Five Songs and a Sermon | 1.25.17

I’ve seen it over and over: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, non-denominational, both adult and youth gatherings. Everywhere, the same recipe for corporate worship.

Recently, my husband and I moved across the country, and began the search to find our next Christian community. Some of the churches that we visited were just starting up in a school gym, some were established churches with various worship style offerings, and others were completely established and high-tech, young and hip.

I appreciated the quality of the music and production, and the obviously well-thought-out message and intentionality of all that was communicated from the front about the vision and ministry of the churches. I would occasionally be moved by a certain lyric in a song, often reflected on a new insight about God or myself during the message, and was always glad that I had spent that time worshiping with other believers. But, in all these settings, one thing was always the same:

Five songs and a sermon.

Evidently, today’s church leaders all went to the same school to learn all about what should be included in a relevant worship service. Good-bye choir and organ, hello guitars and drums. There are many small variations on the theme—such as, the age of group, how hip and tech-based the programming of the service is, or the denominational worship requirements, etc. But always – five songs and a sermon. And, everyone has to stand through all the singing.

So here’s my full and sad confession: I found myself wanting to arrive late, so that I didn’t have to go through all the music. I would keep track of how many songs were completed: “Only one more to go.” And then, ugh, time for the awkward turn around to shake someone’s hand and say hello. I felt guilty; what is wrong with my heart? Why do I feel cool, kind of disconnected, and somewhat impatient?

I would look around the room, and in general (with some exceptions) here is what I saw: people standing in rows and facing the stage, some singing, at least part of the time, but mostly watching the band and listening through 4-5 praise songs. Like me.

All right, I’ll just say it: I am bored with singing 30-40 minutes of contemporary praise songs. (And why does everyone have to stand the whole time?) It seems to me that in today’s churches, expressions of adoration and worship to our infinitely creative God have been reduced primarily to a set list of contemporary praise music. Those who don’t particularly love to sing are limited to watching and listening, and often remain disconnected from the people around them (other than that awkward forced greeting as you finally sit down.)

Don’t get me wrong; I like music; I am a musician. In fact, while I served for many years as a contemporary worship leader, I was very involved in the movement to bring about changes in worship style that had become rote and irrelevant. We wanted authenticity and participation, and part of that had to be the music. Now I’m wondering if anything has really changed after all? One template exchanged for another. Watching a choir, or watching a band. Excellent performance from the front, yet little engagement of those gathered to worship God.

People of all ages want meaningful connection with God and to be a part of an authentic community. I think we can do better.