Misplacing Charisma: Where Contemporary Worship Lost Its Way

Misplacing Charisma: Where Contemporary Worship Lost Its Way

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The lights are dim, candles are lit, the music swells as the lead vocalist goes up an octave for the climactic end of the song, and throughout the room dozens of college students raise their hands as they sing with abandon. It’s a powerful moment in the worship service. Then the song stops. The students drop their hands open their eyes. In front of me two of the girls who had their hands raised a few seconds earlier are having a conversation about their afternoon plans. Then the music starts up again, they end their conversation, close their eyes, and throw their hands up in the air again.

You may have witnessed a similar scene. For certain, nearly every congregation struggles with full participation in the service at times. And it’s not that I expect the people near me to act like no one is around them during worship. The ease with which these students seemed to turn “on” and “off” their engagement did get me thinking about another change in contemporary worship.

Many forget (or don’t know) that “contemporary” worship was inextricably linked to the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. This connection forged a musical style that was rooted in a particular understanding of the Spirit in worship. Specifically, the singing of praise and worship songs was understood sacramentally. God was uniquely encountered, by the Spirit, in congregational singing.

Several important aspects of this theology of congregational song are worth highlighting. First, a premium was placed on intimacy with Jesus in congregational singing. This emphasis was largely due to the influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement of the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Though he was not the first to say so, Wimber emphasized that the Church needed to sing songs “to God” and not “about God.” Lyrically, this was manifest in the frequent use of the personal pronoun, “I.” Just scan through the catalogue of songs published by Vineyard Music during the 1980’s and see how many of them emphasize the importance of the individual engaging the second Person of the Trinity in the lyrics. While the intimacy motif wasn’t new in the Church, it was an important development in what would become known as “contemporary worship.”

Second, the dominant paradigm for congregational song was the “temple” metaphor. Charismatic congregations appropriated their understanding of the temple layout as a “map” for worship. Such services began with singing songs (typically upbeat) that focused on the praise of God—Scripture verses like Psalm 100 served as an anchor point for this framework. As the series of songs progressed, perhaps briefly interrupted with scripture and prayer, the flow of the service was understood to follow a metaphorical progression from the “outer courts” of the temple toward “the holy of holies.” Songs identified with the “holy of holies” were often slower, cyclical in construct, and emphasized intimacy between the singer and Jesus. This approach to worship is reflected in the way many referred to the music in these services as “Praise and Worship”—“praise” being synonymous with the “gates/outer courts” and “worship” was the term used primarily for songs corresponding to the “holy of holies.” While not every congregation that practiced this approach to worship would have articulated their theology of worship exactly this way, it certainly was the dominant understanding of Charismatic congregations at the time.

Lastly, it’s important to point out that this theology of worship, while undergirded by “praise and worship” songs, understood the entire time of singing (the pauses, instrumental solos, spontaneous prayers, raising of hands, shouting, etc.) to be part of the progression from praise to intimacy. The songs themselves are only a part of the complete picture of what is occurring in a Charismatic praise and worship service. Something much deeper is understood to be going on in worship.

Now return to the scene I described above. What’s missing? The answer is found in looking at what happened when “praise and worship” was adopted by mainline denominations. During the 1990’s many mainline congregations began to import the songs, sounds, and some of the sights (like hand raising and clapping) of the praise and worship style. In many cases, what got lost was the robust pneumatology behind this approach to worship. In other words, many mainline churches brought the form, but didn’t bring the theology of praise and worship into their congregations. This is a gross generalization, but I think it explains some of the dislocation that occurred during the “worship wars” of the 1990’s. The result was that the songs themselves and the style itself became the focus. Particularly in mainline congregations influenced by the Church Growth Movement, “contemporary worship” was a technique for reaching out—the concept of “praise and worship” as sacramental/encounter was diluted at best.

For sure, many of the popular artists within contemporary worship today come from Charismatic traditions and it is not impossible to find evidence of Charismatic theology in mainline churches. But the scene I described above, I think, is a result of what happened—or didn’t happen—when mainline churches adopted praise and worship music. In many cases the external features remain (the raising of hands, etc.) and are often associated with contemporary worship songs themselves. These expressions can be “turned off” and “turned on” with the start and stop of each song. Rather than connected moments shaped by a broader understanding of worship as an encounter with God by the Spirit, worship songs often exist as an entities in and of themselves.

Contemporary-styled congregations would do well to examine their own understanding of the Spirit’s activity in each part of the service. Regardless of how local congregations understand the role of the Spirit in worship, all congregations can benefit from a perspective that considers every facet of the service as part of our worship to God.

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70 Responses

  1. I like the thinking here–you don’t put down the music but you peel back the layers to the history. I believe some contemporary worship song writers recognize the focus, evidenced by one song from a few years ago that says, “I’m going back to the heart of worship . . . I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I made it, ’cause it’s all about you . . . ” I know that each generation needs to make its expression but as someone who attends an independent Charismatic church, I skip the worship. I do not like the formula of hype-hype-upbeat-shout music that leads to the slow-soft-repetitious close, even if I love individual songs. The sensitivity to worship that was an early part of the Charismatic movement is pretty much gone these days, and I long for the hymns full of strong theology that were part of my Baptist youth.

