Courtly Love in Worship

Post a Comment » Written on May 11th, 2009     
Filed under: Style of Worship
Scot McKnight posted a short piece about our emotions and affections in public worship. Possibly you are interested. How do you feel about this? I’ve taken inventory of my own feelings after reading the piece, and I think I’m getting old and grumpy: I’m tired of these analyses about public worship.

(btw. I don’t think Scot is pointing his finger at so-called contemporary or charismatic worship. Although, most people in the comment thread at Out of Ur interpreted it that way.)

I’m as uncomfortable critiquing apparently emotional worship services as I am critiquing apparently emotionless worship services. Why do we need to analyze and critique our neighbors’ worship? It seems local church leaders should be asking God and one another each and every week: What content/style shall we use to bring the Good News and lead people in their response to you this weekend and over time??? In order to do this well, local leaders had better know their God and the culture and community where they work and serve. 

Is it just me? Or are others tired of this conversation about me-centered worship songs? Sure. There was a shift in the seventies. In the eighties, John Wimber encouraged Vineyard songwriters to create more songs that could be sung to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, because he felt such expressions were important in our singing together. They are. Folks did write more of these songs, and people sung more of them in church. Then the passion movement writers, worship together writers and other associated songwriters followed suit. The songs using “I” and “You” language were popular– probably for good reason. Eventually, we were singing too many of these songs.

Shift. These days, more stuff is being written about God, the Church, realized eschatology, mission, justice and other stuff we’re particularly interested in these days. Good. 

I don’t know anyone who is calling for more me-centered worship or songs. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, because I don’t know any pastors or worship leaders who try to plan me-centered worship in an attempt to attract selfish people to their church. Do you know people who are doing this– on purpose? If not, are we really prepared to analyze and critique what we merely observe from a distance?

Self-centeredness will always be a problem while Christians are human beings. Me-centered worship has as many faces as me-centered people– grumpy faces, smiling faces, arms crossed, arms raised, bored, engaged, humorous and dour, traditional and avant garde. I kind of dislike it when pop/rock music, technology, well crafted and delivered sermons, pleasing aesthetics and large, happy congregations are associated with me-centered worship. Such an argument/association seems like a straw man to me. All church leaders agree: Worship is for/about God. People should worship God, not their experience of God. 

This weekend, Dave and I each attended services with our (respective) mothers. Believe me. There was nothing erotic or emotional in either of the churches we visited. Dave called me on the way home from his mom’s church (another city). He expressed how good it was to be with his mom and then said, “No one would attend these services unless they love God very very much.” 

Certainly we don’t want worship services that test folks’ love and commitment to God. Do we? We want services where people can express and rehearse their love and commitment to God and others. Don’t we? 

The church I attended with my mother is led by a man who seems particularly sensitive about the connection between “moving” worship services and church growth. Each time I’ve heard him preach he remarks negatively about worship styles that neighboring churches are using to attract members. He seems to view other churches and leaders as his competitors. I find it ironic that he decries worship consumers while speaking like a competitor himself. It’s odd to me– the direction the mud typically flows in this exchange. 

Some time ago, we attended the funeral of a friend. The speaking/preaching was an emotionless reading of a well-crafted, theologically sound liturgy and homily. My 10 year old daughter leaned over to me and said, “How did this man get a pastor’s license?” 

She was not being mean or flip. She honestly wondered how such a thing could happen. Silly girl. She thought it was the pastor’s job to move and engage her through that message. She thought she should learn something, feel something, be sent out to do something. Isn’t that the preacher’s job? (I realize it’s the Spirit’s job, but doesn’t the pastor have to cooperate with the Spirit? And isn’t cooperation with the Spirit usually code for “hard work?” There are moments when Spirit-led work is effortless, but only moments. The rest boils down to ethic and openness.)

A woman I know attends a church in a neighboring city. She told me, “I don’t attend or belong to Crossroads church, because I feel too good when I’m there, and I don’t like that.” Hmm. 

Your thoughts?

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