Reflection #10 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number ten in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #10: Churches that can’t afford a full-time worship pastor but can afford rock-concert light assemblies and Hollywood-ready screens and projectors might want to rethink their budget priorities.

As my wife and I have traveled from church to church in the past two years on what I have called The Worship Leader Roadshow, I have occasionally been concerned when former students of mine, who would love to quit their Starbucks gig and serve the Church full-time, labor as part-time weekend warriors in churches that, from the perspective of what they have spent on their sound and lighting systems, could afford to bring on a full-time worship pastor if they would prioritize different aspects of their worship ministry.

No pastor or elder board would be so crass as to say, “What’s really important about worship ministry is having cutting edge a/v tools; worship leaders are a dime a dozen, and any young person who plays halfway decent guitar and looks reasonably cool will suffice to lead us in worship.”  But that’s sometimes the message that gets communicated, intentionally or not.  What’s often missing in situations like this, it seems, is an appreciation of the role of corporate worship in a congregation’s spiritual formation–and how a humble, well-trained worship leader/pastor/shepherd can be crucial (as important as the pastor) in nurturing said corporate spiritual formation.

51i+lbFbe9L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sometimes I think the best blog posts are ones that point readers to a source with which they might not be familiar.  Hence, let me introduce you, if you haven’t met her before, to Marva Dawn, who has written wonderfully about worship as an agent of spiritual formation.  I will allow her words to support my argument, as she writes as passionately and eloquently as I could on the subject.  The following comes from her excellent collection of essays, A Royal “Waste” of Time, in the section titled Being Church: Forming Character:

What many churches do [in their efforts to attract unbelievers] is eliminate anything that is different from the surrounding culture and reduce their worship services to a few songs that are simple to sing, a band that always plays in ways that sound familiar, and a preacher who does everything else.  The misconception frequently touted is that worship should be user-friendly.  I am certainly not advocating worship that alienates or is totally inaccessible, nor do I think people ought to need a great amount of education before worship can be meaningful to them, but I am warning against the constant reduction of anything that stretches people, of anything that makes them uneasy.  The Scriptures make it clear that being confronted by God is not always comfortable or comforting.  Reductionistic worship is extremely harmful because it sacrifices the identity of the Church (which people in our unchristian culture of course don’t understand yet) and of God, for God is not easily understandable. . . . User-friendly worship seems to me to sacrifice an awe-full lot of God.  Moreover, believers must learn that faith is not always going to be comfortably understandable as we live it out in daily life, nor is it always cozy to be a disciple. . . .

If children join the Boy Scouts and don’t understand how to tie knots, the troop won’t eliminate knot-tying. . . .; instead, the Scouts do all they can to help the children learn it. . . .

[W]hat we must do instead of reducing worship is continually teach people more and more the meaning of what we do in worship and immerse them in the beauty of its practices. . . . [W]e should not reduce the splendor of worship; instead, we must make sure that we have found a balance of both accessibility and richness, mystery and instruction.

The kind of congregational formation to which Dawn calls us here and elsewhere–513JJHntElL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_particularly the sometimes harsh (and, hence, I feel, unfairly dismissed) Reaching out without Dumbing Down and the wonderful short read, How Shall We Worship?–does not happen by accident.  It doesn’t happen via technology.  It happens best when a dedicated, full-time, trained worship leader/pastor/shepherd focuses all his or her energies, being led by the Holy Spirit, on helping the pastor and elders of the church discern how best to structure and lead corporate worship in ways that glorify the Lord and educate and edify the Body.

All of this might be accomplished in conjunction with expensive a/v technology, of course.  But if the expensive a/v technology is the priority–over and above bringing in a full-time worship leader/pastor/shepherd to utilize biblical, historical, and theological best practices for corporate worship with the goals of blessing God and spiritually forming congregations increasingly into the likeness of Christ–that does not bode well for the Church.

The Lord be with you in your efforts to prioritize your worship budgets well!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Why I understand better the desire to wear jeans on Sunday morning these days (and why I’m still conflicted).

About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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