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My wife and I have dragged our daughters to many churches over the past several years. We’ve enjoyed most of the sermons, congregations, programs and pastors, and my wife has liked most of the music. As for me, I’ve pretty much given up on finding any worship music that doesn’t drive me a bit batty.
For background, I’m a plain-old Christian, sans denomination, though I have enjoyed Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, Reformed and other congregations over the years. Most of the churches I’ve attended are evangelical, with several that would fit into the “megachurch” category. Most have offered inspiring teaching with solid, if not terribly deep, theology. But the music… oh heavens, the music.
My family tires of my weekly critique of modern church music and architecture, so I figured it was time to inflict it upon a larger audience. (You’re welcome, readers.)
My experience is in the pew not the pulpit, but church music (“worship music” in evangelical parlance) should direct the congregation’s focus to God, not the performers. Too often, I can think of nothing but the guitarist’s hair, the drummer’s kit or the singer’s oversouling.
This weekend, I (shockingly) was enjoying the second song at the Easter service. Sure, it was far too loud, but I was ignoring the band, singing along with the steady meter and focusing on God. All of a sudden I was singing by myself — the leader had veered into some spontaneous arrangement that showcased her unique vocal stylings. The song’s lyrics were still on the screen, but the congregation was lost. Since I could no longer follow along, I just quietly watched her performance, which was followed by extended applause.
This seems less like worship and more like an audition for American Idol. And I hate that show. (Besides, God’s not down with the whole idolatry thing.)
I won’t mention the specific church since this is standard among evangelical megachurches. I assume that most of the musicians have the best of intentions and are probably fine Christians. But week after week, these mini rock concerts grind at my soul. Am I the only one?
This modern version of “worship” also is reflected in church architecture. Many older churches placed a choir loft and an organ way in the back. This genius design prevents the congregation from being distracted by the musicians at the same time it prevents showboating performers. Instead, everyone in attendance has their eyes fixed forward and above, right where they belong.
Consider the opposite end of a traditional church: you have an altar, pulpit, maybe a baptismal, but the eye is directed upwards via the steep ceiling to the towering cross and the heavens above. Contemporary church architecture is wide and low, directing everyone’s attention to the speakers and performers on the main stage.
What once was vertical is now horizontal. Instead of looking to God, we’re staring at his ministers along with their elaborate Power Points. That works for a TED talk, but not for worship.
“Get off my lawn!” he cried. My complaints are not mere curmudgeonry. I love strange, loud music that scares my cat and austere modernist architecture that scares my wife. But when I want to celebrate musicians I go to a concert. At church, I don’t want to applaud singers, celebrate a pastor or focus on myself; I want to worship God. Is that too much to ask?