Thinking Out Loud

May 18, 2014

Modern Worship Movement Dead-Ended

Filed under: ministry, music, worship — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm


As of today, I have seen the future of the modern worship movement, and even now, I am convinced that we are not being well-served.  Today I got to observe the height of performance-oriented worship formatting; songs that were completely unfamiliar pitched in keys that rendered them completely un-singable. I also saw the approach toward casual dress of platform/stage personnel at its worst. I also observed song lyrics that simply cannot be supported theologically. Throughout it all, I was expected to remain standing.

Oddly enough, part of the reason we decided to take our free Sunday at this church was because of its history and reputation for outstanding worship. I really don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but I honestly feel that worship leaders to need to rethink some basics before assembling a worship set.

  • At least one hymn (yes, mostly for demographic reasons, but also for theological ones)
  • At least one modern hymn (as in Townend, Kendrick, Gettys, Sovereign Grace)
  • At least one modern worship composition that proved itself in the ’80s, ’90s or early ’00s.
  • For another two songs, you can have your recent modern worship songs, but try to go with something of substance. (Doerksen or Baloche for at least one would be nice)

There’s a five song worship song list I could live with.

In the meantime, if I were in leadership at the church we attending this morning, I would be convening an emergency meeting early in the week.

Just because your church has achieved success numerically is no reason to assume you’re doing everything right.



  1. Wow Paul, don’t hold back your feelings. I suppose I am fortunate that being the worship leader and pastor, I can moderate my worship services according to what suits my congregation best. I love you suggestion for a worship service outline. Part of the problem stems from so few worship leaders that have an actual background in music. Or worst pastors who have no music background but want the top ten from the latest Christian radio station in order to maintain the persona of being seeker relevant. Churches, pastors and worship leaders end to remember we are gathered to seek The Lord and His Spirit, first and foremost.

    Comment by Ralph juthman — May 18, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

    • I hope people see this as more than just a rant; this was all day in coming as the four of us considered what we had seen. Actually, when we first left the church, I made up my mind not to say anything; I sat in silence in the car for about 20 minutes. But hours later we were still shaking our heads wondering what the leadership was thinking.

      And I hope that people realize that the phrase, “the future” was well-considered. I truly see things trending in an unhealthy direction.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 18, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    • “Part of the problem stems from so few worship leaders that have an actual background in music”

      Ralph, I could not disagree ( respectfully) :) more with that statement! The problem is that so many of today’s worship leaders have little background in theological training. That’s why they pick such scripturally deficient and spiritually mal-nourishing songs week after week

      We turn over 1/3 to 1/2 of our service to people who little scriptural depth. That is not to say that they don’t mean well or that their hearts are in the wrong place. They are often very shallow in their understanding of God and what it means to live and walk with him. Every Christian starts at that spot, so I am not picking on them. However, this is a major obstacle that the Church must come to grips with and overcome.

      Go to any Pastor Job website and read what the churches are looking for in a “Worship Pastor”. It will shock you, at least it should. They want a Christian musician who can recruit and train musicians. Theological depth is not required. Here’s a link to one site,

      The worship “Movement” is a dead man walking. There is little to no substance to our “worship and It is time for the brave leaders among us to stand up and admit it and make a course correction.

      Comment by Jim — May 18, 2014 @ 9:42 pm

  2. Paul, I appreciate your comments and thoughts very much. You put words to things that have been bothering me for a while but I could not accurately express. I’m not a huge fan of the contemporary style of music, but there was always something else about the modern worship services I have attended that didn’t sit right with me. You helped me to put words to what was itching the back of my spirit.

    Thank you for having the courage to put this out there and bring some light to a vitally important topic. Keep up the good fight brother!

    Comment by PreacherMan80 — May 18, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Reblogged this on Sermonettes and commented:
    Even beyond the debate about traditional vs. contemporary styles of music, this blogger puts his finger on a serious trend in modern churches that needs to be addressed. Worship is not about performance, it is about participation. Really…it’s about Christ. But we should be helping the body of Christ participate, not just spectate, during the worship time.
    I believe the worship we offer to the Lord during a service is as important as the preaching. The music service is vital because we must worship Him in Spirit AND in Truth. Both/And!
    Please take a minute to read the thoughts and hear the heart of someone who is genuinely concerned about where these modern trends are taking us.

    Comment by PreacherMan80 — May 18, 2014 @ 9:20 pm

  4. “In the meantime, if I were in leadership at the church we attending this morning, I would be convening an emergency meeting early in the week.”

    Don’t hold your breath, brother! At Tuesday’s service review, the staff will probably give the worship leader a gift card to Apple Bee’s because of the great job he/she did on Sunday.


    Comment by Jim — May 18, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

  5. We think that as worship leaders (and former church-hoppers due to various city-to-city moves) we couldn’t agree more. We have seen the following:

    1. Mega-church worship leader using ‘Jazz Hands’ (or a near-equivalent)

    2. Unsingable keys (as referenced in your post) – something we’ve always referred to as ‘The Key of ‘Me”

    3. Songs that are completely outside of Scripture (Morning Has Broken kinda stuff)

    4. Family Talent Time (Pastor on guitar, his wife on vox, his drummer song, and tamb-smackin’ daughters, all of whom ‘take the show’)

    5. Non-believers using the church offertory music as a career-launching platform

    6. Inappropriate and lengthy song chorus repeats (akin to ‘soaking music’ … thank you Toronto Airport folks for that …)

    7. Worship leader (most likely on the payroll) using the time in between numbers to sermonize where not appropriate

    Good article Paul and great comments/feedback from everyone above.

