By Gary Rushing
Recently I watched an episode of a somewhat crass but very insightful English show entitled “Rev.” Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It is the story of a struggling Anglican priest in a dying historic downtown church. In the particular episode I saw, another Anglican congregation came to the old downtown church to merge their Sunday morning services. The visiting congregation was a contemporary one; filled with young, exciting people and a super-hyped and hip pastor. Immediately the contrast was stark and the writers did a very good job of vividly portraying the difference in personalities, approaches, and demi-gods. Yes, demi-gods. The old Anglican church worshipped its past and its stoic ritualism, while the young hip group (which took in £10,000 that Sunday morning as opposed to the £30 taken in by the old guard) fell down and worshipped at the feet of the cool pastor and the even cooler music, visuals, couches, white leather sofas, and resident Hip-Hop worship leader singing praises to the “resurrected Jew.” I sat enthralled, wondering if this is how the world views the church today; as either an archaic institution of irrelevance or a poor and embarrassing copy of the cool, secular society.
Can corporate worship, be it high-powered, digitized projections or ancient stained glass, become the object of our worship? Anything that is placed above the our holy God becomes an idol and idols are for worshiping. It is possible to place our style of worship or any super-star worship leader into this position. Our adversary, the devil, is a master craftsman at taking good things, like the tools and mediums of worship, and turning these means of worship into the ends of worship. Sometimes it is very difficult to see this when we are caught up in our preferred worship genre.
So how do we know if we’re truly coming into the presence of the triune God, or the presence of a powerful idol called “worship”? Here are some symptoms to be aware of:
- 1. Are the People Praising the Worship or Praising the Lord?
Sometimes it is impossible to discern this with your eyes, but you can gain insight by what the people are saying. Comments like, “That drum solo was killer” or “I love it when the choir sings a classical piece” are troublesome. These statements may have nothing to do with Christ. “The way you guys lit the stage during communion settled my soul, and I felt God’s Spirit move in me” is something very different from the previous comments. If the positives are about the tools of worship, caution is warranted. If they’re about Jesus Christ, the object of worship, praise the Lord!
- 2. What is the Humble Temperature of Your Worship Team?
Be it a choir or a praise team, it is imperative to know the worship heart and mind of your team of leaders. If you sense a desire to hurry through devotions and prayer so the “real job” of rehearsing is palpable, it may be time to remind your group that they don’t exist to make pretty music, drama, or light shows. That can be done in other venues. Their job is to exalt Christ through the arts and create a space that draws people into the presence of God. That is far more difficult than pulling off an anthem by Bach or nailing the guitar lick from The Edge. Humility rules in God’s kingdom. There is no room for “diva-tude”.
- 3. If You are a Worship Leader, Are You Feeling Pressure to Perform or Being Prompted to Praise?
Let’s face it – worship is hard to lead when guitarists are out of tune, lighting techs are trying to recreate “Saturday Night Fever”, and the Lead Pastor is looking into your eyes while tapping his watch. God calls us to play excellently before him (Psalm 33:3) but this should never take precedence over a humble and contrite heart. God’s call for us to be the best artists we can be is not because he insists on perfectly crafted masterpieces. It is because our effort to create the best we can is an offering of praise to him for his glory and his gift of Jesus Christ. We are not called to perform for the applause of people but are gifted and empowered to bring to glory to God and God alone.
After having this discussion with a fellow worship pastor the conversation fell quiet. He looked at me and said, “I totally agree with you. But this is the real world. If I don’t sing and play better than I did last week…or if I don’t create tears and chills in the congregation like I used to…I’m out of work. Someone that is either cooler or better than me will take my place.” I shared with him that if that pressure truly existed it was time to share his concerns with his pastor and other leaders. If that performance was expected, maybe it was time to go. If we sacrifice the humble and contrite spirit in worship we sacrifice to an idol of worship, and God has very little tolerance for idols.
The high-octane pastor on “Rev.” found another place to perform and the struggling conservative priest went back to his dozing, dozen parishioners. At the end of the show there stood the glaring paradox that perhaps the church is unfortunately known for by some; that a people that worships worship offer only two things to the lost: truth-less power or powerless truth. Neither is acceptable to the God that we are to worship in Spirit and in truth.
Gary received a BA in Music from Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri in 1984. His seminary education was at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas where he received a Master of Arts degree in Communication in 1989. He is currently pursuing the Doctor of Worship Studies at the Institute of Worship Studies in Orange Park, Florida. Visit: faithum.com.