Observations on the State of Worship
To be completely and brutally honest, I hardly know where to begin when I am attempting to describe the state of worship in the modern day church. As a general rule, worship has been brought down to the lowest common denominator of that which is acceptable. The pervasive nature in which the world has infected the church and its worship is so far reaching that it is almost impossible to express one’s feelings. In every direction the influence of the world has been accepted and heralded as the new model for worship. In the process, the people have been willing to adopt this new model because it requires so very little discipline from them. Come as you are and leave as you were is the mental image that is being created even though the churches would not want to leave that impression. Little more is expected from a person than to be present in the service. People have become a bragging number instead of individuals which are valued because they are part of the Body of Christ. Everything is planned and tilted toward that which is suppose to produce “success” and in the current environment that means larger numbers and more money. If need be, every gymnastic twist imaginable is employed to make pertinent statistics look better than they actually are. Honest accuracy falls victim to competition.
The most important thing a preacher must do is preach the word in an uncompromising way. Somehow that most important function is being lost in the cacophony of the performance of the day. It has become, in too many places, something that is just another part of the day instead of the focus of the day. As a general rule it is no deeper than the mood which has been created by the worship service to that point. If everything is laid back, cool and acceptable then the preaching is going to be expected to be the same way. Deeper insights into doctrine and Biblical truths require the proper preparation of the minds of the people to receive it. Otherwise, one is asking the people to completely “switch channels” and refocus in a moment’s notice. In that environment, the preacher feels an inward pressure to keep the message from violating the mood of the moment. He can’t suddenly change from a light, laid back, contemporary frame of mind to one which is going to deal with weighty matters. The people can’t make that quick transition and don’t want to. They like what has been done to that point so they don’t want to suddenly be expected to get serious, change channels and absorb anything profound. Whether one wants to admit it or not, the environment which has been created has everything to do with how the message is received. The expectations of the people are set by the environment which is present.
A question comes to mind: What has happened to the GLORY in worship. I don’t see glory in the present day acceptable worship model. I see performance set forth as worship. The vast majority of the performances are sub-par. Most of the choruses sound like funeral dirges performed by people who act as if they are about to die and some look like they already have. The greatness of worship has been brought down to the level of performance, most of which are not very well done. All of this sets the stage for the message to be laid back in order to mix well with mood which has been set by the music, dress and performance. The message may actually be a good one but its “punch” is negated by the expectations set by the service up to the point of the sermon delivery. Some have said: “we don’t compromise the message.” I believe it is compromised by the environment which has been created. A pastor once told me: “We don’t compromise on the preaching” to which I replied, “So, you are saying that you compromise everything else but that.” He hardly knew how to answer that question.
Recently, after attending a church service in our area, I told my wife; “I would love to hear a SERMON somewhere, sometime. I want to hear a real sermon; not some apologetic, feminized little talk. To listen to many preachers today one would have to assume that they either feel that all the people listening to them are already saved or that pop psychology has saving power. I want to hear a preacher stand before his people with a genuine word from God and preach with clear conviction a message that God delivered to him personally. I would like to hear a message from the heart; one that has passion and conviction contained in it. I don’t want to hear someone deliver a “message” that is a compilation of statements which have been gleaned from internet sites of notable men who knew what true preaching was all about. One can clearly tell when the content of a sermon belongs to a particular person or not. There is a huge difference in preaching a sermon and delivering a document. A document can come from any source but a sermon comes from a heart moved by the Spirit of God. In reality, if one is “preaching” a sermon which is essentially someone else’s work then it becomes no more than a document which is being delivered. If proper credit is not given for the materials then the presenter become a plagiarizer. A true sermon is created and preached with heart driven conviction and passion. If it didn’t come from within a preacher then the heart passion and conviction will not be evident. Real preaching bears the marks of a man’s heart all over it. Fake enthusiasm will not have to be conjured up to make it seem real. I want to hear a genuine sermon which was birthed out of Bible reading and study during which time God spoke to the preacher and planted in him a thought which became a sermon after prayer, insight and study. A real sermon should be God speaking through a man that He inspired. It should not be delivered on some good subject that the “preacher” thought he would like to speak on after which he visited the internet to find something to say which was written by someone who actually had the inspiration to say it from the heart. I certainly am not indicting all preachers today with the above comments. There are some good, dedicated young men coming along but the preponderance in today’s world is that far too many preachers are succumbing to the temptation of the internet and the appealing power of performance. There is no real power in preaching something that is convenient and easy; available at the click of a mouse. The people deserve to hear a word from God through the man of God to the people of God.
