Friday, April 4, 2014

Empty

I thought about it -- posting some kind of prank on April Fool's Day -- but I don't think anything could match what Brother Maynard & I pulled off a few years back.

The closest I could think of was incorporating some kind of Walking Dead or Zombie Apocalypse image. And it actually does fit with this blog post. I've wanted to write more about an increasingly common occurrence in worship: the empty (do I dare go so far as to call it "dead"?) worship rituals that seem devoid of actual worship.

Now, don't get me wrong. I really enjoy corporate worship times. Large church gatherings, small groups, worship "jams" with a myriad of instruments and a minimum of structure, or even driving down the highway all by myself with the music cranked and the windows down. As my daughter Jordan has written on her own blog, worship is and has always been a big deal in our family.
Which is probably why the recent shift towards (what appears to be) empty worship bothers me so much.
Wendy, my talented and beautiful wife, noticed it recently as she photographed a large youth conference. The worship leader actually had to gently chide the crowd a few times about how loud they were talking during the quieter songs, or texting and showing each other online videos while their peers were trying to worship.

Other bloggers have noted how people can have their hands raised, eyes shut, loudly singing along with the worship, and then instantly start chatting about what restaurant they want to have lunch at before the last chord of the song has faded.

And then -- SNAP! -- like a light switch, they're assuming the same "worship position" as soon as the first chord of the next song sounds. Repeat multiple times.

Is it because of what some have lamented as "worship-tainment", where the high-tech light shows, pounding rhythms that drown out the sound of the congregation, and frantic video back-drops for the lyrics have created more of a rock concert than a worship time? Sometimes, I think that accounts for some of it.

I can't help but wonder, though, if what's behind the increasingly-hyped approach to worship times (especially targeted at the younger generations) is utilizing the forms -- raising hands, for example -- because "that's what people do in worship", without engaging the heart behind the gestures or forms. They have mistaken the passionate worship expressions of people blessing and being blessed by God, and thought that it was simply loud music, high energy, and "getting into it".

And a new church phrase was created: "creating worship experiences". Read that again, slowly.
Creating worship experiences.
With enough volume, a kickin' talented band, a light show, twitchy video lyrics on multiple giant screens, I can create an experience for you, absolutely. In oldskewl terms, unfortunately, we used to  call that "emotional manipulation". Raising your hands doesn't make it worship. It's just part of the learned-behavior vibe.

Listen, I'm not down on contemporary worship styles, nor the use of technology, or art, or candles, or whatever. I love corporate worship times, in all shapes and sizes and styles.

In fact, I love it so much, that when I see people going through the motions -- even exciting, high energy motions -- I am grieved to think that I'm in the presence of zombie worship: it looks alive, but it's really dead. 

And it will consume you if it can.

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