  2. It was a little amusing to see non-Charismatic churches adopting the style of Charismatic worship without holding Charismatic theology or experience. Also, earlier Charismatic songs seemed more rooted in Scripture than a lot of the worship songs today.

  3. I was a member of a Charismatic Catholic Community in the 1970’s in Los Angeles. Our services were an ever flowing roller coaster from praise songs to almost love songs to God interspersed with Scriptures, Tongues, prophecies and interpretations. The worshipers may not have known what was coming next because it was Spirit led and all were engaged the entire time (which could be a couple of hours).

    1. How I miss that .Many times the singing would evolve into spontaneous spirit led songs in the language of angels .Like the ocean waves , the sound would fall to almost a whisper and rise to a crashing wave and then maybe back to whispered adoration ,over an over as the spirit led.. Everyone led by the spirit . I never heard such beauty before or sense..
      There are pentecostal churches ,but if there is a spirit filled ,spirit led church in this large southern city ,I do not know of it.

  4. I love the emphasis of direct praise to the Lord, but it’s just one of many patterns in the inspired record of worship. The Psalms contain theology as well as testimonies of trials and triumphs of personal faith. Past hymn-writers used these same patterns to enrich the church with some very solid poetry set to music. They exalted the Lord, bore witness to His help in times of trouble, and expounded doctrinal orthodoxy. Some even read like creedal confessions. As old heresies are resurfacing, our neglect of this facet of liturgy is spiritually perilous.

    On that same note, the longer lifespan of these older songs offered believers a doctrinal memory. Even after many years, whole stanzas can be recited by many. The short lifespan of the typical contemporary song fails to leave this legacy. It takes hours for a worship team to practice its syncopated beat and bridge changes. Weeks later, the pew’s better singers may get it down. Finally, just when the church starts to be comfortable with it, the team presents a new singing challenge.

    True gems among the rest might be preserved for the next generation, if they weren’t sacrificed to make room for the next popular “hit” from professional singers or groups. And the complexity of Christian music in the media should be a warning sign for those really serious about congregational participation. The simplicity of older tunes made them more quickly learned and their treasured content longer retained. Their frequency on the program gave these “old familiar” songs a catechistic role in the church. But is instruction as clear a motive in contemporary worship as it was in the past? Presently we’re making progress in emulating the musical entertainment world, but not in propositionally etching our Christian faith on the congregational mind through enduringly familiar worship songs.

    1. As a non-singer, following the complicated melodies and prolonged notes of many of the contemporary music leaves me unable to participate. Traditional hymns, most of them anyway, are much easier to sing.

      Not only did we sing the same hymns for years at a time, we had many more opportunities to sing them. We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening and on Wednesday night. Perhaps that is why so many of us can recite the words to the hymns by heart. We had a lot of practice.

  5. Without stepping on the author’s essay– I agree with the heart of it– I would only like to point out that Wimber was merely remarking upon what those in the Catholic Charismatic movement had experienced for a decade before. His influence reached out to admonish those who wanted to “pitch a tent” on the ineffable move of the Spirit, package it, and make it pay; a daunting undertaking in the heyday of Christian music as a marketable entity.

    I think the confusion in church is to put forth music that is Christian in theme, bemoaning our failings, outlining our needs, telling our “personal truth” and expecting it to exalt His name above everything else. Let the music serve its purpose in its place. Christian radio music is not always conducive to imparting a spirit of worship. Actually, just pray. Pray for revival. It’s where worship is born.

  6. I am enjoying the read here and the commentary. Some things I would add are: I agree that some of this really is broad brushed in it’s inclusion of other churches using contemporary music (if, infact, that is what is meant in the words). I don’t have the credentials to make much of an intellectual point here but is this what is really ping on in, say, the Methodist church contemporary service? Is contemporary music really emulating the Charismatic Movement? As a musician myself, I look at the charts of older Methodist hymnals and I find them far from simple and uncomplicated musically. Melodically many are but so are contemporary songs. I have read many articles regarding contemporary worship and there is much ado about the use and style, as well as the idea that something better, more authentic or more God-centric, if you will, but I read very little about it really should be done. Why is this? It seems almost a treatise on what should not be done and extensive in what is wrong with it, while very little seems to be offered in the right and in an as extensive a way. would actually love to see some concrete strategies and new concepts for creating the right worship style or format

    1. I think the congregation’s participation plays a huge part in where the Worship music needs to go. If your body is the time watching, have to get home to watch football crowd, not much you offer will be appreciated unless it’s short and sweet.
      If your body appreciates seeking God’s face and gets soaked into Praise and Worship WITH the King, then you should be flowing with the Spirit and following His lead in where the music goes.
      Personally when I’m not playing, I sit in the front row to get the most out of Worship!! As far as I’m concerned there is more anointing in the front!
      I long for the depth of the individual’s worship to grow deeper and the corporate worship to melt together into more Spirit led worship!!

