This past weekend I visited one of the larger, more well-known Vineyard churches. My first impression was that this was a Vineyard mall, complete with the requisite bookstore, coffee shop and various age-appropriate ministries (the Age of Specialization). This one, however, included statues, a very cool art gallery, and a grand piano in the lobby, which someone insisted on playing after church. It might have been okay, except that the acoustics were terrible, and it only served to make it extremely difficult to carry on a conversation.
Church was pretty standard, high-end Vineyard, obviously operating like a well-oiled machine (strains of “Welcome to the Machine” playing in my mind). That is, comfortable seats, large video screens on either side of the auditorium, and great sound system. The service was well-produced, and it was executed without a glitch. Announcements were minimal, and included a professional-quality video clip emphasizing one particular ministry in need of help.
In spite of the professionalism, or more probably, because of it, I did not like the musical-worship segment. So, because I’m a typical American and it’s all about me, the fact that I didn’t like it is important.
During the worship time, I was aware of several things:
- The worship leader was not an exceptional vocalist, but competent and seemed sincere.
- The backup vocalists were less than stellar and for the most part unnecessary.
- The bass player, using a 5-string bass, was really good and had some very interesting techniques that I would like to learn.
- The lead guitar player was standard-fare Vineyard, kicking out great solos in each song to “enhance” our worship experience.
- The congregation applauded after every song.
- The song selection was also standard Vineyard, but for the most part very up-tempo, and attempted to include both personal expression (as long as you agreed with the lyricist) and theological affirmation (“God you are great”).
And I didn’t like it. One thing I have become aware of, in spite of the fact that I am a rocker whose personal worship-playing style tends toward alt-folk-grunge, a great worship band does not enhance my worship experience, and tends to just get in the way.
The fact that I was aware of everything on my list shows that I was aware of these, I was not worshipping. When I am admiring the soaring guitar solo, I am not worshipping. Whenever the audience broke into applause, I couldn’t help wondering if they were clapping for God, or merely responding to the music (even though the worship leader threw in a “thank you, God!”). Would they have still clapped after a corporate reading of the song lyrics? (Chances are they all would have been aware of how repititious and trite many of the lyrics really were.)
If the expectation is that I have an individualized worship experience in the midst of the American Idol style worship performance, it failed. If the expectation is that I would blend with the community of saints in corporate adoration and worship, it failed. If the expectation is that the lyrics would inspire or catalyze some type of response to God, it failed. If the expectation was that I would groove to the music, it may have come close.
It seems that many rate worship in the style of the old American Bandstand show: “It had a good beat, and it’s easy to dance to.” What’s that about?
What started out as a worship revolution – bringing in a needed personal dimension to corporate worship (I am not against that) – has, I believe, turned into a worship distraction. Most of us really like Matt Redman’s “When the Music Fades” because it’s a great song.
Does anyone else see a problem here?