Rethinking the Contemporary Worship Service

“It’s Sunday once again and we haven’t even pulled into the parking lot of the church but already the frustration is building. With a glance skyward I whisper a now familiar but heartfelt prayer: ‘Lord, let this be a meeting of the saints. Please let there be something real in the House of God today. No ridiculous nonsense, no overt heresy, no deceptive ploys cast in Your Name, no silly sales tactics. Let us hear some of Your everlasting and immutable truth; anointed and unfiltered. Challenge me through the singular preaching of Biblical doctrine. Dare me to strive for Holiness, to love more freely, and believe absolutely. Let this be the very church service where I die! Where my fleshly passions and desires are nailed on an ancient splintered Cross to be wholly absorbed into a pool of Regal Blood. Never to rise again.’

The words leave my heart but I hold out little hope. Not that I doubt my Lord but because I know the modern church all too well….”

My friend Jim over at LivingElect penned those words, but it could just as easily been written by myself or countless other Christians who have grown so VERY tired of the modern American church.  A quick glance at those assembled on any Sunday leaves one thinking that everything is fine.   People are smiling, sermons are preached, songs are sung, offerings are collected.  But if we take Rafiki’s advice (Lion King) and “Looked Harder!” we see a different picture: believers who are spiritually mal-nourished, longing for just a sip of cold water and a stale piece of bread that never come.  Week after week after week, the spiritual food never arrives, and the body becomes weak.  This is where many of the Contemporary churches have led God’s people.

In an earlier post, I asked the question “Can We Bring Him More than a Song?”  It was a question that came to my mind as we sang Matt Redman’s song “The Heart of Worship.”  One line in particular stood out to me:

“I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what You have required.”

It made me ask two questions: Why do we sing so much and What DOES God require of us in our Corporate gatherings?  This post is a challenge to all my worship leading friends and pastors to re-think the elements that make up our gatherings.  Rather than looking for an innovative market-driven approach, I am suggesting we look backwards, through church history.  The wholesale dumping of the ancient path of worship has caused many ministries to become providers of spiritual fast food that neither satisfies or nourishes the hungry soul.  That needs to change.

For the past 6 weeks I have attended a different kind of Contemporary worship service.  It is what the late Dr. Robert Webber might call an “Ancient – Future” type of service.   I stumbled upon it completely by accident.  I had never been to anything like this in my 26 years of walking with Christ.  I had always thought it would be dead and lifeless.  I could not have been further from the truth.   Each service has led me closer to Christ,  and fully nourished my soul just as the 16oz Texas Roadhouse rib eye steak satisfies me physically!   The service is simple.  It has a worship band, and we sing worship songs.  There is a sermon.  But there are also several other elements, none of them new or innovative!

After we sing three or four songs, we recite the Nicene Creed.  We take Communion together with our family and friends, praying together as we do.  We recite a well though out prayer where we confess our sins. We recite the Lord’s Prayer.   There is a reading from the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Then we listen to a sermon.

I know, it sounds pretty liturgical.  It is.  Don’t let that scare you.  The contemporary church has its own liturgy.  We sing songs.  We have announcements. We take an offering.   We have a sermon  or a talk often devoid of any meaningful teaching of the Bible.  If you look at the recent studies, our modern approach hasn’t been very effective.  What is unique about the service I’m talking about is that the contemporary praise band concept is blended with these other elements.   It has elements that the church has included in her gatherings for over 2000 years as well as contemporary singing.   I have been nourished and spiritually challenged to follow Christ more in these 6 gatherings than in the last two years of attending contemporary services combined.

If you are a worship leader or a pastor, I want to challenge you to rethink your meeting.  Consider cutting the singing time by 10 minutes or more, so you can make room for these other things.  Do you want the “seeker” in your midst to hear the gospel?  Recite the Nicene Creed, they will hear it there!  Take communion, they will also see it there.  These elements simultaneously strengthen the believer and invite the unbeliever to consider the cross.