      My worship leader has chosen to offer a concert worthy presentation that delivers quality music with a blend of deep worship encouraged. It hasn’t produced the huge results, but the band has truly gotten better over time by emulating the more professional bands performance. I’m hopeful that the younger generations will catch the Fire and keep this going!!

      1. Hey thanks for responding. We are in the process of improving and doing much as you describe of your leader’s direction. We are in a small, southern bedroom community and it is typically not very easy to understand the level of connection with the Spirit by the congregation simply by their facial expression or body language. Some are expressive but most are not. My job as leader is to understand where they are and take the service in a certain direction in response. I have a very difficult time with this. I’m sort of at a crossroad right now trying to determine a direction. I’ve taken several different approaches with scripture and music but nothing has made it easier to see a depth of worship.

        1. another reason why most people are hesitant to step up to becoming a worship leader. Tough choices to make. The only way I know is with the Holy Spirit’s direction.
          Father I ask that You reveal Yourself more and that You make Your desires known to all the worship leaders who need and ask for direction. Pour out Your Oil of Joy and the Garment of Praise on them. Let them soak in Your Love, Mercy and Grace, and come away with a stronger connection to the Holy Spirit’s direction and leading. Make them vessels for Your use to draw the body back to You. Lead them and guide them with a strong touch so they are positive that it is You. They need Your confidence LORD. Pour it out in Jesus name!!!

  7. I admit there is an element of idolatry on some level with christian artists today and read a lot of negativity on the subject. Naturally scripture tells us this is wrong. I would, however, much rather hear my 14 year old daughter shouting the words to a new christian artist’s song on the radio than almost any secular song out there. It can be very discouraging that a teen knows every syllable of some beer drinking knobby tire truck song rather than, say, Christ Is Enough. On a personal level, I, as a contemporary worship leader, search for and long to hear more on how to do contemporary worship and music rather than how not. The latter seems to be the modus operandi of many authors on this subject. Does anyone have something along these lines they can share?

    1. Hello faith in excess,

      I suggest you check ebay for a book titled ‘let us praise’ by Judson Cornwall. Published in about 1973 he was one of the pioneers of Charismatic praise probably late 50s into the 60s. It is basicaly a how to book.

      1. Also look for the updated – 10 years after ‘let us praise’ – by the same author titled ‘let us worship. ebay

  8. Matthew, this is a very interesting topic. I have often longed for ‘the good old days’ of spirit filled worship. In the mid 70’s, I led worship for the Vineyard prior to John Wimber. I was not a professional musician, just one guy with a guitar. But in those days we did not need a band. The voices of the congregation on those Sunday afternoons could be heard out the door and probably down to the 134 freeway as it made its way through Tarzana, California.

    We raised hands, we stood in worship. Clapping after the song, the ‘clap offering’ had not been invented yet. I chose songs, very simplistic compared to the contemporary worship songs of today, that led the Vineyard service in a direction starting from enthusiastic praise to a climactic spirit of worship. It was not planned, there was no theology of worship. It was just the way the Holy Spirit chose to move in those days.

    My fond memories of these times might have become richer the older I get.

  9. I think that Joan said it best for me. Worship is born as a personal
    revival in the heart of the individual. Somehow in all of this
    prosperity, the church seems to have lost it’s way to the heart of God.
    Perfunctory performances have replaced heartfelt seeking. I look at the faces on this discussion and see that they are young and unlined. That
    gives me hope that there are still seekers. His promise is that if He is
    sought after He will be found. This generation, if He does not come
    back (I still look and long for this and believe it will come to pass),
    will find their own personal experience. Although, it may be born out of
    our loss of wealth and prosperity which will bring desperation for God
    again. Right now we really don’t seem to need Him much. We are quite comfortable and self sufficient.

  10. A view from the pew:

    Having spent many years in the Vineyard movement (late 80’s-90s), let me comment: early Vineyard music as recorded had pauses between songs, while early live Vineyard worship rarely did. Carl Tuttle and Eddie Espinosa when leading tried to create what Kent Henry later called “creating a water course” so that those present would be able to enter in without distraction. The recordings propagated segmented worship which most mainline churches picked up on. You’d almost never hear a Vineyard worship leader stopping in the middle of a set to give an admonishment to congregants, as they viewed this as interrupting the flow of worship. Today, most worship leaders seem to interrupt between almost every song, inviting in distraction, and frankly saying things most of the time that need not be said. Thirty seconds or a minute of speaking by the worship leader x 500 or 1,000 people is almost always a waste of huge amounts of cumulative time.

