Tag Archives: worship

Welcome to Sunday Morning

I’m sorry some of you will be seen as mere numbers to strengthen a church’s marketing or political power. That’s the way of big Protestant churches in which the leaders have culture-war mentalities. But you should be seen as a real person who is part of a living community. Refocusing on persons and relationships seems to be important to Christos Yannaras, a Greek Orthodox philosopher and theologian, in his book Person and Eros. To appropriate some of his words for my point, instead of a number, you ought to be “an individual in relation,” someone who can experience a “dynamic actualization of relationship” in community, but when the “understanding of  the human being” is “purely in terms of its capacity for rational thought,” then community relationships and the beauty of worship are diminished (in some cases tacitly, in other cases intentionally), and the sermon, like a college lecture or political speech, becomes dominant.

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult

Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.

Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.

A Snaphot of Christianized Nationalism in the U.S., 1916

While there’s no precise analogy between our time and 1916, this newspaper clipping certainly holds some eerily familiar echoes:

From The Devils Lake World and Inter-Ocean, a newspaper in Devils Lake, N.D., June 29, 1916: nationalism It seems strange to sing patriotic songs in a sanctuary built for worshiping God.

But the issue then as now is not so much replacing one thing for another as conflating two unlike things.

Barna Group research suggest Millennials prefer quieter, liturgical, traditional church settings

I saw this Barna Group report, which was released last month, and I mentioned it on Facebook but forgot to post it here.

Before I repeat the most interesting (to me) statistics from Barna’s research, here’s a supporting personal anecdote, which I reported two years ago:

…I remember a story from a student at the campus where I teach, Coastal Carolina University. A young, zealous, Southern, evangelical student invited some Northeastern cradle-Catholics to a local rock-and-roll church — you know, one of the churches with “high-energy” worship, guaranteed never to be boring.

How did the Northeastern cradle-Catholics react to the rock-and-roll church? Were they surprised that church could be so cool? Were they delighted to hear a backbeat in the worship songs? Did they feel at ease around casual clothing?

No. Their response was simple: “That’s not church,” they said.

I figure they had expected something a little less like the rest of their lives.

Church can be different from the surrounding culture in more ways than one (and that one way is usually moral pride).

I told that true story in the same post that noted a campus ministry at the College of William & Mary was offering “silence” and “incense” to students.

Barna: Millenials Research

Among “Millennials,” or adults 18-29 years old,

67 percent prefer “classic” church settings (33 percent “trendy”);

77 percent prefer “sanctuary” (23 percent “auditorium”);

67 percent prefer “quiet” (33 percent “loud”).

Follow the link and look at the visual preferences of this generation: Altars that could be from European cathedrals, and tall stained glass windows.

Taleb on what you wear, and when

“People used to wear ordinary clothes weekdays and formal attire on Sunday. Today it is the exact reverse.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in The Bed of Procrustes 

Clarification on my previous post

So much for blogging by smart phone.

The first version of the previous post had a final paragraph in which I began to make comments about the composition of worship teams in contemporary services — and then, I accidentally published the post before it was finished.

Big fingers on a small device.

Due to that premature posting and an uncompleted final paragraph, I might have unfairly and unintentionally offended some people. I really didn’t mean to.

Sincerely, the point I was trying to make about worship teams in contemporary services was that the musicians and singers tend to be artsy and sophisticated people, and I was going toward the question of whether, in some cases, the fullness of a worship team’s efforts are lost on some visitors (and that might not be important, witness Babette’s Feast).

I should add, too, that I was not aiming the comments at a specific worship team.

Maybe it’s too easy to assume I’m aiming many posts at a local church, but I have attended numerous Sunday contemporary services in the Carolinas, including churches in Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, and Pawleys Island, as well as across the pond in London and somewhere in Hampshire County, U.K.

Most of the time, the musicianship was outstanding.

My thoughts about the ubiquity, the near cliche’, of contemporary services are not intended to criticize individual musicians and singers and performers, or their abilities.

Twenty years ago, an early version of Crossroads Fellowship (a church that only had contemporary services) was meeting in Sanderson High School in Raleigh, N.C. There, I frequently heard an outstanding saxophone player who I remember to this day. I also recall a bass player who was good enough to play gigs (jazz maybe?) around town, in addition to his service at Crossroads on Sunday mornings.

Not all contemporary services have skits and short dramas, but back when Beach Church was Myrtle Beach Community Church, I played parts in two short performances, and I wrote a short play that was used in another Sunday morning service.

So, today, while I was out and about, when I realized the post had been published prematurely, I decided to delete the entire final paragraph as a quick and easy solution.

But I realized that some people might have seen the first version and, due to the uncompleted paragraph, might have thought I was ending with a snide remark about the worship teams. I wasn’t and I apologize for any undeserved offenses.

 

Could the evangelical crisis come from misguided outreach?

Note, 5:15 p.m. Eastern, June 12: Please also see my clarification regarding the first version of this post. 

For the most part, evangelicals have demonstrated themselves to be more interested in people who go to sports bars than people who go to museums.

That would probably be great if most evangelicals actually were going to sports bars rather than rapidly proliferating “contemporary worship services” on the pretense that the only thing keeping people from church is public order and pipe organs.

What if evangelicals offered as many soup kitchens as contemporary worship services? That would offer needy people something they actually need, rather than provide middle class families with more entertainment options.

Of course, that’s a bunch of generalization. Keep your contemporary worship service if you like it. But maybe the same energy and effort could answer specific, vital needs.