Monday, October 05, 2009

Monte+ Wilson on Evangelical “Worship”

Over the weekend, I came across this piece by Monte+ Wilson critical of evangelical worship. And critical may be an understatement!

His critique of the “worship” time at a typical evangelical church resonates with me.

Some churches will open with a cheery choir special or a hap-hap-happy song sung by the musicians. After all, happiness must mark the service. "We are a happy people. We have something to offer you. We are exciting and positive--and you too can be like us if you join our church!" Compare this with the ancient liturgies that began with, "O God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us miserable sinners." Whoa! That won't do. What a downer. . . .

Now the music leader steps to the microphone to lead the "worship." He is a combination of Pavarotti (albeit without the training), Dick Clark and Liberace. He stands, sometimes with other singers, at the center of the stage. The sound booth has been instructed to make certain that his voice is always louder than all others combined. He cajoles, he exhorts, he waves his arms, he explains the depth of meaning in the lyrics of each song, he cheerleads, he cries--all on cue. . . . By the way, are the people a little dull this morning? No problem. Change keys on each verse, increase the volume and dump all songs in minor keys. What matters is that everyone has a great, happy, ego-renewing experience.

And that sort of “worship” drove me to Anglicanism.

I began to know something was wrong in the early 90’s. It was a time of frequent depression for me. And the last thing I wanted to hear was constant, vacuous, happy, happy music at church. Proverbs 25:20 anyone? I distinctly remember this otherwise excellent Bible study I attended at a large Dallas church. Unfortunately, they always began with the song “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate”. Eventually, I began the habit of arriving late to avoid it.

Now I admit I may have been slightly grouchy. But to begin things this way every time grated on me and was a barrier to worship. Even today, when I’m unusually in a good mood, asking God for mercy on this miserable sinner resonates with me much more. I still may not at times feel like singing happy, happy songs; but I always know I need God’s mercy!

For a thankfully brief time, this Bible study employed one of those worship leaders who was so happy, he looked like he was about to explode. One time, when I particularly depressed, he was particularly happy and garrulous. At one point, he said, “You all probably want me to shut up.” I said, “Yes” and got some interesting looks.

Speaking of garrulous, it also annoyed me when worship leaders preached mini-sermons with their songs, sorely testing my patience and proving they should not be preachers. It prompted me to frequently say at the time, “Singers shouldn’t preach; and preachers shouldn’t sing.” I’ve since seen Anglican priests who can both sing the liturgy and preach the word very well. But cloying worship leaders was my experience during this time.

A few years later, at my Bible church of the time, the soundboards were taken over by people who must have had high frequency hearing loss. For they always pumped up the volume and the treble. It hurt my ears! I was stuffing kleenex in my ears during the worship time. I am not joking. Again, the typical evangelical worship methods made it difficult for me to worship. And this at an age when worship was becoming more important to me. (That subject will have to wait for another post.)

So I began to think that maybe I wanted a different kind of church when I moved to South Texas. And when I finally ventured into an Anglican church (Christ Church Plano to be exact), it was like a new world was opened to me. I thought “This is worship!” And many of you know the rest of the story.

Having said all that, I think evangelicals, especially those in charge of worship, would do well to take Wilson’s critique at heart, though it may be unpleasant reading.

By the way, Monte Wilson is a Reformed Episcopalian priest.

Hat tip to Creedal Christian.

1 comment:

Revd John P Richardson said...

Perhaps one of the most revealing aspects of this is the use of the word "stage" above. Someone remarked to me just the other day how this relates to theology and church architecture. In Catholicism, the dominant feature is the Altar. In true Evangelicalism it is the pulpit. In the false version of the same it is the stage, and the gathering of the Church has become a performance.