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.