Two kinds of worship

light showI was involved in two different campus ministries in college. Each had a big weekly meeting for worship. Those two meetings were quite different.

The first ministry — we’ll call them Seeker-Friendly-Ministries — was especially concerned to make their meeting appealing to non-Christians. They worked hard to make sure that what they did looked as much like pop culture entertainment as it looked like “church.” There were funny skits, entertaining emcee’s, and well-choreographed dances to complement a few praise songs and a message. Each week’s meeting had a timesheet that was followed down to the minute and a production director that wore a headset and kept things on schedule throughout.

The second ministry — we’ll call them All-About-Worship — seemed less concerned with all of this appeal. In fact, they made it known that their purpose for meeting was simply to worship. The schedule was much more plain, by comparison. Everyone sang praise songs for 30-40 minutes, then there was a 30-minute sermon. There was a funny skit here and there, but they were infrequent and clearly not as much rehearsed.

I took several of my fraternity brothers to both. These were guys who weren’t involved in the Church and probably wouldn’t have even considered themselves Christians. Their reactions were interesting and unanimous. None of them cared much for the Seeker-Friendly-Ministries meeting. They didn’t say why; they just weren’t that interested, and I don’t recall any of them going back a second time.

But they all enjoyed the All-About-Worship meeting. And nearly all of them went back another time. Some became regulars there.

I remember sitting at a leaders’ meeting for Seeker-Friendly-Ministries where people were talking about what to do for the weekly meeting. After a lot of discussion about what kinds of skits and themes to use next year, the student who had just been named “Weekly Meeting Director” for the next year spoke up:

Here’s what I want. I want our weekly meeting to be about worship. I want it to be focused on God. I want to stop worrying so much about entertaining the people who might come, and I want to worry about us coming and worshiping. I’m not saying that selfishly because the thing is, I really think it would be more “attractive” to people who aren’t Christians to come and see us in genuine worship rather than seeing us put on a show.

That meeting happened 13 years ago, so I probably didn’t quote him perfectly here. But I think I got it pretty close, because what he said was profound and influential for me.

I think that student leader pegged what my fraternity brothers had demonstrated. Seeing a group of Christians genuinely at worship is more winsome than seeing a group of Christians put on an entertaining show. Our world isn’t lacking much for entertainment. It’s lacking quite a bit for genuine worship.

Sadly, that student leader’s thoughts were pushed to the side. What he said didn’t fit with the Seeker-Friendly-Ministries strategy. I tried to take a few more people the following year, but their response was much the same as before. After that, I quit trying and only invited my non-Christian friends to the All-About-Worship meetings.

30 thoughts on “Two kinds of worship

  1. This is what I’ve been trying to tell my worship people ever since I got to the church I now serve. Their response is that we need to use whatever we need to draw people so they can hear the gospel. I agree with you completely. I dislike entertainment- style worship.

  2. I think there’s a difference between entertainment and worship. Pure entertainment is not church. But I also think there’s something to be said for well crafted services, from top to bottom, that promotes godly worship/participation, through pop-culture mediums. Again, the focus is on worship – the medium becomes a catalyst for engagement.

    I’ve seen it done well. Good planning, well-written/rehearsed skits, etc. aren’t evil. It’s when they become the primary focus, when entertainment becomes the primary focus – that’s when we have a problem.

    Jesus was a very entertaining man. His parables are some of the riches, most profound, exciting stories ever told. But they had a point that went beyond entertainment – they pointed to the kingdom of God.

    I think that’s the next level for these seeker churches – repent of the entertainment drivenness, and use their pop-culture prowess to help people engage the kingdom of God in their midst (be that through skits, ‘secular’ music, or whatever).

    1. Hi Tom – thanks for your comment. I don’t disagree with you. One of the problems with telling a story rather than just talking straight is that I might be giving people the wrong takeaway. A short reply now, perhaps a longer one later…

      I certainly don’t consider things that are entertaining and well-planned to be bad – or inappropriate for worship. People-friendly mediums (for lack of a better term) are excellent and important, though still secondary to worshipful content. When we make them primary, we make a mistake.

      When we go a step further and do something that isn’t “worshipful” for the sake of entertaining people, we tread near sacrilege.

      And it seems that making style primary and content secondary has served as a sort of “gateway drug” for that next step into downright sacrilegious “worship.”

  3. I have this sneaking suspicion that most “seeker-friendly-ministries” do little more than pander to ‘churched’ kids who never outgrew their white, affluent, suburban youth group. Once everything is understood as liturgy (worship), then we’re only really left with varying qualities of the same thing: e.g., good worship vis-a-vis bad worship.

    Also, I know I’ve quoted this at least a dozen times, but to paraphrase Milbank from one of his journal articles: “The refusal to come-up out of oneself and go to church is simply the refusal of church per se.”

  4. Caleb,
    I suspect you’re probably right. I think a lot of what is happening isn’t genuinely reaching unchurched people, but more an attempt to pander to those who are nominally involved.

    I would just maintain that, just because some people do it wrong or with the wrong motivations, doesn’t mean there isn’t some value in looking at how church helps or hinders people’s understanding and engagement with the kingdom of God.

