In a recent post, I discussed the implications that a common contemporary worship style has on the community of the church:
… what I see happening is that our contemporary freedom in worship – to raise hands or not, to sit, stand, jump or twirl – plus the existential nature of the lyrics in our worship songs is undermining the goal of our churches, which is to create a corporate worship experience. I don’t have any sense of community with the people around me, who could be (and often are) engaged in any number of activities.
One of the things happening in our local church, ever since we got this new building without windows in the sanctuary, is that they turn down the lights during worship. It’s bugged my wife and I since they started it, but I haven’t said anything, as I’m already known as somewhat of a malcontent; I prefer to save my comments for more serious issues than “mood lighting.”
Well, today the pastor explained, for the benefit of visitors, why the lights are being lowered. It is to help us focus on God, the theory being that we won’t be distracted by our neighbors if we can’t see them. Now, this does address one of the points in the quote above, that we are involved in individual worship expressions. Granted, this shows some sensitivity in that area, but I don’t think they’ve thought the issue through from the standpoint of community. What the leaders are encouraging is now an even more individualized, existential worship experience. Not only we are to do our own thing, we are to try to forget that the rest of the congregation is even there. To me, this is absolutely counter-productive; that is, if you believe “church” is about corporate worship.
Those who work in early childhood education will probably understand what is called “parallel play.” Until a certain age, the most we can expect of toddlers is that they may engage in the same activities as other children at the same time. They are not playing “together,” they are playing along side each other. When they grow older, they are able to understand the concept of others as individuals to interact with, and corporate play activities begin.
This, of course, illustrates what I am saying about what is encouraged in existential worship. There really is no corporate worship going on; at best, it is “parallel” worship, and may not even be that. What is the point of coming together to worship, if it is to try to ignore the body and enter into our own little worship bubble? Why not stay at home? At least there, we could worship to songs of our own choosing, something that perhaps we could actually sing and mean. Part of the wonder of a confessional, liturgical worship style is that we are knowingly joining together with Christians the world over. We are Christians alone most of the week – on Sunday mornings, we are joined to the Church Universal. By reciting the creeds, by corporate recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, the many become one.
For 10 years or more, I’ve heard churches that I’ve been involved in lament the loss of community. Leadership conferences have focused on it, and church publications have discussed it. The small group strategy that worked 20 years ago is no longer working. Postmodernity is blamed (for everything, it seems). However, what do people expect, when the main focus of the corporate church is taken away, and we are encouraged to become more individualized? Why bother going to a building on Sunday morning only to be isolated? To make things worse, many of the songs are so personal in nature that not everyone can sing them. Many don’t affirm any universal truth, they affirm individual, existentialist experience. What if I, alone and in the dark, can’t join in with the experience being sung from the front?
As Marshal McLuhan said, the medium is the message. I believe it’s time to evaluate our medium of worship, to see what message we’re sending.