In various spheres of the online worship conversation, a few posts (like this one and this one) have been circulating and dominating many of our social media feeds. They offer a strong (and not completely unwarranted) critique of “contemporary worship” and “megachurch worship.” Their sharply critical posture, along with their provocative titles, is certainly what has attracted so many people to click, read, interact, and share. Several people have asked what I think about it all. The short answer is that I think about these kinds of posts similarly to how I have reviewed T. David Gordon’s Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns: These posts are unhelpful in actually moving the church in a positive direction, not because some of their arguments aren’t worth pondering but because they caricature what they critique and, in doing so, foster a spirit that actually makes fruitful dialogue harder. In my opinion, contemporary/modern/megachurch worship (whatever label you wish to use) is simply not homogenous enough to successfully analyze it in the way these writers have analyzed it. I’m not saying that making generalizations is bad, and I’m certainly not saying that today’s worship landscape doesn’t need an awful lot of prophetic critique.
Thankfully, there are a few responses out there that I think do a far better job analyzing the issues at hand and offering ways forward, and that’s the reason for this post. I would love to point you to them. The first is Glenn Packiam’s “What You (Probably) Don’t Know About Modern Worship.” Glenn’s is more strictly a critique of the critique. Here’s a choice paragraph:
If one wants to prove the shallowness of modern worship, examples abound; but if you want to really understand and assess the subject, you need a more careful eye. And you must account for an insider perspective. What matters is not simply what the outside observer/blogger/professor thinks is going on; what matters is also what the pastor or worship leader says is going on, and what the worshipper is experiencing. (The latter is known as phenomenological perspective— the way people describe their experience of a thing.) If all we get are theoretical assessments from afar, we will evaluate modern worship without knowing if we are actually evaluating modern worship or our impression of it— which is almost always a caricature.
The second post is Mike Cosper’s “Kill Your (Celebrity Culture) Worship.” Mike (I think successfully) reframes the discussion around more core issues. Here is his summary:
In our day, we should be suspicious of the overhyped promises of megachurch worship, but we should also be suspicious of overhyped laments for “the good ol’ days.” What’s truly needed today is what was needed in every age: liturgical renewal—faithful pastors leading in worship that is faithful to the gospel, comprehensible to the congregation, and formative of the soul.
Please read those posts!