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  • Writer's pictureDwight Smith

Is That Really Worship

band equipment

I have been in hundreds of churches in my lifetime. Churches of varied persuasions. Churches who “worshiped” in as many ways as I couldn’t even imagine when I was younger.

While admittedly, I prefer music that is more in line with the reflective and sacramental, I think that I am intellectually honest enough to move beyond those preferences. Especially, as I attempt to evaluate the impact of the many “styles” in the Church today.

Notice that I capitalize Church, to indicate that I am referring to two things at least. One, the global Church. The patterns developed in the western world have been and are being “marketed” just about anywhere Christians can be found, by a music industry that has become pervasive.

Visit Churches in other nations, close your eyes, realize that the language is different, and it is surprising how similar the “experience” is to churches in America.

Two, I am referring to the visible Church not the true Church. The two are growing different every year in America.

As I have visited these hundreds of churches, I have been seeking for a way to evaluate: is this worship? Or, is this merely entertainment?

Of course, I cannot critique the hearts of those who are leading. But, as a commentator on the Church of America and it’s need to mature it’s people into the image and message of Jesus, and, to stay focused on the eternal home, how we structure what we do when we gather, is a powerful model of what we believe. Even and especially when what we do, contradicts what we say the Bible teaches.

In the final analysis, whatever the kind of music and the way in which we structure this gathered experience we call worship, I am coming to a principal of at least potential evaluation

If we can hear the whole body actually singing, then, we have at least set the stage for people to join together in singing praises to God, His nature, His supply, His desires.

When I close my eyes, and all I can hear is those who “lead,” and nothing of those close around me much less distant from me, then, probably we are only entertaining. I have recently heard both. One group was indeed singing, the leaders were present and singing, but the crescendo of “all” joining in was easy to hear. It was indeed inspiring.

All too often, I hear the other alternative. The numbers “leading” are so numerous as to easily out “sound” everyone else. Add to this those who are “microphoned,” with one amped up more than all the rest, and we have a concert, not a worship moment.

Over the last weeks, I have sat in two such churches. I tried in vain to hear the “body” singing, I looked at their mouths, and, the vast majority were simply enjoying the concert.

If that is what “worship” has come to in the gathering of the body, then let’s admit it and simply call Sunday morning a worship concert!!

Of course, this will be nearly impossible to change. Videos, seminars, U-tube, etc. have all “habituated” a whole generation of “worship” leaders to follow the worship industry.

But, it could be easily changed. First, get rid of the microphones. Let the people sing. Second, refuse to allow music that cannot be DIRECTLY traced to Scripture.

To remind you, I have added below a post from several months ago that also talked about worship and our gatherings.

What is Sunday morning for?

I am not trying to be sacrilegious or complaining, nor even question that there should be regular gatherings. But, the doors of many churches are open again and we are returning to our buildings. But, for what? It seems fair to me to at least question if we have learned anything from the pandemic? Maybe this is the best time to ask the question, “why do we spend so much time and effort on a Sunday morning gathering?”

As I read online things coming my way, the ones who lead the churches (pastors) seem to be the most emphatic. “We must meet again or we are not the church!” The arguments swirling around are at least threefold and they don’t necessarily agree with each other.

First, we are called to be the body and surely we cannot be the body without meeting. Fellowship is paramount. I would never want to question the power of Christians being together for strength and encouragement. But, is it really fellowship when 100, or 200, or multiple thousands of people gather in a building for an hour or two?

Of course, the inner core of people who know each other better, do “fellowship” at some level. But the majority who come and go with little to no contact with others, is that fellowship? Without a strong and multiplying decentralized system in place for people to find each other in homes and other small group settings, do we really fellowship? I find the whole argument for Sunday morning “fellowship” highly questionable.

Second, we come to worship. But the definition of worship is so slippery, that to define it as “a,” maybe even for some “the” reason to gather is confusing. What most churches mean by worship is singing songs. And, the more emotive and “frankly” self serving, the more we “feel” that we have worshiped.

But there are all kinds of biblical problems with this rather recent invention of what we call worship! Not worship, but what we now call worship. I am going to upload on to my website an article by my friend Tim Mercaldo. He is responding to the book, “Whaley, Vernon M. Called to Worship: From the Dawn of Creation to the Final Amen.Thomas Nelson. 2009.” To whet your appetite for a much more expansive discussion of worship, from Genesis to Revelation, I include this short quote from his paper.

First and foremost, “worship begins with obedience.” Whaley (2009) prophetically asserts, “…if we are not eager to obey what God asks of us, we are not even ready to worship. That’s because obedience is at the heart of worship. It is worship’s very foundation” (pg.7, The Story of Worship

Third, we gather to hear the word of God

A very genuine and highly qualified man preached. The longer I listened, the more I wondered. The sermon was Biblically rooted and he stayed with the same text the whole time. It was theologically comprehensive. Indeed, he had 14 points and each had a culde-sac. What could be read in 60 seconds at most, he preached about for nearly one hour!

As a result, his talk was homiletically boring, and it was largely read not preached. The complexity he tried to address was beyond the reach of the average attender. Finally, his genuineness and thoroughness were ultimately practically irrelevant. I doubt that all but a small handful of people present could actually remember what he said, much less answer the question, “what difference does it make?”

Of course, I could have gone to another church where the communicator was “hip,” teased at the passage rather than actually allowing it to fully say what it was originally meant to say, full of funny stories and media clips. What difference does it make is a primary question that would have still been left hanging in the air.

My real concern about these arguments for why we meet is not any of these three issues per say.

It is much deeper. Does the whole argument of coming together to hear the Bible explained or explained about, hide the need for each and every believer to have their own personal time with God through His word every day? Does the idea that worship is communally achieved through a one hour gathering on a Sunday morning led by people we often find don’t actually live lives consistent with the too often melodramatic words they sing, mar the very eternal nature of true worship?

The data shows that the answer to these important questions is resounding. We have a problem. A vast majority of people who say that they belong to Jesus, spend little to no time with Him in His word. Little wonder that more and more church research reveals a huge disconnect between what God says and their lifestyles. They want heaven, but they don’t want to be transformed in the meantime.

Little wonder also, despite the efforts of local churches, more and more confessing Christians actually attend so little as to be meaningfully affected by the church. Some demographers are now discovering that 2 out six weeks is a growing norm!

Most fatally, a majority of confessing Christian families are seeing their children reject the faith before they reach 20 years of age!

I have often wondered, how do we worship together if we have not worshiped all week alone on our own? How do we confess obedience if we have not nurtured obedience on a daily basis in our listening to God in His word?

All of this to simply ask the question: is it time to do some deep soul searching and ask the question, why do we meet on Sunday’s? If we cannot effectively decentralize the fellowship of the body, and, reinforce the primary things the Bible teaches, through both the gathering and the decentralization, maybe we are deceiving ourselves about what is actually happening in the people for whom we have a responsibility. If their lives are not taking on a progressive sanctification could we have failed?



Session 3: The Nature and Purpose of Leadership

November 15th

12-1pm ET (30 minute Q&A following)

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