Does Worship Production Really Produce Worship?
The need to be relevant may be at the heart of more difficulties than the modern church realizes. In our day of highly produced Worship Programs, one wonders whether these events really produce worship, or whether it is relevant in spite of the pursuit of revalence.
Being relevant is important. We want to speak to people in terms of their real lives, their real struggles and the real world in which we live. If you visit the main site of the Worldview Church at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview (www.colsoncenter.org), you can do a search with the word “relevant” and find many articles dealing with the topic.
The pursuit of relevance, however, by many post-modern churches is a cause for concern. Although many herald their ministries as following the example of Paul at Mars Hill (Acts 17), close examination of their message and methods falls short of Paul’s actual ministry there.
Paul used idioms and references of the culture of Athens as a basis for the presentation of Truth: that there is a God that exists and is Creator and Lord of all things; that this God takes no form, yet mankind seeks for Him; that this God will hold mankind accountable and desires their repentance; and, finally, that Jesus Christ, having risen from the dead, is proof of God’s intervention in this world and will judge its inhabitants.
Many modern claimants to this method pursue relevance and cultural connection, but fall short of Paul’s unapologetic declaration of Truth. These churches, and those that lead them, seem to skirt the real issues of Truth and link their success at being “relevant” to positive press reports and large attendance. There is an excellent article at Touchstone Magazine by Russell Moore which articulates some of these thoughts in depth titled, “Retaking Mars Hill: Paul didn’t build bridges to popular culture.” I would encourage you to read it.
I place this pursuit of relevance in the arena of “entertainment” for this reason: It seems to me at the heart of the desire for relevance is simply that many simply want to be popular.
There is something not-quite-right with the image which portrays the average “contemporary” church worship experience. Without much imagination I can see the image in my mind because I’ve seen it so many times in magazines, in advertisements, and in videos of such churches. There are no windows. The lighting focuses all attention on the stage, and the sound system is state of the art. It’s a large auditorium seating several thousand. The seats are set up in some kind of semi-circle. The stage is crowded with variously dressed people – some shabbily, others somewhat nice. Some people are raising their hands, others have their eyes closed. Some guy with a guitar stands in the center in some worship-relevant pose. The audience, as well, is in various postures of “worship.”
When I see these pictures, I wonder. I wonder what would happen if we placed a popular non-Christian artist on the same stage? I wonder if performers on the concert stage often use the same mannerisms as those in a contemporary church (or is it vice versa)? I wonder if the lighting or sound production would be any different in a modern concert compared to one of these church settings? I wonder if the response of the audience would be much different towards the secular music star and the Christian music star, in that the audience shows various postures of worship in both settings? I wonder if we watched a YouTube video of a contemporary church performance with the sound off, if we could really tell the difference between that and the average rock concert with the sound turned off?
I wonder if this is really what Paul intended when he preached on Mars Hill – and became the poster boy for all things “culturally relevant”?
This focus on performance is accentuated by the volume level of modern church settings. I work regularly with many people in the planning and leading of corporate worship services. One of the underlying frustrations of those leading is their feeling of being disconnected with those they are leading. This is often caused by the need for performers to have their sound levels high enough to hear themselves and perform well, thus eliminating (or at least diminishing) their ability to hear the rest of the “community.” If a performer uses ear bud monitors, then they are completely cut off — which is a theological quagmire, and sets the leader in solid footing as a performer completely separated from those they are supposedly leading.
That this undermines the “communal” sense of corporate worship is significant. The modern needs of performer require that volumes on stage be loud enough for the musician to both hear their own performance, as well as those of the other musicians (or by using ear buds). Once that monitor level is set, the house speakers must be loud enough to provide a blanket of sound throughout the auditorium (whether it is a sanctuary or a gym) so that the “mix” approaches the quality of what the audience regularly hears in other forms of entertainment (concerts, radio, movies).
Once all of those volumes levels are set, it is often the case that the congregation can no longer be heard over the sound of the monitors and main speakers. In this sense, a communal sense is lost for we are no longer having a common experience of worship. If you pay attention, you will note that this causes some in a congregation to simply stop participating. Not only can they not hear those around them, but they can barely hear themselves. They stop singing and become spectators.
This, in part, is why the modern worship band often appears more as entertainers than worship leaders. The community of worshipers may not be actually having a communal experience, but play the part of an audience at a show.
We must rethink these things. The initial impetus for relevance has spiraled downward into a church culture that experiences little of real corporate worship, but excellent examples of how to entertain the masses that come to see them perform.
(Original Post on July 31, 2013 at the Worldview Church: http://www.colsoncenter.org/worshiparts/articles/20136-does-worship-production-really-produce-worship)
Posted on January 31, 2017, in Arts, Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, theology, Worship Leader and tagged art, creativity, Mark Sooy, theology, worship, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.