Is Contemporary Worship Killing The Church?

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I was a guitarist for several worship bands at a conservative Evangelical congregation in the past. My frustrations with band mates who were either very cliquey or seemingly half-hearted in their involvement provoked me to try and create my own spin on the songs. Oftentimes I would add some light distortion or come up with some kind of melodic lead riff to create a different feel for the songs. But sometimes my idea of what would sound good did not always align with what the band leaders had in mind, as would happen with any band discussing creative direction. Aside from this, my aggressive style of playing had proven to be quite intimidating for some of the more conservative members of the church. This often led to me being ousted from the band or politely brushed off from any involvement in church music whatsoever.

While the feeling of rejection was a difficult pill to swallow, it allowed for me to re-evaluate and reflect on my attitude towards music in church. Was I doing it specifically to worship God, or was I involving myself just to play guitar and feel good about myself up on stage?

My family and I spent a few months church-hopping after deciding to try someplace new. As a musician, one of the things I noticed as a spectator in the pews was every time I saw a contemporary worship band I was never fully present in the moment of worship. I was always observing the performance, the instruments, the actions of the persons on stage, the flashy video screens, yet I was never giving my entire self into a state of reverence. I felt like I was becoming the hard-nosed critic who picked apart everything and, due to my past experiences, became increasingly bitter and jealous towards the musicians on stage. I wanted to be up there playing but I did not deserve it. And here I was at every contemporary Sunday service I attended, wallowing in my self-pity in a sea of raised hands and singing voices.

After reflecting on the issue for some time, I came to the realization it’s not about me.

It led me to ask myself the million-dollar question….what is worship?

This was one of the many things that pushed me towards orthodox Christianity. I grew tired of looking for validation from others who did not share the same musical tastes as I had. I grew tired of the desire to feel stimulated at church when all it did was make me feel jealous of the ones who were up on stage praising and entertaining. If I could have that same amount of stimulation by going to a local rock show, then how does the church set itself apart?

Some churches have two separate Sunday services, traditional and contemporary. The problem I find with having both traditional and contemporary services is it, more often than not, segregates the younger generations from the older and creates an environment of ageism. Admittedly, I have been guilty of ageism myself. I remember performing with my friend’s metal band at a church-held benefit concert. A couple elderly members complained to me afterwards about our performance being too loud and obnoxious. I knew the devil’s music was pretty foreign to them and they’ve probably never been to a rock concert in their lives, so I automatically dismissed them for being crotchety, old-fashioned and out of touch with the younger generations. However, the rotten attitude I displayed to them could easily be mimicked in a contemporary worship setting as well.

I’ve been to a few modernist church services where the pastor prided himself by saying, “We’re not like those uptight, orthodox religious folk with sticks up their butts! Unlike those old fossils, we’ll make you feel welcome here!” This is where I find the bigotry goes both ways. While traditionalists may have developed a bad reputation of being obsessed with legalism, modernists have also developed a complete disrespect towards their historical roots. Nobody likes to be told, “If you don’t like it here, go somewhere else!” This applies to both parties.

I’ve heard the argument that the church needs to rejuvenate itself into modernism to win everyone, especially young people, back into the pews. If this is the case, is church really about appealing to the masses with attractive music and stimulating environments? Christianity has always been known to be counter-cultural. If being in communion with one another involves gathering and connecting with believers of all age groups, chances are learning to connect with everybody takes a tremendous amount of effort to communicate, relate with one another and create an environment accommodating for all stages of life. Even reaching out to people who are broken in spirit so they might know about the love of Christ has never been known to be ‘cool’, ‘trendy’ or even contemporary.

As an avid fan of rock and metal, one of my biggest dreams was to start up a contemporary Christian worship band with a heavy and aggressive sound. I still aspire to do it one day, however I do not believe it to be appropriate for a Sunday morning church service. I don’t want my personal biased tastes in music to intimidate or hinder anyone who only wants to come and connect with God. I have to bear in mind, corporate worship is all about uniting with the Body of Christ in full adoration and not about worshiptainment.

After all, it’s not about me.


5 thoughts on “Is Contemporary Worship Killing The Church?

  1. No i don’t believe that it is. I just believe that you have to find the right balance between contemporary and traditional.

  2. I like what you said about ageism and this makes me realize one of the problems with having different “types” of masses in the Catholic Church: A “traditional” mass, a folk mass, a teen mass, and so forth, not to mention masses for various ethnic groups. I realize it’s done with a good intention, the idea being to meet people where they are, let people be comfortable at mass, or whatever.

    But rather than having worship services conform themselves to the varying tastes of the congregation, it seems better to let the congregation conform itself to the service. Not everyone will be happy with whatever musical style is decided upon, but at least we will all be together. I think it’s important for old people and young people, single people and married people, and people of different races and nationalities, to be together and interact, and learn appropriate ways of behaving towards one another; rather than each group segregating itself and associating only with people who happen to share their tastes and preferences.

    There can be other outlets for different musical styles, and other chances for people to get together, outside of the main worship service. There can be occasional rock concerts or hip-hop dances for the teenagers, swing dances for the older folks, magic shows for the kids, or what have you. But let worship music be more-or-less neutral, in other words stick with the traditional or classic style of Christian worship music for worship services and just let everyone deal with it for the sake of unity. None of us chose this music, it was just handed down to us. Most of us wouldn’t choose to play it on the CD player in our cars. But on the other hand, if it’s lasted this long there’s probably something good about it.

  3. I’m churchless at the moment, mostly because of the music situation. There’s not a lot of contemporary offerings out here and the ones that are belong to a denomination I left for a very good reason. That just leaves hymn-singing only churches … which really isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t even know how to read music. The last time I was there, I saw how many teenagers and young adults were spending the time texting or playing with their hair or talking to each other rather than sing hymns. I don’t think contemporary music is killing the church, but I think a fundamental misunderstanding of people is killing the church. The kind of: “We worship this way, if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” attitude that we constantly run into has shown us that nobody’s willing to fold us into them or adapt to our styles / tastes. And since there’s no church out there that really fits us – there’s nowhere worth going to.

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