Is the “Worship” Centered Church Model Bankrupting Christianity?
Bankrupt. Destitute. Impoverished. Insolvent. Whichever word you choose, they all carry the same basic idea: They describe the inability to meet one’s obligations. These words are used to describe people that have been reduced to a state of financial ruin. We also use the term to depict an individual or organization that is completely lacking in a particularly desirous quality or attribute. One might be morally bankrupt or spiritually impoverished. You get the idea.
While sitting in a church service the other day, I came to a conclusion about the church at large, which has serious ramifications for my life. It was a long time in coming. I am not sure why it happened that day, but I can’t ignore that it did. This conclusion was fueled, in large part, by my own journey through the church world: I have been a senior pastor, a worship pastor, an associate pastor, a volunteer, and a normal guy in the pew who isn’t doing anything. Over the last three years I have “worshipped” in close to 30 different congregations with varying denominational or non-denominational affiliations. I haven’t seen it all, but I think I have seen enough!
The Worship Driven Church Model Has Been Weighed on the Scales and Is Found Wanting
I have come to the conclusion that a certain model of doing church is fatally flawed. I am going to call it the “worship” centered church model, because I don’t know what else to call it. It was birthed out of the seeker-sensitive movement but is not limited to it. They often go together, but don’t have to. This “worship” centered church model takes worship in song, amps it up, and builds its corporate meetings around it. “The band” is viewed as central to building the church, is used as a tool for evangelism, and its music is often given half of the service time or more. It is my opinion that this church model is bankrupt, unable to meet the obligations which God has entrusted HIS church with and should, therefore, be entirely abandoned. I think the biblical phrase “…weighed on the scales and found wanting” best describes it.
Let me be as clear as I possibly can be. I am NOT saying that singing in church or having a worship team/band is bankrupt. Just so you are clear, I will say that again: I am NOT saying that singing in church or having a worship team/band is bankrupt. It is not about having a band, because I do think that is OK. What I AM saying is that the church model that is built around a band is bankrupt. If a church model is designed for the congregation to spend close to half of its time listening to a band singing songs, it is probably a part of this model. Sadly, everywhere I go, the church has bought into this idea.
To be fair, this church model is good at drawing crowds and raising cash, and entertaining those who gather. It is a great model to help develop musicians and singers. People can even truly engage God while singing and be inspired to live for Christ outside the meeting. I know that I have. Still, my conclusion is that the basic model is flawed, fatally so.
Asking the Big Questions
To come to that conclusion, I have had to think through a series of questions. The first one is “What is the purpose of the church?” You can’t truly answer that question until you answer this: “Why did Jesus die on the cross for our sins?” You can’t get close to answering that question unless you first answer this: “Why did God make humanity in the first place?” Understand the answer to these questions and you can build a church that honors God’s purpose for the church. Fail to understand, and you risk building something that is hay, wood, stubble or something far worse.
Let’s tackle these questions one at a time. Why did God make humanity? Believe it or not, this goes to understanding God’s will for your life. Simply said, God made us in His image, to be like Him. (not to be confused with being Him!) We see this in the creation account in Genesis. We also see in Romans 8:29 that God’s purpose in creating humanity involves us being conformed into the image of Christ. For some reason, God’s will for our lives is that we become like Jesus Christ and He is working in us to that end.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died on the cross, in our place, to pave the way for this to become a reality. He paid for our sins. Took the punishment that we deserved and offers us a new life. Coming to Christ then, is the starting point of a journey. In other words, when one becomes a follower of Christ, the journey of being conformed into Christ image begins. It is not the end of the journey. It is the entrance into the race, it is the starting line, not the finish line.
Understood this way, the christian life is a journey of becoming what we are called to be. A journey where we are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
If this is true, then the regular gathering of the followers of Christ should help us along toward this end. Everything we do in a corporate setting should have the ability to conform us into the image of Christ. Everything. We should judge every church model on how well it assists in accomplishing GOD’S goal for us.
