Some out there don't think that postmodernism needs an antidote, for that would imply that something's wrong with it. I happen to think that almost every "ism" needs a check. Many writers and thinkers on postmodernism point out the fragmentation that occurs in a culture of postmodernity. Common belief-structures are no longer shared in large quanities among the masses, and the truth that once glued us together, as both whole individuals and whole communities, is no longer present (existentially speaking). The resulting postmodernity is a fragmented culture and fragmented persons.
Entries in postmodernism (4)
Justin Taylor, along with Gene Veith, cite an article by Robbie Low in Touchstone about the statistical relationship between attendance of church by a father/man-of-the-house and whether or not their children will be regular worshipers as adults. The gist is that the likelihood that children will attend worship regularly as adults decreases dramatically when the father is not a committed attender. For what it’s worth, the data was collected from Christians in Switzerland in 1994.
I’d encourage you all to read those posts and that article just to get your head around this beast of an issue, but I’d like to extrapolate to a broader point, not based on international research, but based on pastoral observations of the struggles of one local church here in Denver.
I cannot tell you how many families I engage with who are committed followers of Jesus whose worship attendance averages 2 out of the 4 weeks in a month. A year and a half ago, I posted on why skipping church is like shooting yourself spiritually in the foot. Here are the contributing factors, in my opinion:
- Postmodernity, which is anti-institutional, anti-authority
- The success of the emerging church movement in captivating a sizeable minority of evangelicals (and non-evangelical Christians)...for the many helpful things the emerging church has done, they have helped encourage the above postmodern values
- Our hyper-busy culture: when young couples start having kids, or when many adult singles bury themselves in a work-hard-plus-party-hard lifestyle, they get sucked into the vortex of hyper-busyness; there is always something to do, always something to get distracted by
Furthermore, I wonder how many worship leaders experience what I experience. My most committed worship musicians and leaders tend to follow the same trend of 50% worship attendance. This truly breaks my heart…for them and their children.
Some folks have told me that they end up “doing church” at home with their nuclear family or “worshiping God” as they behold His beauty skiing or camping in the Rocky Mountains (a particular problem out here). Unfortunately, at home and in the mountains: (1) your God-ordained leadership (your pastors) are not there to lead you in worship; (2) you can’t rightly celebrate the sacraments (because they are a communal act of the whole local assembly); (3) you can’t receive the edification of the Holy Spirit that only comes in the sacred, communal act of the gathered local church (Eph. 5:18-19). The longer I pastor, the more I am convinced that there is no replacement for the regular, weekly worship-gathering of God’s people.
What's the remedy? Though some in my church would encourage me to do this, I don’t believe it is helpful to “preach against” this sin (yes, forsaking the assembly of the people is a sin, folks [Heb 10:25]), because that just creates worship-attendance Pharisees, big on legalism and small on the Gospel. My only options, I feel, are to:
- Continually preach the gospel as the perpetual starting place of all growth and maturity
- Continue to pour my heart into designing and praying for worship services which captivate the heart
- Find creative ways to winsomely communicate the benefits of worship-attendance
Do any of you folks out there find the same things going on in your churches?
I’ve got a new friend, colleague, and ally in the quest to raise the bar on evangelical worship. His name is John Gooch. He’s a new M.Div. student (worship emphasis) at Denver Seminary, and even as he leads worship at various churches, he’s been a part of our pastor’s group committed to weekly reflection, mentorship, and accountability in ministry. John recently wrote a paper reflecting on Mark Driscoll’s, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). This was part of an assignment for a pastoral ministry class, and he had some unique and insightful angles on worship stemming from the book. Here’s the section of his paper, which he gave me permission to publish on my blog. I find his thoughts valuable, penetrating, and prophetic. Let us know your thoughts!
Driscoll’s treatment of the “seven demons of postmodernism” lends important insight into several aspects of a worship leader and pastor. The fifth demon, “the customer is always evil,” correctly identifies the reality that “we all long for the world to bend to our needs,” and that our culture particularly believes “that the market should provide whatever people think they need” (p. 170). It is apparent that we often apply the worship of consumerism in our common practice of “church-shopping” and in treating our worship of God as a profitable business. Driscoll’s statement that “we tend to cast God as a product, and as mainstream a product as possible” is highly convicting as a songwriter and worship musician. The Christian music industry is not immune from clever marketing strategies and the adoption of mainstream cultural musical trends, and I personally confess a temptation to want to become the “next big thing” in Christian music. However, I do not think it is sinful in of itself that there exists a Christian music “industry.” Christian music serves to edify and encourage believers, as well as preach the gospel to non-believers. But we must remember that worship ministry is an outpouring of the spiritual gifts God has given us. It is not a religious service or product that we sell. Thus, our goal is not to become the “next big thing” in Christian music, but rather, to share the gospel of Christ through the beauty of music to as many people as God deems appropriate. We must be careful to continually humble ourselves and remember that worship must always be directed towards God, not allowing innovative marketing strategies and popular musical trends to supplant the sovereignty of God in our ministries.