    Oh, by the way, in what key do you play ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ and should the congregation be made to stand for the full 18-minute version?


    Comment by Flagrant Regard — May 19, 2014 @ 9:41 am

    • I’m glad you raised point #6, because that was something I didn’t mention. My son pointed out that with the lyrical style and number of repeats this was basically soaking music and yet this was a church that this style doesn’t really fit.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 19, 2014 @ 10:04 am

  6. Hi Paul,

    After reading your post, I had this strong sense that your observations (judgments?) of this modern worship experience were founded around someone who has decided what modern worship “should” be. Then you brought that mental checklist into this modern church and began to “tick” each part that did not meet your criteria. After reading through the entire post, I would have to say that there is not a modern church on this planet that you would be satisfied with.

    What seemed to really get your goat was the size of the congregation (presumably larger than your own)!

    Every congregation, large or small, needs to examine themselves constantly. The large ones turn into “Crystal Cathedrals” and the small ones wither away. Both fail. Both are proven to fail. Your demand for an emergency leadership meeting was a bit over the top. Unless you happened to see lots of people walking out, texting, or just completely detached from the worship.

    An example of the lyrics that could not be supported theologically would have helped me. I know there are a lot but you could have spent more time providing examples of your criticisms.

    Does their casual attire really offend (bare feet, jeans, t-shirts) or does it perhaps attract interest? What are examples of good-casual versus bad-casual? Who are they trying to lead in worship? Young people? A good mix of old and young?

    The part I really struggled with was what you call “the basics” of a worship set. Who’s basics? Yours. And by setting music-type requirements, are you yourself not putting style before substance (not to mention a lot of styles)? Mixing in so many styles might have the reverse affect and irk everyone out of their worshipful state a little bit but at different times.

    At the same time, trying to take a beautiful hymn written for Organ or Strings, and doing it justice in an electric modern worship band, is one of the most difficult things to do musically and is many times, an insult to the original. Thus, more difficult for anyone with a sense of musicality to feel the comfort that music provides to our loving worship. You end up pigeon-holing all hymns to piano accompaniment only.

    As a mid-fifties worship musician (bass guitar, contra-bass and harmonies) who has been at it since the age of 4, the biggest problem I face when worshipping from amongst the congregation is focusing on the analysis of what is going on up front. I have to fight that. The best times of worship for me are when I can focus on the words of praise and the One I praise (don’t look at the band and the leader, just the words on the screen or in the hymnal).

    I sense you did the former. It doesn’t work.

    Keep thinking out loud Paul! I love reading your blog.

    Comment by Celnet60 — May 19, 2014 @ 8:23 pm

    • There are some logical fallacies in “arguing from the particular to the general,” but I really see some things trending.

      You claim to know my tastes, but hours later, we watched North Point Online, as we do every Sunday. The NP band really rocks. “There is not a modern church on the planet you would be happy with.” Really. Odd. Statement. Truth is, there is not a traditional church on the planet that I AM happy with. Given the choice, we always go modern.

      It’s interesting that you mention leading in bare feet. The first time I saw someone do it was at this very church. It was all very natural, relaxed and worked. I did not want to put too much information in the post, but we’re talking here about a pot-bellied man wearing a too-tight white t-shirt.

      The song lyric was, “We are lovers of your presence and that’s all we want to be.” No. Wrong. As followers of Christ we have multiple callings. Two of the songs took the approach that worship is everything; my wife also noted a lyric, “This is the way we worship;” is essentially singing about yourself.

      As to the pros and cons of blended worship, I think Robert E. Webber has addressed this very well academically, and space doesn’t permit us to do justice to it here.

      Finally, we both aim to work very hard to suspend analysis when at worship. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to sit back and enjoy the drive when you realize you’re witnessing a traffic accident.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 19, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

      • Thanks for the clarity. I think the broad strokes and authoritativeness of the original post may have generated some assumptions from me that I accused you of. My really-odd-statement pertained to the “basics” statement in my mind, although not clear in my response (need an editor). That’s all…

        Another assumption – non-CCLI choices. The lyrics you describe above may bring out a gag-reflex from me on the right Sunday.

        The worship in my new church has a lot of issues, one of which you defined (pitch). When I have to harmonize a tenor in falsetto, I know I’m just ruining it for those in front of me. If you had been more detailed on other aspects as you were with pitch, I probably would not have felt the need to respond. The specific solutions to vague issues got to me, much the same way that most conversations around politics do.

        Not to put a mental image in anyones mind (heh-heh) but, I trust that the too-tight white t-shirt was at least long enough.



        Comment by Celnet60 — May 20, 2014 @ 9:05 am

  7. I don’t want to change the content of the post after people have already responded to it, but one thing that would have possibly improved our experience on Sunday would have been to include a few songs that appear on the current CCLI list. There are a number of advantages to this: Songs are reinforced through the week on Christian radio; visitors from other churches can identify with songs they already know; etc.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 19, 2014 @ 9:24 pm

  8. Thankfully, the Church where we worship choose songs with theologically good lyrics, although some are ‘unsingable’. One thing that is VERY noticeable, is that when an old hymn is included, the volume of singing in the congregation is very greatly increased.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — May 20, 2014 @ 4:37 am

  9. […] there was so much interest in my short post on Sunday about modern worship, we actually got comments! That never happens here, despite a huge daily readership. This means […]

    Pingback by Saving Modern Worship | Thinking Out Loud — May 20, 2014 @ 8:56 am

  10. Funny! I met with our music guy this morning. We were talking about his experience at a church and his list was essentially yours and commenter #5.

    Comment by Matt Marino — May 20, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

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