The Emperor Has No Clothes
This new (20 years old) music driven approach to church is not doing very well in the areas that matter. There are plenty of studies to prove it, and many of these have been cited on this blog. We all remember the story of “The Emperor Has No Clothes”. It is a fable about a vain Emperor who cares for nothing but his appearance. He hires two crooked tailors who promise him the finest suit of clothes, made from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they pretend to dress the Emperor and he then marches in procession before his subjects, who play along with the pretense. Suddenly, a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that “the Emperor has no clothes”. In that moment of clarity everything changes. The emperor isn’t wearing anything fancy at all. He is naked.
I think this is a good analogy for the “worship/band” centered church model. Most people involved with it think it is the greatest thing to come along in years. It is a new paradigm for congregational life that is guaranteed to result in multitudes becoming Christians. Then, out of nowhere, somebody states the obvious: “This way of doing church is not working! It isn’t producing an abundance of fruit. It is not developing significant numbers of people who are committed to becoming more and more like the Savior. It is sometimes good for drawing crowds. It is somewhat good at attracting people to the service, but it fails miserably at producing committed followers of Christ.
I am pretty sure that if you love to sing you, you don’t mind this type of service at all. You might even be yelling at me because I am against it. All I ask is that you think this one through with me, setting aside your personal likes, just as I have done. Ask yourself:
Is singing what God really desires from us?
Does God want us to entertain Him?
Is singing such an extremely profitable transformational activity that we should devote even more time to it?
Does singing songs in our corporate gatherings accomplish lasting results in the lives of those who sing or those who listen to others sing?
In other words, does singing substantially move us closer to the goal of becoming like Christ?
Considering these questions may help us come to better conclusions about corporate worship. It goes without saying that the barometer for truth must not be based upon what we like or dislike.
How Did We Get Here?
How did we get here? I chalk it up the chain reaction effect. A chain reaction is a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s very few churches had bands. If a church did have one, most of the other pastors in town were warning their sheep to stay away from you. The big argument back them was whether or not drums were of the devil. The vast majority of pastors believed that allowing drums in church was a serious compromise. Few pastors were willing to do it.
But churches that were doing it, started to see their numbers increase. And that, my friend, will cause many pastors to re-evaluate their stance. And re-evaluate they did! The success of these churches led many young pastors coming out of Bible Colleges to adopt a similar approach. It was a chain reaction, and soon more churches were doing it. Today, a church that doesn’t have a band is viewed very lowly by those who attend churches that do. In fact, some of you can’t imagine a church without a band because that is all you have ever known.
Today’s church is doubling down on the band concept. Go to any pastor job site (like www.PastorFinders.com) and you’ll see that churches want “worship” pastors more than any other position. Why is that? It is because the band really matters! Churches are allocating serious amounts of cash to pay staff salaries, and it’s not just the “worship” pastor. Some churches even pay key band members to be on staff. We are spending tons of money on better PA gear, light trusses, stage lighting, fog machines, in ear monitors so the FOH mix (front of house for you non-musicians) sounds “sweet”, and don’t forget the massive subwoofers to get the people moving.
Today’s church leader and Bible College leader of tomorrow honestly believe that this is the way to do church. I have nothing against them and believe they think they are doing the right thing. Good intentions are not enough when we are talking about God’s church and his purpose for it. We must ask ourselves again, does this model substantially help a congregation fulfill God’s purpose in conforming His people into the image of His Son? I think the answer is a resounding “NO”
It is for this reason that I think the model is bankrupt. It doesn’t work. It isn’t meeting its obligations and should simply be abandoned.
A Call for Reformation
We need a new approach. We need leaders who are willing to throw off the status quo, forsaking great salaries and even greater names to build congregations that help people like you and I become more like Jesus. I have a hunch that today’s churches can’t be changed from the inside. We need new ones. I suspect that this new model is actually rather old. There is nothing new about it. It just needs to be re-discovered. Read the documents of the earliest christian churches. They were closer to the Master and his men. If there is a model for church that is both ancient and future it must be found there.
