I belong to a cell group of sorts that meets in another city every 5-6 weeks. Several meetings back, one of our group challenged the worship music status quo with the question, “Why don’t these songs work for us any more?” I knew what he was asking. But as a worship leader myself, I found myself reaching for a moderate response. I’ve been in places where I think the worship is contagious, inspiring, genuine and (I think) pleasing to God. I’ve been in places where I believe they were doing what I call “sung worship” simply because every other church does it, with no authenticity. And I’ve been in places where fairly good worship is connecting with some people in the congregation but obviously not with others.
Sally Morgenthaler was for years the “go-to” person for worship ideas and concepts. Her Sacramentis website was a popular destination for discussion and breaking methodologies. Then suddenly, one day, it was gone. Sally explains this in a piece available on http://www.allelon.org The exact link for the complete article is: http://www.allelon.org/articles/article.cfm?id=402
Here’s an excerpt for your consideration.
…Early in 2005 an unchurched journalist attended one of the largest, worship-driven churches in the country. Here is his description of one particular service:
“The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. ‘Lift up your hands, open the door,’ crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early ’90s grunge at the beginning and the end.
“They sound like they’re singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor’s) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.”
No sad songs. No angry songs. Songs about desperation, but none about despair. Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice. No wonder the unchurched aren’t interested.
Truth may hurt, but if there’s something leaders do, they tell it. In 2000 I didn’t have all of the numbers I have now, but I had seen enough to know what was happening. The contemporary church—including the praise-and-worship church, the worship evangelism church—was in a holy huddle, and I began to talk about it. …I began challenging leaders to give up their mythologies about how they were reaching the unchurched on Sunday morning. Yes, worship openly and unapologetically. Yes, worship well and deeply. (Which means singing songs that may include anger, sadness, and despair. Have we forgotten that David did this? Have we discarded the psalms?) But let our deepened, honest worship be the overflow of what God does through us beyond our walls.
Conference organizers were confused. They wondered what had happened to me. Where was the worship evangelism warrior? Where was the formula? Where was the pep talk for all those people who were convinced that trading in their traditional service for a contemporary upgrade would be the answer? I don’t have to tell you this. The 100-year-old congregation that’s down to 43 members and having a hard time paying the light bill doesn’t want to be told that the “answer” is living life with the people in their neighborhoods. Relationships take time, and they need an attendance infusion now.
I understood their dilemma, and secretly, I wished I had a magic bullet. But I didn’t. And I wasn’t going to give them false hope. Some newfangled worship service wasn’t going to save their church, and it wasn’t going to build God’s kingdom. It wasn’t going to attract the strange neighbors who had moved into their communities or the generations they had managed to ignore for the last 39 years.
As I pulled my Sacramentis site off of the Web, I posted this statement: “Sacramentis has been a pioneer site on worship and culture for seven years. From the beginning, it has been a gathering spot for the most helpful worship ideas and resources we could find. Sacramentis has also been a place where church leaders could go deeper into what classic Christian worship is and does, and where they could re-imagine worship for communities where churchgoing is no longer the norm. But as culture has become incessantly more spiritual and adamantly less religious, we at Sacramentis have become convinced that the primary meeting place with our unchurched friends is now outside the church building. Worship must finally become, as Paul reminds us, more life than event (Romans 12:1-2). To this end, we will be focusing on the radically different kind of leadership practices necessary to transform our congregations from destinations to conversations, from services to service, and from organizations to organisms.”
…I am currently headed further outside my comfort zones than I ever thought I could go. I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship, I want to offer this hope and prayer. May you, as leader of your congregation, have the courage to leave the “if we build it, they will come” world of the last two decades behind. May you and the Christ-followers you serve become worshippers who can raise the bar of authenticity, as well as your hands. And may you be reminiscent of Isaiah, who, having glimpsed the hem of God’s garment and felt the cleansing fire of grace on his lips, cried, “Here am I, send me.”
For my friend’s question, the key word is ‘anymore.’ This is a new day that requires a new approach. Music and Christian living are in many ways inseparable. But we need to rethink how this expression takes place in public services, and as Sally concludes, whether public services “work for us anymore” or if “outside the church” is where the spiritual action is.