Category Archives: Arts
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)
As a follow up on my article regarding architecture and décor, let me make a few observations regarding the visual focus of worship. What do I mean by “visual focus”? As someone sits in the congregation (or audience), looking at the front of your sanctuary (or auditorium), what do they see? What is the focus of the space based on what they see with their eyes? Without any knowledge of the purpose of your building, would be obvious from what they see that you worship Jesus Christ? Would there be any indication of the Trinitarian aspects of our worship?
This thought came flooding into my mind recently as I walked into the sanctuary of a church and was struck by something which was very instructive. As we find in many churches in our western world, the platform had been transformed into a stage, complete with all the trappings of modern worship – sound equipment, drum shields, monitors, and a kind of drapery that was used as a backdrop. This kind of setup is so common in churches, that it’s often a shock to find anything different.
But what does it say? What is the focus? Based on what we see, the focus is on the performance aspect of the service, and is not too much different than attending a concert. The focus is the performers. To underscore this, the pulpit (more like a stand to hold a book or notes) was moved to the side in order to avoid blocking the main focus on the performance of the band.
To top it off, as I looked at this particular sanctuary from the back, I noted an interesting twist. There was a Bible located to one side of the stage, down on the floor level, almost in the corner. It was displayed in a kind of “shrine” setting and almost appeared as a museum display.
Please understand that this church probably preaches from the Bible during its services. I am not analyzing their spoken word, I am observing the unspoken words. What we find, in church after church, is that many do not realize the message they are sending without words. Yet, the Bible clearly teaches that speaking without words is a vital part of our communication as we seek to share the message of Jesus Christ (see Psalm 19).
What is to be done? Clearly, most churches never consider the visual messages they are sending – except as they prepare PPTs or printed materials to present them in a professional manner. In other words, they are concerned with the branding and image of their church, but not with the image of Christ as portrayed visually in their sanctuary.
It would certainly be refreshing to see a church holistically think about architecture, décor and visual messaging. However, I’m afraid the trap of modern worship does not allow for this kind of holistic thinking.
I have written previously on this blog about the visits I have made to church buildings that show, in their architecture and décor, the message of Jesus Christ. Many sanctuaries in cathedral style churches are actually in the shape of a cross. Some churches have paintings, reliefs, sculptures and stained glass windows that show specific aspects of biblical stories or doctrinal truth. For more modern structures, one might see large metal sculptures on the grounds that depict various messages, such as Christ on the cross. In addition, modern churches often have a “flair” that lifts the eyes heavenward built into the experience of the space.
Even though some of the congregations in these churches no longer proclaim the gospel, we find that the very nature of their buildings proclaim the good news. Having been designed in this way, we realize that the designers and architects continue to proclaim the message of Christ – even many years after the building was completed. The fullness of allowing the lordship of Christ show in their work has made that message endure.
In contrast to this, there continues to be a disturbing trend among churches today to make their spaces as common as possible. For the last 40+ years we see church buildings looking more like warehouses, office buildings, and large corporate facilities. There is little in the architecture that helps the passerby know what the buildings are used for, or who resides within.
Beyond this, there are many examples of church structures that continue to look like a traditional “church” on the outside, but upon entering one might discover that every attempt has been made to remove the “churchiness” that might be represented. Black ceilings, covered windows, stage lighting, and an obvious lack of aesthetic display of Christian truth in any way is the trend of the day. It seems that Christians want to do all they can to not appear to be Christians.
Of course, I know all the pragmatic points that are brought into a discussion like this. A Church must be “inviting” for the visitor. The sanctuary must be multi-purpose room. The budget will only support things that are “practical” and useful. Art is a waste of money. On and on it goes.
What this really shows, however, is a significant lack of holistic theological understanding. It does not take long to read through the descriptions of the Tabernacle or the Temple in the Old Testament to discover God’s interest in art – for beauty and creative expression. The very nature of the design of these worship buildings was to say something without using words!
In a Christian Worldview, we must recognize the opportunity being missed. Our architecture and décor can proclaim Christ in ways that we just cannot do with words. Our faith is a full faith, holistically spanning every part of life, not just a faith of words and text and ideas. This is a faith for our eyes as well, but we would never know it when looking at many churches today.
I was struck recently by the thought that worship in the modern and popular mode may be a manufactured worship, rather than a responsive worship. In other articles, and in my book (The Life of Worship), I have discussed the mischaracterization and mishandling of John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Often directed at some kind of feeling one must have to truly worship, the verse is actually about the spiritual reality of the believer and has little to do with feelings, atmosphere, or other elements of the worship experience.
In his treatise on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Martin Luther swerves into this idea and places some perspective on the manufactured praise that was offered in his day as worship. I will allow his words to speak for themselves, but I wonder how much of our modern worship is manufactured rather than responsive? Are you sure that your corporate worship is a response to God’s person and work?
…to think to worship God with many words and a great noise, is to count Him either deaf or ignorant, and to suppose we must waken or instruct Him. Such an opinion of God tends to His shame and dishonor rather than to His worship. But when one ponders well His divine works in the depths of one’s heart, and regards them with wonder and gratitude, so that one breaks out from very ardor into sighs and groanings rather than into speech; when the words, not nicely chosen nor prescribed, flow forth in such wise that the spirit comes seething with them, and the words live and have hands and feet, yea, that the whole body and life with all its members strives and strains for utterance — that is indeed a worship of God in spirit and in truth, and such words are all fire, light and life. As David says, in Psalm 119:140, 171, “Lord, Thy word is exceeding refined;” and again, “My lips shall utter a hymn” even as boiling water overflows and seethes, unable to contain itself for the great heat within the pot.*
*Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, “The Magnificat” (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Company, 1930), 160.