    In other words, it should not just be a given that seeker churches are reaching unreached people (ala your comment), nor should it be a given that traditionally liturgical churches are helping people understand and engage the kingdom of God.

    As you say, on some level, church necessarily involves coming out of ourselves. But we as those who ‘design’ worship, ought to be conscious of the ways in which our we are asking people to come out of themselves in ways that are secondary to the nature of the kingdom of God. Bad worship and good worship are possibilities within each scenerio. One or the other is not a guarantee lock for either evaluation.

    As always, you’re brilliant!

    1. Thanks for your comments Tom and Caleb. I’m seeing a few words/terms used repeatedly through this thread, but I’m not sure they’re being used in the same ways. Let me attempt to define how I’m using them, and with that, offer some response to your comments…

      Worship — what I mean by “worship” here is the gathering of a community in formal worship — a planned event of “worship.” I recognize that this is a tremendously limited definition. Worship is much more than this. Nevertheless, almost every tradition has some type of corporate event (for lack of a better term), which they call worship.

      My contention is that anything that we do within a corporate event of worship should be worshipful. Robert Webber says that worship does God’s story. In other words, worship is a telling, celebration, and joining in the story of God. In that, we see worship as the people of God coming before the throne of God in praise, confession, thanksgiving, intercession, and faith. Or, as the early Church saw it (again, according to Webber), worship is prayer.

      Liturgy — I agree with Caleb – and Jamie Smith – that everything is liturgy. And thus, every gathering has a “liturgy.” The American Church has obviously begun to define some worship services as liturgical and others as non-liturgical, as Tom implies. I would agree with Tom that you can have a proper worship service that isn’t defined as narrowly as we define “traditional liturgy.”

      Here I would use the broader sense of the term to say that whatever is in the worship liturgy, it must be worshipful. To point a finger at my old self, rather than anyone else… Several years ago I had John Mayer’s “Why Georgia” played as a special music piece in our worship. I used that to illustrate a point later during the sermon. But the song “Why Georgia” is not worshipful, by the definitions I’m using. And therefore, it’s not appropriate as a piece of our liturgy. Now if I had played a clip of it during the sermon to make the same illustration, I think that would have been appropriate. But using it as a piece of the liturgy itself might be considered profaning the worship service. By the way, I like the song. I have it on my iPod. And I would also say that musicians who are Christians don’t have to write only music that would be acceptable for worship services. This isn’t to draw a hard line between “secular” or “sacred,” necessarily. It’s to draw a line between what’s appropriate for worship liturgy and what’s not.

      Seeker-sensitive — Finally, a note about this. If by seeker-sensitive, we mean understanding how people are wired today, what world they live in, etc., then we should of course take these into account in our worship. I think this is much of what Tom’s looking for, and I agree. If not for this, there would be no reason not to keep worshiping in Latin. But if by “seeker-sensitive,” we mean that we add things to our worship liturgy that simply aren’t acts of worship, then I think seeker-sensitive worship really ends up becoming just profane.

      And I’d also urge us not to work too hard to squeeze out a rationalization for how that guy diving 50 feet into a 12 inch pool of water really is worshipful because that’s an amazing talent God created him with. Hey, I think things like that are cool and interesting. And I commend that guy for his talent. I’ll watch him on America’s Got Talent and be entertained. But I don’t think things like this find a proper place in “worship.” In a gathering of God’s people before the throne of God, I’m not sure there’s an appropriate moment to stop and watch the guy dive into the baby pool.

      Okay – there’s an attempt to further define terms. What do you think?

    2. One other thought on the point about pandering to “churched” kids… That was generally what I saw from others and experienced myself in youth ministry. The nominal Christian kids who are going to go somewhere — or those forced by parents to go somewhere — want fun and games. Those who are more genuinely “seekers” warmed much more to serious faith. If all they were looking for was entertainment, they had X-boxes, school clubs, etc.

    3. Tom,

      I would not disagree with you here. Once everything is understood as liturgy, any dichotomy we set up (between entertainment/worship) is largely of our own self-construction. That being said, I think Teddy used the ‘two kinds of worship’ post as a means of directing his readers’ attention to the two ‘poles’ within a continuum: those which tend to be “all about worship” and those which tend to be “seeker-sensitive.” In many ways, by even insinuating that churches which tend to be “all about worship” may have more appeal to the unchurched is one way Teddy has deconstructed the very either/or categories and generalizations we typically use.

      In short, I think you are dead-on in refusing to completely bifurcate Truth and Beauty here. These are both transcendentals, and just as one cannot separate rhetoric from the sermon, one similarly cannot separate beauty (or some notion of pleasure/entertainment) from the worship service. The truth is, I’m not sure any “seeker-sensitive” church would want to claim they were somehow compromising worship, and likewise, I’m not sure any high-church, traditional church would wish to claim they were evacuating beauty and/or entertainment from worship.