The church in America stands in the Valley of Decision. If you have begun to see the bankruptcy of this church model, and you are in a church that is built on it, you have a decision to make. Pastors, you have to decide if you will keep leading churches with this flawed model or leave to build something that does work. Even though that probably means losing a great salary and benefits package.
Church planters, you have a choice to make as well. Do you honestly believe the community you are targeting needs another church based on this idea? There was a time when it was rare, but that day has long past. There are 50 churches just like the one you want to plant in the city you are praying about. Will you use the same flawed model or will you have the courage to look for something that works?
The lay person has to decide if she will continue to support, with her time and treasure, a church that has sold out to this model. If you are not growing in Christ, then leave and find a congregation that helps you grow. You are not obligated by God to stay in one of His churches where you are withering on the vine. God’s purpose for you is that you would be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. If your church isn’t helping in this area, leave and find a church that will.
Musicians, we must make a choice as well. We must decide if we will continue to sustain churches with this model by volunteering to play at their services. We play a key role in this. It can not be done without us, especially seasoned veterans. If you are starting to see things in the same way, I challenge you to make your stand.
I’ve made my decision. I won’t be using my guitar playing and worship leading skills any longer in churches like this. I won’t give my time or my money to support them, and I won’t belong to a congregation whose leadership doesn’t get it.
To those who disagree with my conclusion and attend a church like this, I offer up a challenge. I am giving you a homework assignment, an opportunity to prove your case. I challenge you to go to your service this week and sit in the back row (this is the key part of this assignment). Keep your eyes open and look around. Go ahead and sing, but observe the congregation during the “worship” time. Look at all the people who could care less about the music or the song. Notice how many people are NOT singing. Observe that most people who are singing are real casual about it. Look harder and you may see what I have seen. I have done this countless times and always observe the same thing. It is not as effective as you think it is. And that is my point. Do the homework with an open mind. Then, come back and share what you have learned.
For more reading on this topic, check out these articles: Rethinking the Contemporary Worship Service, Does God Care How We Worship?, Rethinking Contemporary Worship: Can We “Bring Him More Than a Song?”, How Contemporary Christian Music and the Seeker-Sensitive Movements Failed a Generation
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.
Posted on January 24, 2012, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, The Seeker-Sensitive Church Model, Theology, Worship and tagged christianity, devotions, faith, family, Life, music, Purpose Driven, seeker-sensitive, singing, spirituality, worship, Worship Leading. Bookmark the permalink. 28 Comments.
You make very valid points, church is not about entertaining God, He has no need of it. It is about worship, teaching, leading others to Him and a place to be filled by His grace. There is however a difference in music to entertain and music to worship. If music was not welcomed by God, David would never have made instruments to add to the psalms, in order to give greater glory to God. A good worship song acts as a conduit to increase the praise and glory given unto Him and often is a pathway that lets Him enter into us.
I don’t really know the type of church you describe, never having attended one like it. Assembly of God Church, of which I am a member, begins the service with two or three songs followed by prayer, then the Pastor’s message on Sunday morning after Sunday School. On Sunday and Wednesday nights sometime the order is a little more varied. There is always a call for anyone in need of prayer, sometimes there is a call for anointing, sometimes there is an infusion of the Holy Spirit and the entire evening is filled with prayer, sometimes, the Pastor will have a message, sometimes we will spend the evening in worshipful music. All participates in the music are volunteers, members of the Church body. Usually there are a half dozen on stage at a time. We encourage our Children’s Church to present programs in song because this gives them confidence to come before the whole of the church and helps them relate to all different age groups.
Everything that we do, including serving a meal to over a hundred children on Wednesday evenings, is geared toward bringing people in to hear the message and learn how to pray and spread His word.
I don’t know if you have ever attended a Pentecost Church but if you are ever in my neck of the woods, I would love to have you attend. I know some people are intimidated but from reading your blog, I think that there is very little that would intimidate you.
Hi Loopy! Thanks for the invite. What state are you in?
Western Arkansas, Jim and we would love to have you visit, and perhaps you might find it to your liking!