    Today’s emphasis on staging/lighting is also huge in creating non-participation as we make it “theater and audience” for some reason, probably just to look cool. Early Vineyard worship emphasized what God was doing among us, not just what was happening on stage. Lighting (dark everywhere but on stage) sends a message that what is important is upfront. I suppose if most churches, mainline or charismatic, simply evened the lighting out between the platform and congregants and worship leaders played worship songs in succession to create a flow, we’d see more undistracted participation of people engaging with God and more of God’s Spirit moving in our meetings.

    1. I agree with what you are saying about the staging and the lightning… Early worship was at people’s houses and one or two people on guitar and there would be a flow to it… Now there is that cult of the musician that you sometimes have to cut through and the entertainment promotional aspect. One thing I like though as a migraine sufferer is dimmed lights and the coffee danish station to be near by with some fresh %100 Arabica. The most important thing to me is the humility of the people. Christians are bitch to be around when they are proud… especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.

    2. Yes, this!
      I am visiting this thread today as a result of a google search on what has happened to the spirit led worship of the eighties. I was born again in 1982. I was so blessed to be part of an initially small group of Jesus followers who would worship and pray for an hour before the main ‘service’ to invite the spirit into our midst and then worship for as long as the spirit led. The worship was spirit led, and peppered with the evidence of the gifts of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Today I am unable to find a church that has even an inkling of this. It is a worship wasteland. My heart longs for the rushing wind to blow through Gods temples and that is my hearts cry and earnest prayer.

      1. “My heart longs for the rushing wind to blow through Gods temples and that is my hearts cry and earnest prayer.” Me too Lisa – let’s not give up.

  11. As one who began in the charismatic movement, walked through the Hosannah! worship trend, and was deeply involved with the Vineyard movement as well, I have noticed another trend that seems to be leaving the congregation in ‘specator’ mode more often than not. That is the incorporation of to much “soaking” music and spontanious “prophetic” interludes into the corporate worship experience. While I recognize the value of what is being called “soaking”, and it works well in a “Harp and Bowl” prayer setting, for the corporate worship it seems that it leaves much of the congregation behind and fosters spectator experiences rather than engagement.

  12. Dr. Peter Slade presented a paper on this subject at the 2011 annual meeting of the AAR. His analysis and conclusions dovetail with yours, Matthew Sigler. I am not sure if he ever published it. You may want to contact him to get a copy of the paper.

  13. Excellent, Mr. Sigler. I lived through these developments among Pentecostals and then later among the people called Methodist. I would love to do P and W again, but find that most places that use the music, as you rightly note, are hopeless as to the why. Interestingly, I also saw a development of Praise and Worship in the Sacraments in the same time period, and now, that too is gone. Too bad.

  14. Excellent article, if I may add: I received the Holy Spirit in 1978 and was forever changed. I promptly asked the Spirit of our Lord where Father would have me gather with other Believers. I was not raised in Church and had no Christian Friends. The Spirit of our Lord led me with confirmations to a nondenominational Charismatic Group of Spirit filled Believers and continues to lead me 34 years later according to His unfolding plan for my life, reminding me Jesus is the author and perfecter of our Faith.

    I felt the Presence of the Holy Spirit in these gatherings … our Leaders were sensitive to the move of the Holy Ghost too. Because this was new…. we waited upon our Lord for His Anointing and dared not seek to run ahead because we were in a state of awe.

    The discernment I received was, after a season the Leaders tried to duplicate that which the Holy Spirit was doing, in the flesh. They seemed to be unaware the Spirit of our Lord had moved on bidding us to continue to follow HIM and not man … so we would not become ‘addicted’ to a formula; so we would not look to the Worship Leaders/Anointed Teachers to bring us into the Presence of God/Teach us, so we would not become dependent upon familiar songs as we expressed our hearts of love and gratitude; so we could continue to come up higher.

    I was given the spiritual discernment the Spirit of our Lord wanted us to grow up and come into the revelation ‘corporate worship’ (as the Body/Bride of Christ) was the beginning stage of what was to become ONE on ONE Worship alone at home, at our appointed time. The Spirit of the Lord was drawing us to come directly to Him to hear from our Father; to meditate upon the words His Spirit was making alive to us lest we camp out thinking we’ve arrived, or blame the Leaders because they were no longer feeding our Spirits. (As we matured we were to learn to receive confirmation of what Father was doing in our lives, speaking to our hearts while alone, through the sermons; we need never look first to man to teach us. Our Spiritual Parents are to urge us to go to our Father first, their teachings will confirm that which the Holy Spirit has spoken before we gathered as a family of Believers.)

    It was revealed the Spirit of our Lord wants us to come into the awareness His Spirit lives in us and through us as our lives become an act of Worship; as we live in HIS Spiritual Kingdom as New Creations in and OF Christ. Our words will honor who He is in and through our lives, giving Him praise… singing songs is only a small part of praise and worship.