Sometimes we can be a bit arrogant in how we view the past.  I know I have been guilty of this.  We sometimes assume that what we are doing is the best way of doing things because hey, we’re doing them!   But throwing out 2000 years of church history does not a wise man make.      Twenty-seven hundred years ago, the prophet Jeremiah called on the people of Israel to:

“Stand at the crossroads and look,
Ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jeremiah 6:16

What would happen if today’s church leadership re-considered where they have taken the church, and returned to the ancient path?  Perhaps Jim’s prayer, and the many like it would be answered and we would find rest for our souls.

Check out the result of 4 different polls and the challenging conclusions arrived at in our post It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays.

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on May 24, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Early Church History, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I appreciate your challenge and thoughts to mull over. I am not a complete restorationist nor house church advocate, but I think we evangelicals can be a lot more creative and productive in our worship gatherings. We seem to be stuck in a ritual rut, while looking down our noses at those whom we see as more ritual bound. Attending various evangelical churches one can hardly tell the difference; we all do about the same thing, stand and sit, raise our hands, and even pause the instruments at the same place in our choruses, as though be lock-step, but it’s not “ritual”.

    Your words are good to think about and chew on.


  2. I have contemplated going back to some of my Catholic roots, just for what you speak and write of. What would some of our evangelical friends say about that? Would that be considered wrong? Isn’t that what they do, if I remember correctly. Some would say that is why they left the Catholic church because of that reason. Just mumbling words and creeds.

    Your post have got me to thinking about these ” seeker ” churches. As we go to a church in that category. One thing I cannot get over is the kids programs that are offered. My kids and over hundreds more are being exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Something they might not have been exposed to unless there parents came to this ” friendly” enviroment. Was it not a shoe-salesman who exposed Billy Graham to the gospel. Maybe it is not all about us for the here and now, but what is yet to come. Ultimately who sees the big picture. Again thanks for the opportunity to wonder out loud.


  3. Thanks for the writing, sir. I was not disappointed. As I am currently “homeless,” we are going through the agony of finding a church home. I have eliminated several just from looking at their websites and listening to their preachers online. I’m very thankful for the Internet right now. We’ve found one that is close to what you described. No creed reciting, but the music portion is shorter than “usual,” and they take communion at the end of every service. And they’re BAPTIST!! Whoa! The jury is still out, though.


    • One of the reasons I find myself liking this type of service is there are so many worship elements. A few times, the song selection has been poor. The songs have had little depth, and no real meaning or focus. Though I wish they had chosen better songs, the other elements of the service insure that the believer can draw close to God and be nourished and strengthened. In the typical church service you have the singing time and then the message. If both of those are lacking, you leave empty and frustrated. When the service consists of more elements, it helps eliminate that problem.


  4. Good job and I’m right there with you brother. A reasonable amount of song is wonderful but I say, bring on the meat!! Give me the Word. Convict, convince, challenge, correct, and inspire me. Not by a sensual sound that makes my foot tap but by Holy Spirit annointed truth expounded through the Word of the living God.




  5. Don’t you think that ‘maybe’ you are a little happy because it is something different? It’s not the same’o – same’o. As humans we tend to get bored with the same’o – same’o rituals, but there are still some who hold to them with much diligence because it seems to be the way. But our hearts are deceitful, but God knows our hearts. * I think what we are truly seeking for is God, for He Is Life. And there is Life by His Spirit. When Jesus spoke, He said that the words that He speaks are spirit and are life. There was no music or songs going on around Him; He spoke, He taught, He ministered. We humans tend to want to be entertained, instead of truly worshipping God in spirit and in truth. * It’s nice to find some sort of life in church service, but, is it really of the Spirit? As you put it: “Look harder.” * Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. * God bless you in your search; but it is He whom we all need. 🙂

    [I really have liked a lot of the messages here!]


    • Hi Josh, I agree with you that it is Him who we all need. Though this service is a new thing for me, I don’t think I like it because of that. The newness thing has very little impact on me the older I get. I am tired of being entertained at church. Especially when the entertainment leaves you empty. Why gather together if it ends up being meaningless? We are called to gather together by the Spirit of God himself. The gathering then, must have significance. No where in scripture will we find a call to gather together to be entertained. I think we would agree on this point.

