Thursday, March 19, 2015

Worship by [your name here]

In the church growth-movement that began (as I experienced it) in the mid-to-late 20th century, North American Evangelicalism accepted a pragmatic, numerical-increase based approach to how we think about church that is deeply influenced by marketplace capitalism. The church-growth movement was all about finding sure-fire methods to reach more people for Christ (a laudable goal); and the substantial numerical growth of certain churches that applied those methods was taken as validation of those methods. The painful reality is that, despite 30+ years of adopting proven church-growth strategies, the total number of people in North America who identify as followers of Christ continues to decline. (I must admit that the scientific side of me wonders if we would have experienced a steeper decline in those numbers without the church-growth movement ... but there is no way to test that theory.)

Marketplace capitalism so pervades everything in North America that we scarcely notice it unless we think about it (much in the way that we scarcely notice the air we breathe unless we think about it). Although the marketplace mindset has produced quite a few mega-churches (and lest anyone misunderstand my critique, I do believe that thousands have come to Christ through many of them), many other churches -- churches that have tried their very best to implement those same "sure-fire" methods -- have have plateaued or declined … and some have died.

There are already posters all over our town for the Beth Moore event in Greenville this coming July. Right beside Beth Moore's face on the poster is Travis Cottrell's (looking cooler than I ever will with his strategically unshaven face and hip hairstyle), and underneath her name are the words “worship by Travis Cottrell.” Beth Moore and Travis Cottrell both probably love Jesus more and better than I do, so please understand as you read further that this is not a criticism of either them or their ministries.

I often remind the folks in my congregation that NONE of the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic words from scripture that we translate into English as “worship” has anything to do with music. Not one. But what does Travis Cottrell do at Beth Moore events? He leads music … and make no mistake, he does it really well (while looking cool and hip, too). Perhaps the main reason that I continue to rant about the erroneous practice of calling music “worship” is that far too many Christians continue to think of “worship” primarily in terms of something musical that someone does (that we get to soak up as recipients of what they do). Complicating this mindset is the assumption that if we can only get somebody cool and hip to lead (and add fancy lights and sound) then more people will be drawn to our church -- and perhaps to Jesus

 ... that is until they hear about the cooler, hipper stuff going on at the church in the next town over.

Hear me clearly: while I am firmly convinced that Travis Cottrell is a committed worshiper of Jesus Christ, Christian worship is not what Travis Cottrell does at Beth Moore events. Worship is not just being led in singing by a gifted artist like Travis Cottrell. Worship is not limited to a musical activity. Long before our current high-profile, high-energy, high-tech, deeply stirring worship gatherings in huge arenas, C. S. Lewis wrote:
Neither the greatest excellence of a trained performance from the choir*, nor the heartiest and most enthusiastic bellowing from the pews, must be taken that any specifically religious activity is going on. It may be so, or it may not. (from the essay On Church Music in Christian Reflections)

* Replace "choir" with "gifted worship leader" to bring the quote into today's context.

As I continue to think and pray about how to respond to these realities, my heart and mind are drawn toward the importance of Christian community among our people and the understanding of Christian worship as how those who seek to follow Jesus Christ engage with each other (and all of creation for that matter) before God. At the 2015 Youth Choir Festival by the Sea, our Sunday morning worship service included this wonderful hymn text by Fred Kaan:Put Peace Into Each Other's Hands 

That’s enough to think about for now. The peace of Christ to you.

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