    In 1989, I was given a vision of Father’s Prophetic plan for His Bride/Church … in reading this, may you be given spiritual discernment/or confirmation as to why what has taken place in recent years was necessary and be encouraged as you too recognize His Hand doing a work to conform us into the Image and Likeness of His Son; in ways our finite mind had not yet conceptualized, so we could not ‘duplicate’ that which His Spirit alone will bring to fruition in due season:

  15. Interesting how the Pentecostal movement in America preceded this reported “charismatic movement” of the 70s and 80s by more than half a century and it’s still going strong, while the latter is fizzling out. The spirit in worship is alive and well in places where the Spirit is invited to inhabit the praises of His people. Today, I played “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” twice. The first time I played it was with no band, just a keyboard and a microphone in a simple, small, old sanctuary. The second time was with a 10-piece band with an elaborate sound/light/multimedia system in a magnificent church.

    The result? In the first service, the final chord of the song lasted over five minutes. About half of the people in attendance spontaneously began singing in the Spirit, with several singing in tongues as well. I was so reluctant to end the final chord because of what was happening, so I improved that chord in the Spirit while the congregation was drawn into the moment in increasing moments by the presence of the Spirit.

    In the second service, the song ended and about half of the people in attendance either looked at their watches or looked at the bulletin to see how many more songs they had to endure.

    Yes, the presentation of the music in the second service was infinitely better with a wonderful band, state-of-the-art sound system and giant projection screens. But the thing that the music in the first service had was a group of people who genuinely wanted to experience the presence of God in a real way, and who were willing to step outside of themselves for a few moments in order to experience it. The Spirit responded to THOSE people, because they were worshiping in Spirit, and in truth. It seems like the other folks might have been going through the motions, even though there were plenty of people in the band who were absolutely drawn into God’s presence.

  16. My frustration, in moving to “The Bible Belt”, after 20 years in the Vineyard in California, is there are plenty of great worship bands playing the best of current worship tunes but almost never leading God’s people into the inner courts of intimacy and the tangible Presence of The Living God. And everyone seems content with this

    1. I am experiencing this now as well. I long for spirit led worship. Hence, the google search that brought me to this article. In central Virginia there are SO MANY churches, so little worship.

  17. Matthew, I would add something to your fresh and helpful post, from my own history as a Vineyard worship leader and trainer.

    There is another key difference between today’s churches applying the “form” of the contemporary worship expression, without engaging the same “content” (or pneumatology) of the early call of the Vineyard (among others) to intimacy in worship.

    Our pneumatology mingled with our implicit “kingdom theology” (see Wright, Wimber, Ladd, and others) and contextualized the Vineyard’s vision of the “worship encounter with God.”

    The result? For we who have been a part of the Vineyard legacy, encountering the Spirit in worship also meant that we were enlisted in the kingdom activity of healing the sick, delivering the demonized, caring for the poor, etc.

    In other words, the inward, intimate encounter with the Spirit (facilitated by the songs of worship) always pointed to an outward expression of the Spirit’s work in empowered ministry.

    We were never left to “revel in the encounter” without a simultaneous call to minister to others in the power of the Spirit (expressed humbly in the Vineyard) from that place of personal renewal.

    That vision of the worship engagement resulted in a sentence for me that marks the Vineyard ethos – “Breathe in renewing worship; breathe out transforming action.”

    Interestingly enough, my upbringing is Methodist, and it brings me joy to see your insights invested in unpacking the history of Methodist worship and lyrical theology. I would love to access your writings, if you’d be so kind.

    Well done on this post.

    Dan Wilt, M.Min.

  18. ‘The result was that the songs themselves and the style itself became the focus.’

    A very astute observation Matt. People adopting the style of the music, is very different to people expressing an experience of God through a style of music.

    It’s to be expected in a consumer and commodified society, of pick and mix. It’s normal to take anything produced in one context, rip it from that context and then use it in another. We take gregorian chant and mix it in with dance music. We get a ‘thin’ experience of gregorian chant but miss what kind of theology and community gave rise to that worship in the first place.

    Commodifcation separates beliefs from practices, instead of paying attention to the beliefs that gave rise to a practice.

    Thanks for your thoughts here!

      1. Dan: so would I 😉 It does in that I am looking at the embedding and disembodying of narratives that place around worship – how worship is a retelling that is embodied. In particular how that takes place in capitalism. Also how practice habituates and trains us around desire and story.

  19. Certainly in the UK contemporary worship is anchored in the wider charismatic movement – raising your hands marks you as a charismatic or ‘happy clappy’ Christian. However what truely makes worship charismatic is Congregational gifts – hence ‘contemporary’. Even charismatic churches shy away from charismatic worship and shift the gifts to other settings.

    What you do seem to have missed is the whole shift in charismatic worship that happened in the early 90’s, at least in the UK. Worship leaders like Martin Smith (Cutting Edge & Delirious) and Matt Redman came out of a Youth Worship context. At the time (as a youth leader) the music was edgier than the more easy listening style material from elsewhere. However we did adopt a more concert aesthetic and participated through dance, banners, art, etc.

