Jun 24 2010

The day I was assaulted in church

First, let me say that I am no wimp when it comes to loud music. I lived through the sixties. I operated farm equipment for years without using earplugs. I’ve attended many, many concerts.  I’ve played electric guitar in a band, before we used things like drum cages. I typically stood close to the drummer, and had to crank my amp up to be heard over both the drums and the vocal monitor, which was cranked up to be heard over the drums. My wife claims I’m losing my hearing.

And yet, I felt that I had been physically assaulted by sound waves last Sunday during worship. I kid you not, the sound levels were incredible. I should have asked what the db levels were.  The only thing I’ve experienced anything louder was when I took my son and his friends to a Thousand Foot Krutch concert.

The Story

We have recently started attending a local church that we really like. We know several of the people (which helps) and the pastor seems to have a very strong grasp on grace. We were looking forward to going to church. But then, we walked in the door. I spent about a minute in the sanctuary, then went back out into the lobby, my ears already ringing. The sound was so loud, you had to shout to the person next to you.

My wife, who is more sensitive to sound than I am (remember, I have hearing loss), spoke to one of the ushers. He replied that several people had already complained, and that the pastor and sound guys had been told. My wife even spoke to the sound kid (early 20’s, wearing a red headband), who replied somewhat arrogantly that “he was a professional sound man, and no one had spoken to [him] about the sound.” I had heard one gentlemen yell as he walked out, “Can you make it any louder?”

A couple of times I ventured in and looked around. Most people were not singing along (you honestly couldn’t have heard yourself anyway). One guy in a red shirt played air drums.  It was not a corporate worship experience. If anything, it was a concert, and people responded accordingly (although this is not a “dancing” church).  The worship band was even applauded during the announcements.  The pastor praised the lead guitar player. Granted, they were good. I would have enjoyed hearing them, under better circumstances.

I wanted to leave. We waited in the lobby until the music was over, then went in.  The guest speaker was fine, but by that time I was in no mood to listen to anything (my ears were still ringing). When the pastor got up to close the service, his mic was so loud it sounded like he was shouting.

Again, I am no sound wimp, but this was terrible. I really don’t know if I risk going back, unless I know who’s doing worship (even acoustic sets have been too loud at times).  If anything, I may start coming at 11, after the worship is over. But, I realize that this means I’m not really a part of the church.

The Problem

The main problem is a complete lack of understanding of the nature of corporate worship. I should mention that I have been a worship leader as well as having been the sound guy in a couple of churches. Doing sound for corporate worship is not the same as doing sound for a rock concert; the two experiences are not even in the same category. The only similarity is that both involve music.  In a concert, everyone realizes that the band is the focus. That’s why people come, to hear the band.

However, worship is a corporate experience. The worship leader(s) are there as servants, to facilitate a corporate worship experience.  There are 2 key words: worship, and corporate. Music is actually optional; recall Matt Redman’s The Heart of Worship.

Years ago, while I was sound man at a Vineyard church in San Diego, I recall reading an article by Todd Hunter, who was then the President of the Association of Vineyard Churches. He made a very simple point: If you can’t hear the people around you singing you aren’t having a true corporate worship experience, and the music is too loud.

And, consider this: Putting the focus on the music and worship band is actually stealing worship. Worship, after all, is about focus.  Remember, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  You can’t be a worship leader if you aren’t first a part of the congregation, and you aren’t leading others into worship if the attention is on you. The worship leader should be loud enough so that everyone can hear and follow along; that, after all, is their purpose.

In operating a church service, one of the things we must be aware of is the old Marshall McLuhan concept of “the medium is the message.” What we do and how we do it speaks volumes—perhaps more than what is often said (way more than what many contemporary worship songs say.

Other Problems

Then, there’s the attitude problem of the self-identified “professional” sound man. The sound team in a church should be part  of the worship team. They should understand the purpose of worship, and understand that they play a servant’s role. The sound man is perhaps the 2nd most important person on any given Sunday morning. He or she have the power to make Sunday morning a worshipful experience, or an abusive one. It takes maturity and humility. It takes an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Am I expecting too much?

There also seemed to be an honesty issue, as the sound kid told my wife no one had spoken to him about the sound levels, although it appeared that others were indeed complaining to him. Perhaps this was just a communication issue—I can imagine that no one really heard what anyone was saying as the music was too loud.

