Some Thoughts from a Weary Worship Warrior

I’ve been reading a lot of posts lately – some well-intentioned, some less so  – that take shots at contemporary worship. As someone who loves contemporary worship, the critiques hit close to home. But I do try to keep an open mind and an open heart. I feel like we can learn far more from our critics than we can from our cheerleaders. And I do think we can do better. We can write deeper songs. We can look for better ways to integrate the music into the service so “worship” doesn’t equal “singing.” Because that’s just not true; it’s all worship. We can do better with our theology, and we can certainly do a better job embracing things that are our shared history.

So please know that we’re listening, and growing. I just hope that the listening is a two-way street. Because I also have some questions:

You say contemporary worship is just emotionalism.

Look, I really don’t deny that emotion is a major part of it. It’s not all of it. It might not be most of it. But it is a large share, I’ll agree, at least on the music side. I’m just not sure why that’s a bad thing. We are emotional beings. We say this worship thing is about a relationship with our Creator. Don’t you express emotions in all your other relationships? Why would this one – this most important one between a man or woman and God — be any different?

You say contemporary worship is not participatory.

You say people are just watching the band and singers perform. I’ve noticed it too some days, on some songs. Other days, I can see them singing. Some people even clap along, though not loud enough for anyone beyond a seat or two away to hear it. But then, you’ve probably noticed the same thing in your traditional service. I know, because I’ve sat in on quite a few of them doing the tech. Lots of mumbling. And I wanted to sing the tenor or bass harmony, but everybody else I could hear was singing the melody. I was disappointed. So maybe the issue isn’t really with contemporary worship? Maybe it’s with people in general needing some critical mass around them before they feel comfortable letting go? Maybe it’s because we’ve gutted music from schools? Maybe it’s because our culture has divorced itself from almost every other musical public expression, so people just don’t feel comfortable singing anymore? Just some thoughts. I’d love to kick this one around some more with you without blaming it one the music style.

You say contemporary worship is exclusionary.

I have to say, I don’t get this one. At all. Mostly because – and I don’t know how to say this gently – we were the ones made to feel unwelcome. We were “allowed” to start a new thing, but there would no changes to the old thing. And some of you made it quite clear that you weren’t happy that the new thing existed at all.

So is there a chip on the collective shoulders of the people who helped start these contemporary services? If I’m totally honest: probably! But it’s not a chip we put there. And if you want to help us unload that chip, maybe some grace would go further than another lecture about what we’re doing wrong?

(cover photo by Photo by susieq3c  licensed under


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