Have Church Your Way: The High Cost of the Worship Wars

Larger churches came up with a solution: two services, each with its own “worship style.” But it cost us in the end.

We’re building Burger Kings when we should be planting gardens and digging wells. We’re further indulging the carb-addicted, malnourished population with the same cheap fluff, instead of offering them a balanced meal of Word and Sacrament. Be hospitable, yes, but don’t dumb it down. Don’t make it easy. Trading the body and blood for donuts and coffee is robbing you blind. It might allow you to survive for a while, but it won’t empower, it won’t sustain. It won’t last.


A Problematic Prelude

After fighting the worship wars for a generation, evangelical churches first tried something they called “blended” worship (I used to make people mad by calling it “lukewarm worship”), which wasn’t the REAL blended worship as much as it was an ad hoc order of service usually including hymn/chorus medleys. In the end, nobody was any happier, usually because the medleys were weird and the enmeshment of organ and praise band even weirder. It magnified the disunity.

Larger churches came up with a solution: two services, each with its own “worship style.”

It sounded great, and sure enough, there were some results. The emotional intensity simmered.

But it cost us in the end.

We try to have it more in heaven as it is on earth. And by doing so, we symbolically make it less on earth as it is in heaven.

The existing service, the one that used to just be called “church,” was reduced to being a sentimental, get-your-blue-haired-friends-together-and-sing-the-old-favorites hour. Some elements may have remained, but they remained as breathless corpses, museum pieces, mere relics that reminded us of a time gone by. The new, contemporary service borrows the commercial Top 40 sound, and often ditches with the difficult, churchy stuff. No need for liturgy, creeds, hymns ancient and modern. Like merchants lobbying for customers, we say “Come to our church. We have choices now! One of them is cool, and the other one is for old people and old souls.” And to dissatisfied current members, it says, “Wait! Don’t leave! You win! You can have church your way now!” Instead of being a “royal waste of time,” as Marva Dawn calls it, it’s a tool to hook unsuspecting entertainment seekers into making some kind of verbal acknowledgment of Jesus and the next building campaign.

Then, somewhere along the line, we decided that corporate worship was really about the art of attraction. The bottom line: butts in the seats.

And we haven’t stopped there. We’ve found that a good show can bring people in. Many churches now offer a “worship experience” aimed at every age-level. Denominations are studying area demographics to determine what kind of style might attract more warm bodies. Then there’s the question of how to get young people back in the church. Everyone should find a worship experience that fits them just right. Take it from Pastor Darrin!

But, and my apologies to Matt Redman, but we’ve lost the “heart” of our worship gathering. And that’s cost us, and the world around us, so dearly.

A Litany of Loss

It’s cost us a high view of corporate worship. The church has long drawn a connection between worship and ethics. How we worship determines how we live. Worship God because God is holy, because God is worthy, because God invites us into the sacred story of creation and redemption. When worship is reduced to a tool, a means to a higher attendance count, it’s functionally nothing more than another ministry area. Another chance to draw warm bodies in, along with the men’s prayer breakfasts, the family life center, and the now compulsory life groups. And, honestly, it’s not really worship. It becomes something else entirely.

It’s cost us participation in corporate worship. In many contemporary megachurches today, there could be no congregation and it wouldn’t change a thing. Worship is no longer a holy dialogue, it’s an experience. The only decision is what kind of jesusy entertainment you like the most.

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