Church Worship Fails

I know I am not young and hip, as a matter of fact using the term hip ends any chance of me pretending to be young and hip. As old as I am, I still know that the word fail is often attached to other words to describe the lack of positive outcome produced by an action. In some cases, the “fail” is so over the top that the word “epic” also is included.

If I were to post a video of Epic Church Worship Fails, what would you expect to see?

Maybe a guitar amp bursts into flames as the worship band plays songs that incorporate fire metaphors. A pipe bursts above the stage as the leader sings about being dry and in need of living water. A background vocalist trips as they sing about falling on their knees. There is a power interruption as the worship band sings about the Light of the World.

Maybe it’s a video of the worship leader’s skinny jeans busting open and falling down and his hair getting caught in his guitar strap as he attempts to remove it and run off the stage. At the same time a cup of coffee is knocked over on the lighting board causing the programing to change over to a strobe effect.

This leads to what is first thought to be a move of the Spirit prompted by the worship leader’s deeply emotional cry for God to have mercy. It’s later determined he was crying because in his haste to remove his guitar and exit the stage he ripped out his man bun. What was thought to be the Holy Spirit moving through the hearts, minds and bodies of the congregation turned out to be rapid pulse strobe light induced seizures – epic church worship fail!

This is not what I mean by church worship fails.

I have already admitted that I am not young or hip so I don’t automatically default to church mishaps on video when I hear the words “church worship fails.”

To me church worship fails when the band is more memorable than the encounter with God.

My worship experience is mostly Pentecostal in style and I must admit that I like my worship done in this way. I love passion and I enjoy repetition if it is done right/not overdone (remember if you don’t like repetition you won’t like Heaven – Holy, Holy, Holy is the….). I have nothing against quality stage lighting and great musical ability being a part of the presentation. I see nothing wrong with a level of proficiency and production that rivals the professional musicians and tech in other genres of music but…

If at some point what goes on on stage becomes more memorable than what goes on between you and God, church worship fails.

These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. Matthew 15:8-9 (NIV)

Don’t be fooled by the cover band, it may sound like the real thing but it isn’t.

We are not fooled by a look-alike and sound-alike reproduction of our favourite music group. We enjoy the trip down memory lane as we take in what was at one time the soundtrack of our lives. The feeling of nostalgia transports us back to younger days when we were hip! We know it isn’t the real thing but often the real thing isn’t possible so we settle for the next best thing, a cover band.

That may work for entertainment but worship has to be different.

To be a copy of worship is to try to reproduce the past as if it is no longer possible to have the real thing. Courses teach how to replicate the success of the latest worship craze, implement the right type of lighting, whip things up with repetition, create a specific sound and environment that will evoke emotional response along with many more ideas on how to be just like the other guy, but who wants a cover band experience in worship when the real thing, a real experience with God is available?

There are things that can be learned about leading worship but no one can make the Spirit move.

Recently I have been reflecting on the things pastors and leaders say in defence of themselves, the things I have said, the things I now try to correct as I work with churches in transition. (see: The Shepherd Focuses on the Sheep and Consumer Christianity and the Church Hopper )

I made it through the worship wars explaining to people that new is different but that doesn’t make it better or worse, it doesn’t negate your music or your past experience, it is just a way to remain stylistically relevant and engage new generations. I reminded them that their traditions were once seen as radical just like they see the new worship.

Somewhere this became an excuse to play music and call it worship. There is no silent reflection, there is no room for unscripted response or for the Spirit to move, just a cover band trying to reproduce the worship sets of their favourite band. You get the Hillsong, Bethel or (insert popular worship band here) experience but you don’t get to experience God.

The stage lights shone and the leader whipped them up but the Light of the World was nowhere to be found and the fresh wind of the Spirit did not stir them.


Note: Worshippers, before you think this is your church make sure the reason you aren’t experiencing God isn’t your own attitude – get out of the way.

Worship leaders, before you think the people aren’t experiencing God because of their attitude, make sure it isn’t because they are experiencing you instead – get out of the way.

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