    Having been in smaller charismatic congregations where Congregational gifts are active I would suggest pauses between songs are normal in my experience, giving people the opportunity to share words, prayers and scriptures. Vineyard clearly brought a different style to that of the mainstream UK charismatic movement in the 80’s.

  20. Anyone care to explain how, particularly the multiplicity of Protestant “denominations” moved away from “Do this in memory of me” in their services? (Doesn’t sound like a suggestion or idea to me.) The author of this article is spot on regarding his observations on the lyrics of modern “praise” songs (I.e., me, I, we, etc.)

  21. I have been a believer for almost 40 years and have often longed for authentic worship that I first experienced as a young believer. I do recall that it was considered a sin to do anything that would bring undue attention to one’s self. The whole “put the participants in the dark” while there is a spotlight on the band, to me, is obvious attention on the music and band members rather than the Lord. I wonder how many music leaders could tolerate a situation where the band was in the dark and just a cross was lighted up front.

    1. I’m a worship leader in a Vineyard Church, and have wished many times that I was unseen. I don’t think your assumption about lighting is necessarily correct. We darken the auditorium because, for a lot of people, it helps them focus on the Lord, and not feel inhibited or distracted in their worship by their surroundings. It has nothing to do with “who gets attention.”

  22. Thanks for posting this Matthew! I grew up in a country Lutheran church, got confirmed at age 12, but then had a radical personal encounter with Jesus through an interdenominational bible study group in the mid-80’s. I made a public commitment to Jesus in a charismatic church shortly after I graduated high school. I think what attracted me so to the style of worship and fellowship I witnessed and experienced in the bible study group, as well as in the charismatic church, was the personal freedom, as well as the personal engagement with the Lord that was somehow missing in my little Lutheran church. Over the years, as I’ve grown in my relationship with God, and in my understanding of what the Father did and continues to do through His Son Jesus and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, I have become more and more disillusioned with what I see happening up on the stage, especially with worship bands/teams/leaders. I struggle to connect personally with the Lord through a lot of the modern songs and styles, as everything seems very ‘corporate-focused’. True, worship in a church setting is a corporate activity, but what it doesn’t do for me any longer is to inspire me to continue to worship the Lord once I am out of the worship service. I long for a return to some of the deep and profound truths expressed in most of the hymns written hundreds of years ago. I guess I no longer subscribe to the notion that praise and worship needs to follow the layout of the tabernacle. I am convinced that what Jesus did on the cross removed the need for there to be outer and inner courts, a veil, and a most holy place. His act of sacrifice, love and obedience meant that we are now hidden with Christ (Col 3:3), and that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). The veil was rent from top to bottom a the very moment of Jesus giving up his spirit (Matt 27:51). To me this means that there is no need to go through any kind of elaborate ritual to approach the throne of God, because we are as close to the Father as we can be without being physically present in Heaven. Worship is what happens at a heart level, and what happens on a Saturday night or Sunday morning during a church service is but one expression of worship. It seems that, as the church, we have somehow lost our way in connecting with the heart of God, and I think that this is why yours is not the only article on the web asking questions about this topic. Something is going on, and I am glad that we’re talking about it.

  23. Matthew…
    I grew up in a charismatic-ish church whose entire focus was praise and worship. Everything was centered on inducing “the feeling” that worship could induce. I remember singing for five hours once at church camp with every part of me covered in chills and tingles, thinking that I was on fire with the Holy Spirit. As the years groaned on, I found that feeling increasingly difficult and eventually impossible to induce. As far as I could tell, God had taken his Holy Spirit away from me.

    Since God gave me up, I reciprocated. But I would discover that feeling again, in college, at a pagan rock concert. The band was called “Crash Worship”, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. In was held in an old theater. The concert started with the band piling wood in the middle of the theater floor in front of the stage, and lighting a huge bonfire. Soon the room was thick with smoke and about 100 degrees. At least 10% of the kids were high on ecstasy, and by the second song, there were naked people perching on the edge of the stage like imps while they played with their hands and feet.The music was barely recognizable as music, but at that moment it was the most intense thing I’d ever heard. The band periodically poured large urns, wine, water, and flour over the pit in what I retroactively realize was a mockery of baptism and the lord’s supper. Increasingly the pit was filled with writhing, naked sweaty, bodies and we began to shout and circle the bonfire. The feeling I had was a hundred times more intense than the feelings I had in church worship. Soon many people were juggling fire and one of the musicians picked up a torch and was leading us around the pit in a crazy dancing circle.

