Guitars, drums, pulsing bass, lights, haze and crowdsurfing. Some or all of these can be found at growing number of evangelical churches. Especially among our youth, what some call “performancism” is taking over Christian worship.
Jonathan Algner declared that evangelical worship has already crashed.
Congregations built on entertainment, provided by a combination of rock musicians and celebrity pastors, to be blunt, are more orgasmic than organic. The slavish, masturbatory pursuit of the feeling itself inevitably leads to the worship of something other than Christ. It rejects the Christian story in favor of our own. It rejects true human connection in God’s church and replaces it with introspective preoccupation. It ends with the narcissistic worship of self. It can deliver a spark, yes, and it may get butts in the seats, but in the end, it leaves us wanting. The excitement over the bright shiny objects that attract masses today will eventually wane, and the church will have to offer something brighter and shinier to hold out hope for the future.
Oh, and when we’re successful at selling our worship product, we call that “evangelism.”
Wow. That’s a pretty heavy indictment. Read Algner’s whole piece. I agree with his points, every single one of them. But I also think he missed the point completely. His arrow, while accurate, was shot at the wrong target.
Jesus gave us one new commandment, to love each other, and one new commission, to go and make disciples.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Jesus radically transformed his disciples lives in order to make them fishers of men. Jesus used methods and teachings decried by the religious authorities of the time as radical and even heretical. In Luke 14, Jesus told a parable about a man who gave a “great supper” and invited many. But they all made excuses why they couldn’t come.
Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind.’ And the servant said, ‘Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room.’ Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. For I say to you that none of those men who were invited shall taste my supper.’”
Compel them to come in.
Most people in today’s Godless culture wouldn’t be compelled by a liturgy. They have zero connection to it. They don’t understand communion, baptism, or any of the sacraments of the Church. They have no more understanding of what goes on than I would have attending an Indian Hindu wedding. It would be an ornate spectacle, but it’s not worship to me.
Algner fell for the easy path in his essay. He became a tree inspector, not a fruit inspector. In Matthew 7:16, Jesus said “you will know them by their fruits.” This applied to false prophets who inwardly are ravenous wolves. We know that there’s no shortage of wolves in Christianity. But there are also radical, different ministries and people who produce much fruit.
Lumping all churches who play music a certain way into the wolf pack is not glorifying God. The devil comes as an angel of light, who can fake just about every sign and wonder of God. But the devil can’t fake the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Jesus commissioned us to make disciples. That means we should all pursue holiness, an inner knowledge of Christ and love for the scriptures, and an introspective and contrite spirit reflective of Christ’s love.
What we do on Sunday morning is, in many ways, a performance. Jesus performed. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was going to heaven anyway, so why did Jesus do such an ostentatious miracle? It was performed for the benefit of those who didn’t believe.
The mistake Algner made is confusing performance with discipleship. If a congregation only focuses on the feeling for Sunday morning, ignores the Word of God, doesn’t preach with power, represents Christ as subject to man’s wanting, and is led by wolves, well then there might be bottoms in seats galore, but no fruit. No love, no power.
But many evangelical congregations, with a spirit of excellence, pursue the very best performance of music, elevating the worshipers to join in and enter in spirit and in truth. And they do it in a way that unbelievers can connect with, emotionally, culturally, and spiritually. Not everyone who attends church is a believer in Christ, and our goal is to compel the unchurched to come in, not cloister ourselves.
We shall know them by their fruit. Not every church should pursue a modern style of worship, any more than every pastor should preach the same message every week. But we must be careful of becoming tree inspectors versus fruit inspectors when we look at these issues.
Every Christian movement and culture has its excesses, but we should not shut them down for that because the devil cannot fake fruit. We cannot tread water in the church when the culture is moving at breakneck speed away from God. We cannot remain still and pretend there’s no other way to compel unbelievers to come in.
Are there no more books about God to be written? Are there no more songs to be sung but those already sung for a hundred years? Are there no new sermons to be preached? Are there no more testimonies to be heard?
If the music and style compels them to come in and hear the life-changing Gospel then let us rock it from the rooftops. Jesus is worthy of every note, amplified to eleven.
P.S. I am on the tech team at my church, in charge of lighting. I’ve been running lighting there for a decade, and only recently have we acquired what I’d call “concert lighting.” I personally do my best to maintain excellence while being mindful of a spirit of worship and God’s holiness. While we are all human, we serve a much greater God than we can possibly imagine. There’s haze and lights in heaven, my friend.