My experience also includes being in worship services which are anything but contemporary or filled with any kind of energy. They are far too staid and stilted for anything of spiritual value to take place. My observation is that, in many places, the people either have to be the most dedicated people on earth to continue to show up each Sunday or they are totally controlled by habit and tradition. They are going to be where they have always been no matter what is or is not happening. Their expectations of the day are that they will be there, be seen, do what makes them feel right about it all and then leave. No one seems to expect that God just might do something that day. In such churches the atmosphere is totally dead. The music is horrible. It is a punishing experience to even get through it. Even worse is when some dead church somewhere tries to join in the “model” of the day and do contemporary music. Totally out of place and horribly done. By the time the preacher gets up to present the sermon, he has to create any and all energy in the room. It’s up to him to start hearts beating and minds functioning. Nothing has been done to help create an environment in which the people are expectantly eager to hear a word from God. The whole congregation is in a “zone” somewhere out there. It is so dry in the building that one would not dare to strike a match. The place would go off like a bomb. The sad thing is that this scenario is far too prevalent in a large number of our churches today. I have often thought that it is a wonder that God is able to accomplish anything through the church given what He has to work with. I’m just thankful for the scripture which says in Mk 10:27, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.”
And, by the way, who ever said that in order to win the world we had to be like them? Who said, ”we have to identify with them or they won’t pay us any attention?” The church is suppose to command respect but that is compromised when we capitulate to those who are outside in order to bring them inside. The people of the world are looking for someone to respect; someone with authority who can speak truth to them. They need someone to look up to; someone to set an example. We lose our example when we assume too many characteristics of those who are looking for one. Human nature is always attracted to that which is different. People tend to ignore that which has become the norm for them. They know what to expect and aren’t attracted to it in any special way. It’s what everyday life is made of. But, when something is different, unique in some way, they immediately notice it. But yet we are being told today that we have to be like the world to attract it. If we are like the world, they won’t pay much attention or hold worship in a very high regard. However, we ought to be different because we have God’s Spirit living in us, not because we want to use our uniqueness or difference as a marketing tool to get people to come fill a seat. Whether we like it or not, people want to have a Pastor who, in their eyes, is an extension of God, speaking for God. He should set the example of purity and discipline for God requires a lot of us. What virtue is displayed when the preacher stands before the people looking like he just washed his dog or resembling someone who went to the dirty clothes basket to rescue a shirt to wear that day. I’ve seen preachers dressed in jeans that my mother used to make me throw away because they were so scuffed and filled with holes. But, today, that’s part of the cool model. The preacher should be more concerned about setting a Godly example than with being so “cool” he will identify with his people and the trends of the day. What do they have to look up to if the man of God has brought himself down to the level the world is comfortable with? The respect that is necessary in order to relay some deep and abiding truths is absent. “Why, it’s just another guy just like us standing up there telling us things that certainly haven’t had a lot of influence on him either.” “He’s just like me so what does he have to say to me about anything.” I believe that satan is attacking the church by getting people to think that the things of the world will win the world. He has always attacked from the outside but now he is aware of the fact that he can be far more successful from within. So, he fools people into bringing into the church the world’s style of music, dress and attitude about how to get things done. And, do you know what??? The church has bitten the bait! No, it has not only taken the bait it has eaten the line and the reel and rod! The “spirit of this age” has captured the church and she is suffering for it. We have told the Holy Spirit this: “Things are different over here in the twenty-first century. The old ways won’t work. You just go over there, stand in the corner, and we will show you how it is to be done today. We appreciate your help but we can handle this.” We have almost totally capitulated to the world and now we wonder why things aren’t doing very well. Baptisms are down, church attendance is down, giving is down, the level of spirituality is down and we are scratching our heads wondering what is wrong. I’ll tell you what is wrong: satan has fooled the church into adopting the world’s methods and ways. He is winning the battle from the inside not the outside. Many church leaders today should revisit the passage of scripture where Jesus said: “I will build my church.” It is not up to man to be successful. It is up to us to be obedient to God’s calling. Only He can build the church. We can build an organization but an organization is not necessarily a church. Organizations can and usually do cease to exist at some point. The Church is the Body of Christ, and it is eternal.