I agree with what is said, I, too, have found it very boring in services … for years. I wanted more, and got more as I walked with God…on my own for years ‘after’ I had grown some within the church confines. I’d go home crying after service not knowing why, asking God questions. So as I grew in the Lord and in His Word I understood the why and was called to intercede [and have been doing so for years]. Then it was time to leave the system. Pretty much all follow a system of doing church for the soul and flesh, and then calling it spirit! Some have a move of the Spirit, and that is good, but where is Life that is breathed into God’s people? We can have programs [which you have already talked about before], but are they really anything before the Lord? Is it truly ‘His’ will? etc.
When I do attend somewhere it sucks the life out of me! When I want to pour/give there isn’t anyone who is hungry or thirsty. It is a very weird feeling when this life is sucked out of me! I won’t go back till change occurs. Many want what you have said; I’ve found them online, and we’re still praying. Some in churches are (so) blind that they do not see [understand], and are yet willing to be caught up in the social moral of doing things because they see it as right (in their own eyes). But one day will come when God’s true love will arise and be His Bride, His called out one, to be all that He has called Her to be! She is coming, to be prepared for Her Bridegroom, for HE Is coming! And she will be made ready! Accepting of Herself of who she is ‘in’ Him! ~ God bless!
I agree with you that it can be very frustrating at times. I’m grateful for having found congregations that do get it. Very few people know who they are because they aren’t big. They are out there. We do need each other, so don’t give up. Look for smaller congreations that are not trying to be the next big thing.
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Hey Jim! Great to hear (read) from you. We were having withdrawal pains. The implications of ‘being bankrupt’ make these words painful… but none the less, true. It is well worth considering your challenge. Along with your point regarding ‘entertaining God,’ I would also ask the question, “aren’t we becoming a people who show up for the worship service to be served and to be entertained?” If so, that demonstrates anything but our being transformed into the image of God’s Son. Great post… thanks.
**interesting you chose the emperor’s new clothes as an illus… I’m teaching a class tonight and it’s the illustration I also chose. (‘What is the Gospel?) – how strange is that?
I’ve written a ton of posts…..in my mind! Only a blogger knows what I’m talking about. I’ve been real busy with life outside of mission control. But, I will be adding more soon.
Great minds think alike! 🙂
A very honest post Jim, thanks.
I’m a guitarist and love to sing praise to God (actually I gathered with a group of my friends last night to do just that), but yeah, music doesn’t necessarily mean worship and worship certainly cannot be restricted only to music.
For me, it was the writings of the Early Church which utterly changed my view on “worship”. At the moment in my Young Adult Group we’re actually doing a three-week series on worship in the Early Church. The last three documents on the following page are the ones which we are studying:
Justin Martyr’s description of worship in Rome in the mid-2nd Century doesn’t really bear much resemblance to Sunday mornings at many Christian churches. The contrast becomes more evidence when when one reads “Apostolic Tradition” by Hippolytus of Rome.
Music wasn’t the focus. What was the focus then? What was the focus for these early Christian witnesses and, therefore, what should *our* focus be?
It’s clear from the patristic literature that when Christians gathered, it was for two things: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The Eucharistic liturgy was considered so precious that those who were not baptized were not even allowed to remain! *This* is what those early Christians held to be sacred.
This Thursday our group is going to be looking at the final document in that link: the Liturgy of St. James. This is the oldest Eucharistic liturgy still in use today by Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox and was the foundation for the Liturgy of St. Basil and the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. The document describes the liturgy in quite some detail – what was said by the priest, the deacon, the singers and the people:
Priest: “The union of the all-holy body and precious blood of our Lord, …God and Saviour, Jesus Christ… Behold the Lamb of God…who takes away the sin of the world…”
Thanks for the link, I will be stopping by soon.
The early church had the same impact on my view of worship. I was surprised that communion and prayer were such an important part of the gathering. Two things today’s church has tossed out. To think that we have replaced then with a band and announcements boggles my mind. I don’t know why more people are not stepping up to the podium to lift up their voices and question this model.
