernacle, cause this is where liturgical worship started.
    – Greetings from an exhausted charismatic preacher, teacher, bible school founder, writer and seeker.

  • Lynne Stringer

    I used to sing a lot and it was a big part of who I was. I was both a worship leader and a singer in the onstage worship group for many years. When leading, I always tried to be careful to pick a varied selection of songs, including hymns, which I freely admit I like, but I also knew a number of people in the congregation loved them too, so I thought they were worth including, so as many people as possible could feel like they could meet God in worship. I knew from my own experience that I was more likely to be able to worship God if I was singing something I knew well and also felt said what my heart wanted to say to God.
    Unfortunately, the pastor of our church hated hymns because they were too old school. I only found out much later that he bullied another worship leader into no longer using them but he knew he couldn’t do that to me, so suddenly I was removed from the worship leading team, being told that they wanted to have only three worship leaders, not four. However, when other people were later added to the team to swell their numbers to about six, it was clear that the issue was not numbers. It was me.
    I much later found out that the pastor had requested that I be removed. I have been told it’s because I picked hymns.
    Even before this, I was becoming more and more disillusioned with ‘worship’ (i.e. singing) and the prevalence it was given in church, particularly at the expense of other forms of worship. It seemed to me that the reason for this was because it was both the easiest option and the most likely to attract people who wanted to be involved in it, many because of their musical skills but sometimes I think because they liked being the centre of attention. I freely admit that I had to fight that response in myself.
    But the insistence on music=worship bothered me. When I left the music team, I started a prayer group, and I was lucky to have five people involved, compared with much larger number who were involved in the music group. Few in our church seemed that interested in group prayer, which was extremely concerning to me.
    This, and a few other things led to my husband and I leaving the church. We now attend a house church that has no singing at all and I much prefer that. I like finding other ways to worship, rather than just take the road everyone else is using.

  • Manie

    I agree whole heartedly. You nailed the problem as it is. Thank you for saying it out loud. I dont want to go to church just because of this problem. Church is not an attraction or enjoyable experience.

  • Mike Lord

    It’s ironic, as I’m reading this blog, that I happen to have Orthodox worship music playing on my phone. That, along with traditional western hymns, has become part of my quiet time routine – even though I occasionally fill in with my church’s worship team. There came a point where I had to have this ‘serenity’. A related concern is the tendency for loud, long-winded corporate prayer-leading. Does anyone remember the story of DL Moody shutting down a grandiose leader to get to the next hymn? I’m curious as to how often he’d have to do that in today’s services.