      You bring up a good question. “…but, is it really of the Spirit?” How would one determine this? If the answer is “Yes, it is of God”, would there be unanimous consent to that? Or would there be some who would say “No, it isn’t of God?” What objective criteria would one use to arrive at the conclusion? My experience in this regard is that people tend to say something is of the Spirit if they like it and vice versa. Yet the Bible tells us very clearly what some of the things we are to do when we gather together:

      We are to publicly read the scriptures, preach and teach:
      Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” I Tim 4:13

      We are to pray rather extensively together:
      “1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” I Timothy 2:1-4

      If we look at what the early church did in the immediate aftermath of the church being started in Acts, we see that they took communion together (something that Jesus commanded we do), listened to the Apostles teach, met together regularly and prayed. I submit that this is part of the objective criteria we can use to determine what God wants us to do when we gather. Jesus instructed the Apostles after his death. The church was planted, and they immediately did these things. I think it is reasonable to conclude that they did what Jesus told them to do.

      42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved Acts 2:42-47

      Discerning whether something is of God or not, must be done with objective criteria, not what I like or what moves me. I think every believer should be careful not to let their own feelings, likes and dislikes, influence the answer.

      Thanks for stopping in!


  6. Jim: Yes, i do not like ‘being entertained’ either, that’s flesh.
    Of the Spirit? One knows within his spirit [if one is trained to know the difference by the Holy Spirit]. Some do say, “Yes, it was of God!” When in all reality it wasn’t. There was no evidence of it; there was no manifestation of it by the Word of His power. I mean, one can truly led by the Spirit can tell the difference.

    [Sorry it took me so long to get back on here; with working full time and taking care of my husband, and helping with my grandsons, etc.]

    You said, “Discerning whether something is of God or not, must be done with objective criteria, not what I like or what moves me. I think every believer should be careful not to let their own feelings, likes and dislikes, influence the answer.” Amen to that!

    What’s funny, you put in the Scripture how they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, etc. Now God’s people adhere to the pastor’s teaching…..and no one else’s.
    But the Lord set forth apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers….for the maturing of the saints for the work of the ministry. We have only heard from one of these gifts, so, no maturing. But, it will come! God’s people are so hungry and thirsty for Him!!! 😀


  7. I went to church yesterday and they had Buffalo Wild Wings for the dad’s. I mean Buffalo Wild wings restaurant came and catered to the church. Upon further investigation we found out that Buffalo wild wings donated everything to say thanks to this particular church for helping them in their charity events for breast cancer. Agree or disagree I don’t know, but I do know the wings were good. Also the Pastor probably gave one of the best sermons for salvation and how to get there I have ever heard. Mark 7: 24-30. No come to the alter to repent and receive salvation, but everyone needs to see who they are ( sinners) totally dependent on Christ and what He has done for us. No alter calls. He said God will deal with them in the car drive on the way home then let’s talk. The music or worship was awesome. You being a musician can appreciate good musicians playing music. We can argue all we want on everything under the sun about the who, what, why, where, and how we are suppose to do things, Was it of God or not, is it the flesh or the Spirit. They have been arguing that since Paul and Peter’s time. Are we putting God in our own box to fit the way we see things and how things should be? All I can say it was a wonderful Sunday service. A breath of fresh air. We need a Savior. Period


  8. “‘Lord, let this be a meeting of the saints. Please let there be something real in the House of God today. No ridiculous nonsense, no overt heresy, no deceptive ploys cast in Your Name, no silly sales tactics. Let us hear some of Your everlasting and immutable truth; anointed and unfiltered. Challenge me through the singular preaching of Biblical doctrine. Dare me to strive for Holiness, to love more freely, and believe absolutely. Let this be the very church service where I die! Where my fleshly passions and desires are nailed on an ancient splintered Cross to be wholly absorbed into a pool of Regal Blood. Never to rise again.’”

    A prayer we all need to pray; thank you.