I love to sing to! If a musical ensemble was so central to God’s plan for us, I think we would see it being stressed in every age and era. That is not what we see, in fact, we see the exact opposite.
I just read St James Liturgy, which can be found here: http://restlesspilgrim.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Liturgy-Of-St-James.pdf The more I read these liturgies, the more I can not understand why they have been replaced with a rock band. What were we thinking? There is signigicantly more spiritual nourishment in these, as opposed to singing pop songs with a little bit of Jesus thrown in. Thanks for sharing them!
Not a problem 🙂
This was actually just truncated form of the liturgy – I had to trim it so we could cover it in one session (a paintful thing to do!).Here’s the whole thing:
And as to why more people aren’t stepping up and questioning this model, I would suggest that it’s because as soon as you question the model you’ve got to ask another question: what would you replace it with?
Without a strong Eucharistic theology, if you take away the music, you’re pretty much just left with a 45-minute sermon with donuts and coffee afterwards…
What you are calling the “worship” centered church model I call “radio worship”. You hear a new song on CCM radio and before you know it, congregations are eagerly belting out the vague “Christian” lyrics on Sunday morning (reminiscent of Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World at every church camp in the 70s). I don’t understand how pastors think the congregation is going to take their messages (even good Bible based ones) seriously with the church climate they allow. How can they expect true worhsip when the people dress like they’re going to WalMart, eat and drink (coffee and donuts for example) like they are sitting in a movie theatre and sing along to the latest hits from the radio (sung by Christian artists who are trying to sound musically like secular artists)? When conversion is dependent on the environment, then the focus is on the environment not conversion.
Jim, you did it again! This is an area that I have harped on for quite awhile. WIth my Pentecostal backgroud, I have seen far too many times that music becomes the central theme of the church service. It should never be so!
While music certainly has a place in the service, the Bible has precious little to say about music in a corporate church setting.
If a person attends or leaves a church based on the music program, that person really needs to reevaluate his relationship with the Lord. Somethings definately wrong!
Also, there is no such thing as a “music ministry”.
Thanks for the great article!
Jim – I’m not even sure how I happened upon your blog/article, but I did and I’m glad for it.
Ummmm… I just finished writing this – and it’s really long… so if you want just my opinion of your article, feel free to skip to the last paragraph! 🙂 If you want some dialoge on this subject, feel free to read the inbetween parts!
A little of my background so that you can see why I’m where I am –
I grew up in a conservative Christian (missionary) home and church in the 60’s and 70’s. John W Peterson was one of the the main composers of that time. Looking back, I see the music in these years centered on Christian experience, a God who was personally involved in the life of believers – a change from earlier music that primarily focused on a God who was distant from the believer. The music of the 70’s and 80’s seemed to try to correct that.
I graduated from a conservative Bible College in ’82 – a Bible major and a music minor-specifically, piano. In those days, we were taught specific writing standards for music – a musical line, ending on tonic, etc. Anything else was not written well. The type of music that our college taught and used was quite conservative as well. One of our final assignments was determining and writing out our own personal philosophy of music.
After graduation, we ministered in a very small Bible church which still followed the norm for the time.
In the early 90’s, we found ourselves in a large Baptist church – so different from the small churches in which we had grown up and had been involved in as a married couple. For the first time I saw more worship concepts – not to the full extreme that they are now, but the beginning, which I had seen as a need in the local church.
Then, back to a small church in Michigan, and then my hubby and I moved to Wisconsin as church planters on a Native American reservation, ministering in an existing conservative Bible church as missionaries. Now – because we’re missionaries, we’ve see a lot of different church styles over the years.