    The fire marshal came into the room, he stepped up to the microphone, but the band kept droning their eery music in the background. He told us that the concert was shut down, that our lives were in danger because of the hazardous smoke, and that we needed to evacuate immediately. No one stopped dancing and writhing. Soon the music resumed, this time incorporating electronic samples of the fire marshal’s warnings. He came back. “If you don’t leave, you’re going to die.” We didn’t even consider it. My whole body felt like it was made of electricity. If I was going to die, I wanted to feel like this when I did. There was no more singing except the fire marshal’s voice, “You’re going to die.” endlessly echoed at various pitches as the band played on and the writhing mass of bodies continued to dance around the bonfire. He of course had thrown up his hands retreated to the exit with his breathing apparatus.It was almost an hour before the power was cut and we flooded onto the street to see the smoke pouring out of the building. It was a cold night, and the smoke spilled out like a fog over the city streets instead of rising. I felt like I was in another world.
    But despite how wonderful I felt, or how intense and electric my emotions were, I knew it was just a feeling. God hadn’t abandoned me after all, I had just been chasing a feeling that wasn’t God. All those years ago, I had been trying to have an experience of God with my feelings.

    But God’s presence isn’t created by my feelings. God shows up where he promises, regardless of how I feel. When believers gather, He is there, even if I’m asleep. He is there in the water, the bread, the wine, and the proclaimed Word. I received his Spirit in holy baptism. No amount of worship intensity, or lack of it, puts his Spirit within me.
    Fast forward a couple of decades and I’ve discovered what worship really is, through the historic Christian liturgy. It is not boring like dry toast, it is amazing. Worship is the act of receiving Christ, and his words. So now when I attend Divine Service, I don’t look to myself and my feelings, I am directed away from those things and pointed toward Jesus. I hear Christ’s voice proclaimed to me by the pastor and others, I eat Christ’s body and blood, given for me, I sing Christ’s words to myself and to others in the great hymns of the church. Nothing is about me and whether I’m up to snuff. Everything is about Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and ransomed a people for God. I still have feelings and emotions, but they are a byproduct, not the point of worship.

    A few years ago, I visited the church I grew up in. The service contained 75 minutes of concert/praise. There was only one song that proclaimed any Christian message: a cover of Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming. There were plenty of love songs to “you”, whoever that was, and there were still folks standing up waving their hands, only now they were senior citizens, and they had to use one hand to balance themselves.

    If I’d heard an old favorite from my childhood, I might have been stirred to sing by nostalgia alone, but there was nothing. I didn’t recognize even one. Like passing vapors all the worship songs of my youth had vanished like vapid old pop tunes. But I didn’t really miss them. Instead I yearned for the centuries-old tried and true hymns of the church that teach Christ to me, and bury his words in my heart.

    1. Wow. That was excellent. Well said. I am a Vineyard pastor, have been for years, and I do understand the sentiment here. However, I think the problem is not the style so much as the expectation and even theology as the writer posts that makes the difference. Either style can point people to the gospel and Jesus Christ. Either type of church can point people to themselves and their feelings or to Christ and His incredible work for us that when really apprehended, causes us to worship in awe and wonder. We are not pursing feelings in the church I pastor. We do not need experiences to validate our faith. We know what Christ did historically for us changes everything and it is only as we submit ourselves to Him as the risen King that we experience the transforming power of His Kingdom.

      1. Anyone know any young people that have severe problems with church? I have seen young people become interested in the bible when hearing contemporary songs. I don’t think it would have occurred otherwise at the time. Why is this not the work of the Holy Spirit? Contemporary songs seem to reach some that see traditional services as nothing more than boring old folks stuff. Some of the songs in contemporary worship are truly beautiful, moving and anything but “7/11 songs.” We have an older recently divorced member with grown children at our church. She made the statement when our church discontinued the contemporary service that she didn’t want to attend and hear the old sounding hymns which were popular in the 40’s & 50’s. Music is matter of what you are exposed to and sometimes this just influences personal preferences. Music can be very meaningful on multiple levels. I thank God for Hillsong.

  24. As a retired Southern Baptist organist/pianist I would simply like to say that my church has gone to the contemporary “7/11” repetitive “feel good” songs rather than the “sermon in a song” traditional hymns. It has affected every aspect of our worship services. Most of us do not like it! There is no feeling of a true worship experience there, but more a get up and do your happy dance feeling. It’s no wonder people are leaving the church by the droves!! Music should be a huge part of a worship service, but there is nothing worshipful about a song with 7 verses and repeated 11 times! I can get more out of a traditional church service on local TV than I can by attending my church in person. Many others feel the same way. Many unsaved have been reached by the words of an old hymn and not from the preached word. That has been lost with the services that try to turn their worship services into a celebratory atmosphere. I always used a praise song of sorts to “wake” the congregation up, but then settled into a traditional hymn to set the tone for a worshipful message from the minister. That is not to say that the message was calm and boring…we had plenty of fire and brimstone preached to us on a weekly basis and many lost souls were saved.

    1. A sermon in a song is a good thing, for sure: After all, it’s the theme of the very first Psalm (which I’m sure you know means “song”). But what about the rest of Psalms? Did David and the other songwriters write other kinds of songs? Like “I/Thee” songs? If so, then why should we question the validity of singing such songs? Did their value end with the transition to the new covenant?