Other problems, not specifically related to this church but certainly including this church, involve the ability of the worship leaders to choose songs which appropriately create a corporate worship experience. If this is merely a concert, that’s not important. However, songs that reflect a personal attitude or an emotional state do not make great corporate worship songs. Again, it’s a matter of focus. “Jesus, I love you” is a pretty weak worship line. It says nothing about Jesus, it merely reflects the writer’s emotional state.  I’ve often sat through these worship songs thinking, “does the worship leader have the slightest clue about what this means?”  Bottom line, emotions change, truth does not. Sing truth, let people have their own emotions.

The Buck Stops Where?

Someone has to have responsibility for creating a corporate worship experience.  In the early days of the Anaheim Vineyard, the pastor, John Wimber, approved the worship list before each service. Some may call this having control issues, but seriously, someone has to take responsibility. A mature worship leader – of which I’ve known a few – can do this. Most, honestly, can not.  Again, what is done on a Sunday morning – including which songs are sung – speak more about the church than the sermon.

So yes, last Sunday I felt not only like I’d been assaulted, but I felt like I had been abused and that I simply wasn’t important.  It’s too bad.  I’ll perhaps try this church again, but not without some good earplugs.


May 22 2010

Give pastors some grace

In the past few days a couple of former-Christians-become-atheist sites have picked up on this article (by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir) on Schaeffer Institute site about the sad state of evangelical pastors. For a number of reasons, the atheist sites present the material in a more compelling way than does Krejcir’s article. Here’s just a few of the figures:

  • 1500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80 percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • 40% of pastors polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

The conclusion, reached by atheists and Christians alike, is that something is seriously wrong in the evangelical church. Being a pastor is certainly a stressful job, there’s no doubt about that; but I don’t think it has to be as stressful as it often is.

During my stints in church leadership positions, where sometimes my main function was merely to look out for the well-being of the pastor, I recognized some problems. I believe it is systemic. There is a really, really bad model of church that has been perpetuated in evangelical churches that in essence makes the pastor a potential victim of abuse. Some of this is actually encouraged by the pastor, as it’s what they have been trained to believe.

This usually results in the pastor – as a survival mechanism – becoming an abusive leader.

One of the problems is that the church adopted much of the corporate business model, which is essentially organized social Darwinism. It’s survival of the fittest, results matter, perform or get out. It also puts the pastor in a conflict of interest situation with regard to his finances. His continued income depends on the church growing (at least financially) and the church giving. Again, this is a set up for abuse. If nothing else, the pastor lives in conlfict.

Many pastors have never been trained for anything else; they are indentured servants of the church system. And, many of them don’t have any retirement plans, and may not pay into social security. So, when they burn out or retire, they are nearly destitute. Unless, of course, they’ve learned to make money as authors, conference speakers, and TV personalitites.

The church needs to understand that being a pastor is just a job (yes, that’s what I said). It’s a role, of which there are hundreds in any church. Rather than the pyramid-shaped CEO model that most churches use, the church was really designed as a “flat” organization, where all relationships are reciprocal in nature. That is, if the pastor helps you with his teaching, you help him with whatever “good things” you’ve got, not necessarily financial.

If everyone in the church would function on this principle of grace – sharing each other’s burdens, sharing all good things with one another, and so on – the pressure on the pastor would be relieved.

Of course, grace means freedom – which also means personal responsibility, for everyone.  Good luck getting a church to buy that.


May 7 2010

I’ve been to this church!

“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

via James F. McGrath


May 5 2010

Review: Todd Hunter’s Giving Church Another Chance

Todd Hunter’s Giving Church Another Chance is an interesting—and perhaps brilliant—little book. I am sure that this is not everything that Todd Hunter could say on the subjects of church, liturgy and life, but he says just enough to make you want more, which I believe is precisely the point.

Todd has a gift of being able to “reimage” things so that we see them in a different way. In this book, he has taken the elements of the Anglican liturgy and presents them not as merely a way to worship on Sunday mornings, but as a rhythm by which to live our lives. Without being overly critical of the Vineyard or other evangelical styles of worship, he nevertheless shows us that there are elements missing—not just from Sunday mornings, but from the way we live throughout the week.

He discusses, for example, how we have become addicted to noise and excitement to the point that we don’t even allow time for quiet in our corporate worship; rather than Sunday morning worship setting the pattern for our week, we have let how we live set the pattern for our worship. Todd simply suggests that we “repractice” church, learning once again the value of contemplation, Bible reading, giving, and so on. Furthermore, just as Israel had been intended to be the means to bless all mankind, this is now our calling, to be the Church for the sake of others.

Even those of us from liturgical backgrounds will be challenged by this book to take a step back and reevaluate our attitudes toward church, worship, and life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Todd Hunter to read and post a review on my site. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”