My thoughts on the “worship centered church model” are as follows:
1. It seems to be an over correction of the over-correction of the over-correction… or – the pendulum swing – from worship (God-centered, but detached from the believer), to Christian experience (how God is a personal God involved in the believers’ lives), and back to “worship” (God centered, attention of self)… and I’m awaiting the next pendulum swing…
2. We heard once and fully agree… “we don’t come to church to worship, we bring our worship to church.”
3. At times we’ve been able to sit in the back of a church on deputation (not usually an option as guest missionaries). By doing this, we can agree with you that in these “worship centered churches,” the congregation member doesn’t seem to need to be actively involved and that it seems to become “entertainment” to God and/or the congregation. My sister (also an MK) has, in fact, stood in one of this type of service and screamed during one of the choruses to see if anyone would hear her… no one did. In one church we visited, the video projector stopped working, and the church really scrambled to find a way to continue to “worship.”
4. As a pianist, the type of accompanying for hymns/choruses has definitely changed. It’s more chording – in contrast to how I was trained, to use the piano to lead the voices. Now, the piano is chording and the leader/vocal band’s voice is leading the congregation.
5. Songs written for soloists were suddenly being sung by congregations. The structure of many of the choruses that are written now are weak musically. This doesn’t seem to make a difference. While we were attending a Christian college missions conference, their chapel time – was the “normal” worship songs. I got the nerve up to stop at their music department and asked the secretary… have they changed what music theory is taught to the students? to which she replied, “No!”
Now – my thoughts probably don’t mean much to anyone else… I’m just a missionary wife in the northwoods of Wisconsin in a small church that does use a video projector and power points (finally- instead of overhead projectors). I’m looking at it all from mainly the outside. I look at supporting churches who have substansially cut our support due to budget restraints, but have all the bells and whistles of 3 services, television monitors, the band, a well groomed landscape, etc., etc., etc… I’m not against music in the church… I’m a musician. God created me so. But it’s important to take into consideration the questions that you asked and the answer we give.
All this to say that it was a well written article and that I appreciated reading it, appreciated the stand that you’re taking.. I’m sure it’s not a popular stand for those in the midst of this type of movement. Thank you for letting me chat for awhile. 🙂
I have been involved in church music/church worship for over twenty years playing multiple instruments. When I first started it was about men and women using their talent in music to point people to Christ. The songs sang of Christ. Everything in the service pointed to Him. Today, the “praise team” has become a draw or source of entertainment. I CRINGE when I hear someone say ” the worship sure was good today!” The music becomes more tightly controlled and regulated as more and more churches move into video and television ‘ministries’ as these churches try to present a ‘together’ polished professional product. i think Rich Mullen would be horrified to see how his songs are being used in today’s McChurch models..
Hi Tony, thanks for stopping in and sharing your thoughts. I was watching a live video of Keith Green singing “Asleep in the Light” yesterday and I had a similar thought. As much as I hate to admit it, I think the Sunday morning Worship service in many churches has become entertainment oriented. I have been trying to think of a better title for the worship time as a result. So far, my favorite is this: “The Sunday Morning Worship Concert” That’s what I feel I am in the midst of at times.
Jim: Liked your comment:
“the christian life is a journey of becoming what we are called to be. A journey where we are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
If this is true, then the regular gathering of the followers of Christ should help us along toward this end. Everything we do in a corporate setting should have the ability to conform us into the image of Christ. Everything.”
Just wanted to reiterate it. 🙂
Thanks for liking it and for “reiterating” it!
I would agree with the gist of what you are saying but I wouldn’t say it is a “worship-driven” model but worship of a certain musical style — to the point where people believe that God is somehow handcuffed if that particular worship style isn’t implemented to perfection.
You could call it “band-driven” or something.
I’ve seen the same thing in a completely different context–i.e. the church that has the high priced pipe organ, classically trained organist and 8 paid soloists in the “volunteer” choir. It didn’t seem to be about congregational worship but about how awesomely the musicians could perform.
Thanks for commenting. I agree with you on all points. I could have called it “Is Your Worship Band Bankrupting Your Church?” or something to that effect. The hate mail from my brothers and sisters would have been thorugh the roof if I had.
There is a huge difference in a performance and true worship.
I was at a church the Lord had for me to go/attend. One night there wasn’t going to be any praise and worship because most of the team was gone to a conference in another state, so, the pastor wasn’t going to preach (or teach) that night. REALLY?!!