In my opinion, after many years of observation, too many people are attempting to do a task for which they have not been prepared. God always equips someone for any task that He calls them to do. For Him to call someone to a task and then not equip them to do it is for Him to lock them into a life of failure and frustration. We have too many men standing in our pulpits which do not exhibit the fact that God called them and equipped them for the task they are attempting. If a man is called to preach then he should be able to do so at least the some degree. Everyone does not have the same level of talent or ability but God will place a man where his level of ability is what is needed for the people in that place. But, too many preachers today simply can’t preach! There is no spirit or power in their preaching. If they were to exhibit that same level of proficiency for their job in the secular world, they wouldn’t last two weeks. But, churches seem to be able to find inept preachers and staff people with no problem. They live and operate in this little protected world called the “ministry” when they could not and would not survive in a responsible job in the secular world. I think one of the problems concerning this is that the seminaries have accepted just about anyone who can pay the fees and given degrees to anyone who can complete the course requirements. The competition among the seminaries to be the biggest, graduate the most people, have the most programs, possess the best on-line classes and turn out the most people is astounding. In the process, many are graduated but a large number of them don’t know the direction in which they should go. It bothers me when a person tells me that God has called them but they aren’t really sure what He wants them to do. I have a real problem with that. I believe that when God’s call comes it is a clear one. There should be no doubt about what He wants them to do. As a result of their undecided state, many flounder around for years trying to find a spot that suits them. In the process they are not really proficient in any area and spend years in frustration never really feeling that they are doing what God wants them to do. That is a sad state of affairs for anyone to live in and that is also a very real reason why so many churches are starving for leadership which is inspired of God. Too many men in the pulpit today were “called” by their grandmother, their mother or some favored aunt. He heard them say: “This is Johnny, he’s my little preacher boy.” From an early age they heard that and then they began to believe it. God has to do the calling, not one’s grandmother. So, they spend years trying to do something their grandmother placed in their minds and hearts. They are good men, trying to accomplish something for which they have not been given the power. It is very obvious when this is the case.
We must remember Who it is we come before when we gather for worship. We must also bear in mind Who it is that we come to worship. All of our energies should be directed toward God. The popularity of the preacher should never be in view. The trappings of the day concerning the worship model should not be in view. We should be gathered to express our worship of and adoration for God. He demands respect in every possible way. The idea that expresses that “God isn’t concerned with anything but the fact that you came to church today. He’s just happy that you came for whatever reason and glad that you took some of your time to come to His house. And, because you did this, you are right with Him”, is the way many people think about the worship experience. Totally wrong! Worship, to many people is something that is tacked on at the end of the week. Wrong again. Corporate worship is on the first day of the week. It is something that we should set as a priority which begins the week, not ends it. Its importance should be evident in that it is first, not last. So, to many, they live their lives as they desire during the week and then to make it all acceptable to God, they tack on worship hoping to appease Him or satisfy themselves. Sorry, but after forty years of observation, I am fearful this is true.
Human nature is programmed to always go further the next time than one went the last time. Our attention span is very short and we don’t learn very quickly or retain wisdom given to us in the past. So, if something is not done to bring the church back to its senses, it will just get worse and worse. If you put on a show today, you will have to put on a bigger show tomorrow or else people will get bored and go somewhere else to find enough to satisfy their natural human desire of always going further the next time. There will be no depth. But if they are fed the meat of God’s Word, then they will mature and begin to function like a Christian should. Sad to say, but most churches don’t know enough doctrine to understand who they are or how they should be functioning spiritually. They are a mile wide with “atmosphere” and an inch deep in doctrine. Doctrine will mature people. It will settle them down and make of them people who really don’t want a “show” going on all the time. They want something deeper because their mature spirits are begging to know more. Immature people will want to go further the next time for entertainment and “feelings”. Mature Christians will want to go further the next time for deeper doctrine and understanding. They will always be seeking to be a better Christian and servant of the Lord.
To put it mildly, The State of Worship is not good. The church of today in general is shallow, entertainment oriented, personality driven and doctrinally inept. Pop psychology is the order of the day. And, quite frankly, I don’t see things changing much in the future apart from a genuine old fashioned revival in which the Spirit of God takes over and corrects us. But the Spirit can hardly be seen or heard over the loud “rock” music, flashing lights, smoke and any other entertainment that can be imagined. Just remember this: Jesus said that the world would not like us because it didn’t like Him. The world hated him and hates us also. When one sees the world flocking to a person who is supposedly a spiritual leader, then they had better watch out. When the world finds the church acceptable only to the point that it has adopted that which the world loves, one had better watch out.
My observations on The State of Worship sounds very cynical, I understand that, but they are based on what I have seen and heard and I am afraid they are accurate. I did not have to dream up anything in order to have a theme for this little essay. It is reality and it is not good. I encourage the reader of this essay to evaluate what I have said with an open mind.
William F. Harrell