      I’m sure this is not your intention: It’s just been my observation that there is a common tendency in the Church in our time to select out things in scripture that should not apply to us. Bad to have lengthy instrumental interludes with sung reflections on prior lyrics? Oops: The Bible calls these “Selah’s.” Various groups object to different things described in scripture; judgment, repentance, grace, spiritual gifts, church structure/government, sermons that preach difficult truths, holiness, freedom, works, faith,…pretty much every branch of the organized church picks a bone with something in scripture. They just all pick different parts.

      Everything scriptural that a christian group emphasizes has great value of course. But if we ever get the whole thing working at the same time, in the right spirit…watch out world; here comes the kingdom. I’ve never yet seen it though (not that I would necessarily recognize it either; I have my own blind spots I’m sure).

  25. Having come to Christ in 1974 and right into a charismatic church and then part of the woodwork of the worship ministry in that church for over 20 years I can attest to the fact that there was a well developed pneumatological theology that laid the essential framework for our corporate worship experience in those days. Today, what I do see in my own congregation is something that resembles it but does not quite get all the way there however, I admit, there are some trade-offs. The deeply charismatic churches of the 70’s right through to present day often had a serious problem with reaching and assimilating unchurched people. The simple fact was that they were on a perpetual quest for the ‘holy of holies’ experience in their worship times and it was too weird for many unchurched to relate to as it was also frequently accompanied by prophecy both in word and in song. Additionally, these worship times could go on for what seemed to be an undeterminable time. Currently, we encourage all of our worship leaders to ‘cultivate worship’ in the congregation and remember that if it is only happening on the platform, it is not happening; having said that, we see much more conversion growth than we used to see in those days. Perhaps we have struck a better balance and fulfillment of a New Testament mandate rather than focusing exclusively on a OT Temple paradigm.

  26. Really outstanding article. I think this article hits the nail on the head in that this view of worship makes it sacramental. The thought being that one experiences God either through the means of music, or ultimately experiencing God immediately (as in, directly, without mediation). The issue here is that once you adopt the form without the function, the ultimate sacrament isn’t the music, rather the emotion which is fickle and can be turned on or off quickly. You’ve moved from an external/objective sacrament (music), to an internal/subjective sacrament (feeling). Once you start down the road of things like “soaking”, you’ve completely lost the objectivity of an external sacrament.

  27. I have an alternate theory. Evangelical churches picked up with motions and actions of Spirit-filled worship without subscribing to the theology behind it. Back in the 70s, you didn’t enter into this kind of worship unless you’d been baptized in the Spirit and had experienced the gifts. Twenty-some years later, evangelical churches that wanted no part of the “second baptism” theology appropriated charismatic worship. So you saw this odd mix of, say, Southern Baptists lifting up their hands in worship; something that only charismatics used to do. But the Baptists and other evangelicals didn’t accept the theology behind that worship which is why there’s such a disconnect in today’s worship scene.

  28. I might disagree with the temple metaphor being as universal as you make it sound. After all, I’m a child who grew up in Charasmatic / Pentecostal churches before coming to Vineyard when I was 12. I absolutely agree that somewhere around the late 90s, early 2000s – around the time that Worship Together and Passion first came on the scene, things took a major shift, and form really began to separate from function. That’s also the period that worship music and CCM became indistinguishable – when every CCM act out there released a worship album, because it was the thing to do – kind of like releasing a Christmas album.

    It’s a shame, because I went to the Worship Together conference in 1999, and it was amazing, and was hosted at a Baptist church, if I recall. It does seem like authentic worship has gone back underground a bit while worship as an industry has taken the main stage. Maybe it will come back around again. I pray God does something like that soon.

  29. As one who has spent my entire life in the pastorate, I can state that while we each may have our own theory and opinions as to why this amazing time in true worship became diluted and lessening the appetite within the congregants for worship . . what we need to be asking of The Lord is for HIM to send a red hot fire into our pastors which will then explode a fresh appetite for the powerful and tangible Presence of The Lord to be welcomed back into our lives, pastors and the congregation as a whole. Repentance begins in the House of The Lord. May our knees fall to the floors of our churches as we the people of God cry out for HIS RIVERS to pour into Pastors, into ourselves and those who are in desperate need of a touch from the “LIVING GOD”! America desperately needs a HOLY GHOST REVIVAL that re-baptizes us ALL in the refreshing RIVERS OF THE MOST HIGH GOD. My constant cry is “LORD COME QUICKLY!! SEND YOUR FIRE UPON THE ALTARS OF OUR CHURCHES AND OUR LIVES.” Praise your name, JESUS! Praise YOUR NAME! Hallelujah, Glory to The Lord!

  30. Especially to faith in excess,

    Please check ebay for the book ‘let us praise’ by Judson Cornwall. He was one of the pioneers of the Charismatic movement back in the late 50s into the 60s. It’s a sort of ‘how to’ book on praise.

  31. To whomever finds and reads this discussion. Don’t be discouraged in your search for deeper spiritual worship. A lot of churches have fallen away from what we had in the 60s thru the late 80s but individuals CAN still get to that level. Might even be better to practice individually than to rely on your local church to lead your there.

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