Vision

1 Comment » Written on May 30th, 2014     
Filed under: Culture, Leadership, Liturgy, Missional, Style of Worship, Theology
by Chris Logan

“Sometimes we try too hard to manufacture something that is so much richer when we just let it happen.”

3430144_origA friend of mine wrote this the other day, and it resonated with me. Much proverbial ink has been spilt over the debate as to why so many people have stopped singing in church the last few years. As a worship pastor, I’m not entirely sure I agree that people have stopped singing, exactly, though I suppose I may just not be in the right churches to observe this behavior (rule #15: always question the question). Often, pastors are blamed for various infractions, including choosing music that’s too hard or too high or too loud or too… whatever, an over-emphasis on quality, the physical space set up to reinforce passive behaviors … the list goes on, and for the most part, it essentially can be summed up in one accusation: you, the leader, make it too hard for me, the follower, to participate.

Again, speaking as a worship pastor, I object to a lot of this language, not because we pastors aren’t ever guilty of one or more of the above (I’ve introduced songs that were too hard before, I admit it), but because of the passive-aggressive victim and consumer attitude behind it. So many of these articles read as if the leaders are entirely responsible for people not engaging in worship (“it’s your fault we don’t sing!”), as if worship wasn’t primarily a choice of attitude on the part of the worshipper (which it is). If we, the pastors, ever taught you to think like a victim, or if we ever enabled you in consumer habits, I am so sorry. It’s wrong, and so that part’s on us. Can leaders do things that make corporate worship harder? Yes, and we should stop doing those things. Can we do things to make it easier? Yes, and it would be a good idea to keep those in mind as we plan.

But people are only dumb sheep if they choose to be; Paul commended the Bereans for fact-checking. You can’t blame a leader for where you follow blindly, unwilling to ask questions. That’s probably a subject for another post though.make it easier? Yes, and it would be a good idea to keep those in mind as we plan.

Where a lot of pastors do tend to be guilty, I think, is when we want people to worship God through the music so badly, but instead of creating space for God to enter, we sometimes try to manufacture an experience LIKE one where God entered for us once (or, crazy idea, regularly), so people will like Him – even love Him – like we do. It’s at once a phenomenal motivation and one that’s completely misguided, caused by losing sight of the purpose, the vision behind what a gathering is for.

But that’s never found its way onto one of those lists.

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I could go through every single one of the issues I’ve read and show you “secular” venues that have the same behaviors, but in which people sing at the top of their lungs. The space, for example – sure, everyone is standing in rows, and this can make it feel like the band is “performing for” the congregation, and maybe the music sounds too hard … but have you ever been to a Dave Matthews concert? His music is not easy (lots of songs with a range far beyond one octave), and yet almost everyone who goes knows it all from memory and belts it out without a self-conscious thought for their voice. Why? Because they listen to it all the time. Because they love it. Because these are their people. And so they sing.

To be fair, there’s a unique difference between those venues and our churches in our diversity of taste. On a Sunday morning, you’ll have people who love hymns standing beside someone who loves the aforementioned DMB music, across the way from someone who won’t listen to anything but Justin Bieber (or as my daughter calls him, Justin Beaver; I like her version better). Modern venues are hard that way, and it’s only going to get harder.

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Oh, and one other thing: guilt. Our church culture is saturated by guilt when it comes to church attendance in a way that a DMB concert is not. Can you imagine? “Dave worked really hard on this music, so you should come and be grateful for the chance.” … really? But then there’s “Jesus died for you, so the least you can do is come once a week and sing these songs.” I’ve heard about as many variants on that particular phrase as I think I could ever stand. Just stop it – Jesus was not about using guilt or manipulation to engage people; He loved them so much they couldn’t help but love Him back.

The truth is, as a worship pastor, I don’t want you to come because you’ve been guilted into coming. I don’t want you to come because our music is “better” than the church down the street or the DMB concert or whatever. I don’t want you to come because it’s a duty, an obligation, or a threat.

I want you to come because I want you to engage God, to hear from Him, to pray to Him, to sing about and to Him, and because when we gather together, that happens in a way that does not happen anywhere else. I want you to come because the writer of Hebrews advised the church not to stop meeting together regularly, but to eat together, sing together, hear the scriptures explained together, to encourage each other, to send each other. I want you to come because, deep down, YOU want to come. I want you to come because when we gather, we are better for it. When we sing, we remind our collective selves why we are who we are. When we hear the scriptures explained, we grow in understanding. When we break bread together, we remember that we are a family with an open table. When we baptize, we celebrate the new life that God is re-creating in the world. When we are sent, we remember that we are not here for ourselves, but for the world.

Worship Pastors, make sure you always keep in front of the people the vision of corporate worship. People need to have a compelling reason to want to be at a worship gathering, otherwise it’s just another activity on their schedule to be skipped when it’s inconvenient or a duty to be executed without passion.

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And either way, the church will feel dead.

But if they’re there because they want to be, because they know what they’re about and how this will propel the Kingdom forward, you won’t need to worry about your numbers anymore, and you won’t need to manufacture an experience. You’ll need to be intentional, yes, taking care to provide space with purpose and creativity. Know your culture and how to speak their language. But ultimately, know that it is not you who makes it work.

It’s God.

Chris Logan is a Covenant Worship Arts Pastor and writer living in Omaha, NE. He is currently open to call. This post originally appeared on Chris’s blog, Unseen Eternity. It is re-published here with his permission.

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