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Does Worship Production Really Produce Worship?

ConcertThe 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)
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Book Review – “Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue”

Book Review

“Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue” by William A. Dyrness

Worship and the Arts:  Renewal in Tandem

There can be no dispute that Western art and music were influenced in their development by the message of Christianity.  The Church had the power – and the money – to dictate much of the thematic content of the arts.  Beyond that, the culture itself was “Christian” in the broadest sense of the term, and it only made sense that artists and musicians would express their gifts for use within the church and to help spread the message of Christ.

As history wore on, the influence of the Church deteriorated and its patronage of the arts decreased.  In the last 150 years or more, the distinctive creativity that was once the hallmark of Christian art has dissipated to the point that it is hardly distinguishable from other modern art perspectives.  There are certainly exceptions, and a resurgence and energy in the last several decades has shown that Christians can, and do, create art and music at the highest levels.  We can be thankful for the men and women who have begun to re-establish Christian truth as a valid and appropriate message for all artistic endeavors.

In his book, “Visual Faith:  Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue,” William A. Dyrness brings the arts and worship together to paint a picture of renewal that is both thoughtful and intriguing.  In his preface he writes that, “it has become my conviction that the practice of worship provides the most appropriate setting for a fresh appraisal and even a renewal in the arts…I believe that making beautiful forms is theologically connected to our call both to listen and respond to God in prayer, praise, and sacrament”  (Dyrness, pg. 9).

I think Dyrness has a point.  Worship and the arts can interact in ways that will cause us to think and re-think both.  Is the way in which we practice corporate worship as full and expressive as it can be?  Do our expressions in the arts represent a well-grounded biblical and theological understanding of the Christian Worldview?  Are we “redeeming” the arts and allowing the Spirit to renew their use?  Is tacking on a Christian message to any art form enough to redeem it?  Do the forms of art themselves need renewal?  And what of our worship, does it need redemption too?

These questions, and many more, are necessary and vital as we think about our modern worship and our modern arts.  Scholars and professors are considering these things, but pastors and laymen seem to overlook the important implications that these questions raise.  Corporate worship is the main public expression of the Church, yet so few think carefully and thoroughly about it.  I highly recommend Dyrness’ book as a starting point in the discussion.

 

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.

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.

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.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/20136-does-worship-production-really-produce-worship)

Music and the Arts as Tools of Evangelism

On a trip to Key West my family and I visited the oldest church on the island as we walked the streets and visited the shops.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church has represented Christ in Key West for over 170 years – at least we would hope so.  In discussing the church with a local evangelical pastor, he noted that the gospel had not been heard from that church in many years.  The theology is liberal and the social views of the clergy and membership allow for all manner of immoral behavior to be accepted as permissible.  Truly darkness disguised as truth has a stronghold there.

Or does it?

As we entered the church, I found it interesting – even strikingly so – that amidst the activity and noise of the street outside the church’s interior was quiet.  In fact, I would certainly describe it as a “sacred” quiet.  As people entered the church, they whispered to each other.  Many would find a pew and sit, listen, and observe the peacefulness discovered within the walls of the sanctuary.  Calmness permeated the place and everyone seemed to know that respect and dignity were found there.

The church had been built (apparently rebuilt several times in 170 years) in the fashion of a small cathedral.  The entire sanctuary was notably shaped as a cross.  The entry was the foot of the cross, and as you approached the altar there were two “wings” with pews that shaped the arms of the cross.  Unlike our modern buildings, cathedrals and churches of ancient times were constructed to preach the gospel without words.  We can certainly see the reflection of God’s image in this human creativity when we consider that God, Himself, also preaches without words – for Psalm 19 tells us that the “heavens declare the glory of God” even though “there is no speech, nor are there words” (vss 1-3).

So, here in the midst of an apparently dead edifice and socially liberal congregation, I found the gospel being proclaimed.  First in the quiet calm and peace found within those walls, and then more dramatically as I noticed the cross itself – the very symbol of the gospel and the good news of salvation in Christ.

https://i2.wp.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/large/772251.jpgBut it didn’t end there.  I began to walk about the building and look closely at the stained glass windows.  There I found bold, unapologetic statements of Christian doctrine and truth.  The doctrine of the Trinity – fashioned in glass – showing the truth of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons, yet one God.  Reminders of God’s power as experienced by Israel in various Old Testament stories.  Images from the medieval church reminding visitors of Christ’s work, the presence of the Holy Spirit, the sacraments, the uniqueness of Jesus as the God-man, the stories of the four gospel writers, St. Paul preaching at Mars Hill, Zaccheus in the tree, and on and on.  I could have spent hours there and even my kids were intrigued as I began to explain the meaning of this artwork.

I tell this story because too often we assume that there must be some explicit statement of what we think the “gospel” is in order for us to be evangelizing.  Although Christ’s work of redemption is central to the gospel, we must remember that it is part of the larger story of God’s work as He interacts with and cares for His creation.  We can recognize the importance of truth presented in images, music (even without words!), and other creative endeavors as ways to present truth to the world around us.

I take my family’s experience at St. Paul’s in Key West as an example of this.  Certainly, the church is presented as a tourist stop in the midst of the streets of the city.  Certainly, the preaching of God’s word has diminished from what it once was.  Certainly, we might question the morality of some who live aberrant lifestyles.  Yet – in the middle of all that – the creative commitment of Christians many, many years ago infused the building itself with the truth of the gospel.  For this we can be grateful – and maybe consider our own opportunities to “preach” the gospel in similar ways.

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