I am so sick of church(es) being this way! Can you imagine if Jesus said that?
I’m bored with it all, and tired of it all; want change, want what is real: Christ Jesus!
Is your Sunday morning church meeting a performance or a time of worship and fellowship? If the environment, lighting, and front is setup with lead singers and/or band front and center as if there should be spot lights on them… Who’s being glorified and worshipped?
So timely!! God is speaking to us. We thought we’d found just the place. Our new church home was kind, and so much fun…and too big. Shortly after we’d joined, we began to understand the finances.
Our church is in debt–bragging that the debt is not larger than 15 years ago (shouldn’t debt be paid down?) and in efforts to launch a metastatic growth to 8 more sites, is asking the congregation to take on home equity loans, tap college funds, retirement accounts to leverage even more debt.
We are just heart sick. Congregations are often generous with property and estate giving is an important part of sustainment of the church, but I’ve only seen one kind of place that wants to load the servitude of permanent debt on servants of God, and that’s a cult. It makes me physically ill.
So your allusion to bankruptcy is both spiritual and actual. I ran some numbers and I think the growth model is absolutely required to service the debt. Folks are coming in the door for the “Theo-tainment” as my husband calls it, but not investing in the church. It might actually not be possible for the congregation to keep up, given the overhead. Expansion to 10 total sites will require complete replication of all the electronic and music infrastructure at a cost far higher than the $10M presently being asked for–no way is that enough.
Last week we checked out an older congregation. It felt safe.
Wow! I’ve heard of churches doing this same thing. It’s important to remember that the Lord doesn’t need one more congregation. He really doesn’t. If the church you mentioned went bankrupt today and closed it’s doors, the people would go somewhere else. It would probably BENEFIT the other local churches, but it would not HURT the church in whatever town you find yourself.
Thanks for sharing.
I’ve just stumbled onto your blog, and although this word is now four years old, it remains as timely as ever. I have been a songwriter, worship leader, and ‘anointed’ pianist in the system you describe, in all kinds of churches – large and small, traditional, showy, and crazy charismanic. I have always had a heart for pure worship, but over the last twelve months the Lord has given me the revelation you describe: The modern musical activity so freely labelled ‘worship’ by all these churches is nothing but an unholy expression of human pride and arrogant pragmatic compromise.
Like you, I took a hard look at the congregations I stood in front of, and realised that I was there simply to provide the spiritual entertainment. I was the crutch that supported their faith – a faith not in God, but in the ritualised and repetitive traditions of their denominations. Unlike some, I was never paid for my service, and yet without me, their version of ‘church’ could not happen. I was used, but never honoured, nor even thanked.
Like you, I have now removed myself from serving this system any longer, and in the absence of the weekly cycle to produce ‘worship’ music, the Lord has stengthened my insights and convictions regarding the conflation of ‘music’ and ‘worship’.
The issue, as I see it, is that our churches are full of people whose lives have never been changed by a living encounter with the living Saviour. They may be Jesus-admirers, but they are not Jesus-disciples. In the cultures of both the Old and New Testaments, worship was understood as an act of obeisance, submission, and differential reverence before a superior power. Physically, it was most often expressed through bowing, kneeling, and prostration. True Christian worship is a RESPONSE to our great God. It MAY be expressed through music, but this is only one possible way. What matters is the heart. How can people who have never truly known God’s sovereignty worship – ie make obeisance before – him? They cannot, and so their music is not a heart response to God, but only a foolish worship of idols, and a vanity of useless noise.
Again, you have the right of it when you say that these churches cannot be reformed. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my heart has agonised over this question, and how I am now more convinced than ever that God’s response to such widespread idolatry is to reject these vain pretensions, and to raise up a new model built upon a new-old foundation. New, because it rejects not just these modern apostate practices, but the idolatrous thinking that underpins them; old, because it is really only a return to the way things were in the beginning.
For, I am waiting, hoping, praying, planning, and preparing for the time when I am able to use my music for true servant ministry amongst the Lord’s people.
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