As many of you know, Substance is always trying to test the boundaries of church. Over the years I’ve always been testing a new hypothesis… like: How large can we grow our church without having offices? Turns out that our number was 1700! Of course I’m not saying we’re “wise” to experiment as we do. But once you get to know me you’ll find that I’m an insanely curious person. And I guess that’s what led us to start doing new things in worship.
For those of you who weren’t totally consumed by the rapture : ) you’ll notice that we had an “all Club / Electronica” worship set at our two main campuses again. And, keep in mind, the goal of these things isn’t simply to “do a cool worship set.” Honestly, “coolness” isn’t a high priority for us when we assemble our worship experiences here. (Although dorkiness isn’t a priority either).
It’s just that many Christians are idolatrously addicted to their formats. And if pastors like me don’t intentionally mess with these formulas, Christians start pretending that God exclusively loves their formula the best.
For example, I often remind our church that music wasn’t even the driving force of church services until the 1700’s. Most people credit the Moravians and Charles Wesley as some of the first people to make a “music-driven worship experience” central to the modern church experience. In fact, many historians credit Finney in the 1800’s as one of the first pastors to intentionally design worship experiences to become an “emotional arc that leads people towards an alter experience.” Yet, ironically, today these very experiences have suddenly become the very litmus test of whether or not the Holy Spirit loves a given church.
There are people who, honest to God, believe that God loves a very specific type of worship format. (I.e., 6 songs… 2 fast, 4 slow + 15 minutes of alter ministry). Of course, the Bible teaches a totally different approach to worship in John 4:23.
A Samaritan woman tries baiting Jesus into a worship debate that was hot in their day. And rather than taking the bait Jesus quickly tells her that she’s missing the entire point of what God is really looking for. “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” I.e., It’s not about format or location. It’s about the heart! I.e., If we think we can judge a churches’ worship based on their services or formats, than we definitely have a different set of criteria than God.
“So then, Pastor Peter, are you saying that you have absolutely no opinions about worship?” Of course not. I’m incredibly opinionated. In fact, there are all sorts of things I like to do that help me connect with the Lord better. A worship service is essentially a group meditation that helps people focus on God and his plan more. So, obviously, there are certain things that can help or enhance people’s ability to connect.
Of course, we all connect in different ways, don’t we? And there’s no way that we’re all going to agree on how to do this. After all we all listen to different music. We all struggle with a different set of distractions. In some ways, it’s a crying shame that more churches haven’t integrated rap or electronica music (after all, it’s been the dominant music choice of our culture for almost 20 years already). Sometimes it almost feels like some churches are intensionally trying to make it increasingly hard for people to know the Lord. In fact, this was one of the hardest things for me to understand about Christians (before I became one).
For example: I’ve always had a problem connecting with what many Evangelicals call “worship music.” I didn’t grow up in a contemporary worshipping church. In fact, I once made a vow to never attend one of those freaky weird churches where people “lifted up their hands.” After all, to me, it seemed like a cult church where everyone was convinced they were slow dancing with a seven foot Jesus. It just didn’t seem sacred. Even more the music felt alienating. In some ways, the entire experience subtly communicated to me: “If you don’t like this music or format, you’re not welcome.” And, to be honest, that message actually reflected the attitude of a good number of Christians there.
Of course not everyone has a self-centered approach to worship. Most mature Christians accept the fact that, on Sundays, the service simply isn’t about them. After all we, who are mature, can worship God however we want all week long. It’d be extremely egotistical to jam chunks of steak down a babies mouth simply because — I like meat! And most mature Christians realize that God is more honored by our willingness to reach lost people than the pretense of emotional worship (Luke 15).
Don’t get me wrong: Every Christian needs a time to go super deep in corporate worship (time to eat steak). That’s why we have “Deeper Services” every Tuesday night. But even mature Christians can get stuck in a rut and end up with a malnourishing “worship diet.” And that’s why pastors like me are constantly trying to stretch our church whenever it comes to worship formats.
One of the things that I noticed with our Electronica set was that… no one even cared about the style by the time we reached the 3rd song. Everyone seemed too engaged with God to care. And frankly I think that is how a healthy church should be. The style or format shouldn’t even matter. It’s the heart that counts. And that is something that God will routinely test if we want to be long-term followers of Christ.
So get ready Substance! We’ve got all sorts of unique worship experiences that we want to throw your way. God’s word says: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” We need to remember that God created over 15,000 varieties of ferns because 14,999 weren’t enough to give him glory.
Thus, our worship should be the same way. God is infinitely creative. He is infinitely diverse. And when our worship get’s caught in a rut – make no mistake – God is not glorified. It neither reflects him nor the creative nature he’s placed inside of those he’s redeemed.
So don’t let your comfort zone dictate your praise. Don’t let your music preferences dictate your worship. God wants to take us to new places. But we will never get to those places without doing things we’ve never done. : )