Driscoll’s first demon of postmodernism, “the Sky Fairy,” plays an extremely important role in the theological and lyrical foundations of my worship songwriting. Driscoll identifies that the Sky Fairy “is the neutered and limp-wristed god of pop culture that wants to bless everyone, does not care what you call him/her/it/they, never gets angry, and would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell” (p. 166). Indeed, “ours is an increasingly spiritual age, but God’s people should in no way perceive this as an indication that lost people who believe in the Sky Fairy are any closer to the true God that the atheists of a previous generation were” (p. 167). How appropriate this is in the context of modern worship music! Admittedly, much of popular worship music today caters to crowd-friendly lyrics and weak theology that sings praises to a hyper-spiritualized Sky Fairy instead of the awesome and glorious God who holds all authority and power over the universe. Thus, in our songwriting, we should guard ourselves against the wide road of easily-digestible, catchy lyrics and theology that does not sing the true Gospel and the powerful work of the cross. As worship music should preach the gospel, so should we approach our songwriting with a careful and thoughtful hermeneutic that strives to root itself in scripture and seeks to be made manifest through the power of the Holy Spirit. Writing catchy and singable music does not mean that responsible theology must be sacrificed in the process.
Finally, Driscoll’s second demon, “keeping it real…sinful,” has a much subtler application in worship ministry. Driscoll identifies this demon as the underpinning that “God’s people need to be more real and authentic” (p. 167). In the context of praise and worship, being more “real and authentic” in this area is usually taken to mean becoming more emotive and expressive in personal and corporate worship. This may include pastoral exhortations to push expressive boundaries such as encouraging the raising of hands, clapping, and dancing while worshipping. This is under the assumption that such emotive practices surely demonstrate “real and authentic” worship. However, “because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as a license to sin without repentance” (p. 167) In praise and worship, this sin usually manifests as pride; in believing that because I am raising my hands, my worship must more honoring to God than the man standing next to me silently bowing his head and not singing. This is simply a false belief that we must repent of. True praise and worship comes from the real work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul of believer, not an artificial emotiveness rooted in pride. Raising hands should be celebrated as much as quiet reflection, as long as both activities are an outpouring of the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the action of repentance should be regarded as much of an act of worship as the action of praise, and worship music would be well-served to remember the theme of repentance in lyrics instead of always just focusing on the theme of praise.
Let me talk about the Christian calendar, and then discuss how worship leaders in modern settings can utilize it without compromising what makes modern worship so beautiful. Why use it Not every church follows the church year, also called the “liturgical cycle.” Why does our church spend time doing so, observing seasons such as Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost? For one thing, it links us to practices of Christ’s church which are very ancient. We know that primitive forms of the church calendar were emerging as early as A.D. 57. Secondly, observing a uniquely Christian calendar reminds us that we are a peculiar people set against a world that doesn’t necessarily follow “God’s time.” The January-December / Sunday-Saturday calendar we follow ultimately has roots in the pagan Roman empire, and the use of a Christian calendar within the church reminds us that all our time and living revolves not around what the larger world has to offer, but around Christ Himself. Notice that all the seasons symbolically center around Christ. Advent refers to Christ’s advent on earth. Lent refers to Christ’s time of fasting and humiliation. Pentecost refers to the outpouring of Christ’s Spirit on all kinds of people. In Christ spin all the gears of time, and we acknowledge that when we worship through a Christian calendar. How it can be used in modern worship You don't have to be a "liturgical" church to incorporate and observe the Christian calendar. You don't have to change your service's structure to walk through the church seasons (though some change might help!). First, I'd suggest just becoming educated about the Christian calendar. The least expensive, most accessible, and generally reliable way to start is wikipedia. They have a decent article on the liturgical year which will branch you to other articles that help you understand the big picture and the smaller aspects of each season. Second, once you become aware of the year, cater your song selections (or at least some of them) to the season. Songs on the Spirit during Pentecost. Songs of repentance during Lent. Eschatological songs during Advent or Epiphany. Third, use your technology to color the ambience of that season. Each liturgical season has its color. Maybe you can have a graphic designer create slide backdrops with those colors and dream up icons or thematic symbols to accompany those visuals. Hopefully some of these suggestions can break the ice. But sky's the limit when it comes to creative ways to help your people--even in modern worship settings--embrace the church year. And trust me, when modern worshipers with very little liturgical roots grab onto the church year, they CAN'T GET ENOUGH. It's balm for the soul (only a slight exaggeration). Our postmodern milieu cries out for roots. The Christian calendar can be a start at providing that. Grace & peace.