Worship and Culture
The lights dim. A man walks onto the stage, a spotlight tracking his movements as he picks up his waiting guitar. As the crowd waits in muttering silence, he begins his solo. Soft music fills the air and the crowd lets out its waiting breath. Suddenly other members of the band are on stage and fill in the background for the guitar. The lyrics begin and the crowd’s voice rises to meet the lead guitarist.
That’s not what you would think of as a typical church service. Most people would imagine a sanctuary with a choir decked out in blue robes, singing along with an organ. But that isn’t the norm for churches anymore. As the years progress, churches have begun to look more like concert halls than cathedrals. It all comes down to the idea of being a culturally relevant church and the want to draw more people to the church. The question that arises is how does the church include aspects of culture without losing the power of the Gospel?
What worries me is that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish between the church and other secular experiences. Our calling as Christians is to spread the Gospel to all nations, and that means that we have had to adapt it to different cultures. The Gospel is, after all, the basis of Christian beliefs, is where we learn about the power of Christ and what that power can mean in our lives. But, in the USA at least, we’ve begun to take it a step too far. Worship, not just the Gospel itself, has become the main focus of the church. Worship is meant to be used as a way to bind people together in their love of Christ. But it has begun to cause many splits in the church, the most obvious being the clash between Traditional (sanctuary and blue- robed choir) and Contemporary (projector screens and worship band). This split has caused a rift between the older and younger demographics of the church. This split enforces the cultural value that the younger generation doesn’t need anything from the older generation. But in this split, so much shared experience is lost. When the worship is split between the two ages, it doesn’t allow them to grow together. The older generation can’t see the younger generation’s potential to grow in Christ and be the new leaders of the world. The younger generation can’t learn from the experiences of the older generation and loses the chance to hear about the past from the people who experienced it.
The thing is, neither group is willing to meet on cordial terms. This is the kind of conversation that has to happen, or the church will continue to splinter until it’s laughable to call the church, one body in Christ. But people cannot seem to come into the conversation with open minds or loving hearts. Each group thinks that they know the true way to Christ and that the other group just needs to listen to them. In the world we live in, change is constant. But people seem to have a knack to hold on to what it comfortable, and cannot let it go. Culture will constantly change around the church. It is the work of the church to evolve with it, while maintaining the integrity of the Gospel, so that new people can find their way towards God.
The answer cannot be found in one style of worship, but it also cannot be found if the church continues to argue with each other about worship. And when the church finds itself focused on that instead of on the Gospel message as it is, then some of the power is lost to the idol that musical worship has become. For the group that focuses on Contemporary Worship, it just means making sure that the lyrics of the songs that are used should be quality, not just repeating choruses of how great God is. For traditional worship, it means keeping an open mind to the new possibilities that instruments offer, not just staying stagnant in the music they have. The main thing is to allow the congregation to participate. The focus is slowly moving towards a performance above participation and that is dangerous, because when the congregation is only watching, they can lose hold of energizing power of Christ. By allowing splits to happen, it takes away from the unity of the church and that takes away from the power that the church can have in changing people’s lives.