    Do we go to church for the awesome music, music we can hear at a concert hall and be enthused about?
    Or, do we go to worship the One True God in spirit and in truth? For that is what He is seeking.
    Whether a few are worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, and others are not, [or it can be one worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, and others are not] God can show up fully ‘if’ His Spirit is not quenched.
    I’ve been in services where His Presence by His Spirit was coming upon us, then, all of a sudden the song was changed, and up went His Presence! Sure, the Lord is with us always. But at these times as a congregation there is something special happening to His people [I am reminded of the day of Pentecost when His Spirit came upon the 120 when they were in one accord]. What had happened is not knowing God, not knowing His Presence when He is moving, not being filled with the spirit, etc. We can get caught up in ‘what we want to do’ instead of what God wants because we do not seek [or know] His heart. David was called a man after God’s own heart; he was psalmist; he knew and understood God.

    We are at different levels in our walk with Him, yet, we can be open to the Spirit’s moving if we want to. But do we choose to? That is the laying down of our [own] lives before Him [as a sweet smelling savor of sacrifice]. Who knows what God would’ve done in that service, I wish that I could’ve seen, but, alas, too many times that has happened during a service, too much looking at the time/clock instead of looking to the Lord, and too much of listening to the crowd instead of having ears to hear what the Spirit of the Lord is saying, not really seeing so that we know what the next move of God is. Sorry.
    There are those of us who are frustrated, who knows these things, yet we go on, because there are those who do not understand at all, the Bible talks of them and that is whom is warned because God wants more of us. Till we grow up we won’t understand; we can’t stay on milk forever.
    To those who know: keep walking with Him, keep seeking Him, and He will make His way known. Love Him, honor Him, and He will come to you, despite the disturbances, be quiet before Him; despite the ignorance or the quenching of the Spirit, He will come to those who truly seek Him as we be still before Him.
    I know that people don’t like being called ignorant, but the Bible uses that word because we ought to know by now, even Paul rebuked others because they should’ve known but instead they chose milk over and over and over again, so he could not give them the meat of the Word. Jesus has said, they have eyes to see yet they will be ever seeing, they know yet they will be ever knowing. What He is saying is that don’t see and they don’t know, they will continue in their search when they don’t look to Him who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

    Well, I guess that I am talking a lot here. Sorry. Just wanted to pour out this morning.
    May we continue to pray, to pray for His Church by using His Word, and believe God. Press on (despite what you see and hear). Have that personal walk with Him, and perhaps God will use you in such a mighty way because you choose to walk with Him in that depth and light [revelation] of His Word which He is showing you, to be a vessel to be poured out in this earth to others. Whether they believe or not, that isn’t important, but for us to keep seeking Him and to walk with Him doing what He has commanded us to do, after all, it is a personal walk with Him so that we are growing up spiritually, for that God will reward in due time. God is watching us, waiting on us, and seeing whom He can trust with His marvelous work to do here on this earth. Yes, we are just men [mankind], but God knows our hearts and where we are with Him. God will show honor to whom honor is due. The time is come.
    God bless you.


  9. I hear what you are saying but here’s my thought. How we are impacted by a sermon or worship isn’t solely dependent on what’s being sung or said. It’s also dependent upon us and our own response to what’s going on. It’s about the state of our hearts as we worship him. While I agree that the modern church can certainly be far too “market minded,” I don’t think the lack of meat is predicated upon the way in which a service is structured. I also have to think about the guest that walks in the door. I’ve sat in liturgical services in which I felt highly uncomfortable reciting verbatim the prayers on the screen. Why? Because I felt like I was inauthentic. They were not my heart’s cry to my heavenly Father and so it lost meaning for me.

    I don’t know that we necessarily need to resurrect these elements of service in order to grow the church or be spiritually filled. What I think we need to do is teach our people how to work out their salvations with fear and trembling all week long, to make sure that the preaching and singing is balanced with deep spiritual teaching and milk for the new believer, and to begin to put equal emphasis on evangelism AND discipleship. Simply put, I think we need to find balance. I don’t necessarily think that either the modern church or the liturgical one offers that right now…but I think we’ll get there in both because we’ve recognized the problem. Just my two cents. 🙂


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