      That being said, although I would agree that ‘good’ worship and ‘bad’ worship are certainly possibilities within each scenario (please don’t get me started on the inherent modalism of using “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” to replace the traditional Trinitarian formula of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” which seems so prevalent in high-churches today), I can’t help but agree with Teddy’s overall generalization. It remains really hard, for example, for an Episcopal Priest to completely butcher the Mass (and not lie outside the Canons of the Church). There are just too many community safe-guards pulling ‘adventurous’ or ‘rogue’ priests back into the fold. On the other hand, for those churches which do not have community safe-guards on their liturgy, the individual priest/minister is free to construct the entire liturgy however he/she thinks best. I would imagine it is much easier to get oneself in trouble here, and I think this is largely what happens. There is certainly no “guarantee lock” as you note, but I think there remains some validity to Teddy’s generalization regardless. Honestly, especially from your later comments, it doesn’t seem like you really disagree with Teddy’s generalization here . . . It sounds as if you’re pushing away from sharp dichotomies and logical reductionism. In that sense, as noted in my first two paragraphs, I am in complete agreement with you.

      1. There you go again, Caleb, just agreeing with everybody. Someone needs to teach you the art of polemic…

        I agree that everything is liturgy (worship), but if that’s the case, I’d say that we all make dichotomies, and are forced to, in some ways. As soon as you use the word “worship” or “liturgy” in any sense that means less than everything, you’ve constructed a dichotomy. So you can either eschew corporate services of worship, or you can construct a dichotomy.

        And further, while we might call all things liturgy, I think we’d all agree that not all things (e.g. sex acts) are appropriate for corporate worship gatherings. If we get that far, then it’s just a matter of where we’re drawing our lines and why… I’m drawing my lines at acts that display an awareness of being done before the throne of God, for better or worse.

      2. Teddy,

        C’mon, did you read my last blog post . . . I was trying to be nice, but I thought it was very polemical nonetheless (haha).

        Seriously, though, I would still want to eschew any kind of a dialectic here. There is no complete opposite of worship just as there is no complete opposite of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, only shades of participation within the same. I might liken this to Vatican II’s statements in regard to other Christian traditions. Truth in these traditions varies depending upon their participation and similarity with Catholic teaching (big surprise, right?). Similarly, our worship is a mere participation in the ongoing, eternal Worship as the Great Thanksgiving so eloquently states: “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name . . .” (BCP, Rite II, 362). There is no dichotomy or ‘opposite’ of worship here, just simply varying degrees of participation.

        I think you have brought up a good point, though, that there are certain practices which are simply not appropriate for corporate worship, specifically, to use your example, human sexual acts. I have no problem drawing a sharp distinction here between Mass and not-Mass, so long as one understands that there is no such thing as not-Mass apart from the Mass. What I mean is this: In the Mass, we receive a picture of how the world/creation really is, namely that there is no creation apart from the Creator, or, as Gregory of Nyssa writes (I read this, this morning): “For who, when he takes a survey of the universe, is so simple as not to believe that there is Deity in everything, penetrating it, embracing it, and seated in it? For all things depend on Him Who is, nor can there be anything which has not its being in him Who is” (The Great Catechism, Ch XXV). There is ultimately nothing outside the “Being” or “substance” of God, and the Eucharistic elements are, among other things, a demonstration of this, a foretaste in the Great Banquet Feast when God will be “all in all.” As an aside, this is also why transubstantiation is so important to me: The accidents of creation remain, but the substance is shown to be Deity. I remain indebted to Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy in this regard.

        The Mass, then, literally grants meaning and reality to all of creation. We literally celebrate it, that is, to use Alexander Schmemann’s terminology “for the life of the world.” As Tom mentioned, we certainly do not leave the ‘world’ behind when we come to church, but this is because (to be more polemical), there is ultimately no dichotomy between church and world. Apart from the Church (the Body of Christ), there is simply no World, no creation. All of reality is incorporated within the Body of Christ, and as such, there is, properly speaking, no “outside” Church, only less participation within. Or perhaps a better way to say it is this: The Mass is a glimpse into the real World, creation as it truly is (and should/will be).

        As I mentioned, I have no problem drawing lines between Mass and not-Mass just as I have no problem drawing a distinction between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ . . . just so long as one understands that ‘faith’ is merely an intensification of ‘reason,’ a more pure reason within which reason itself participates in. Ultimately, it’s hard for me to enter into this discussion as it brings up a whole litany of other theological questions: Who gets to decide, for instance, what ‘good’ worship is from ‘bad’ worship? The Bishop, the priest, the parishioners, Rome, a global Church Council? Similarly, who gets to revise liturgies or create new ones? Or how about any other theological issue which might cut deeply into the whole conversation. For instance, if a baptist minister celebrated the Tridentine Mass flawlessly, would it still be the same liturgy/worship? For Roman Catholics, of course, the answer would be a dogmatic “no!” Others might disagree. In any respect, the liturgy appears identical, at least on the surface, yet there remain significant theological differences between the two. Is this really even the same liturgy or worship service? Tangentially (and as a side, polemical rant), it is these questions which those disciples of Robert Webber have never understood or taken into consideration!!!!

        In many ways, I realize I haven’t answered your direct questions, and this is largely because I don’t know how. I feel like I’m being forced to choose whether some ‘thing’ (such as a John Mayer song) falls within the category of ‘Mass’ or ‘not-Mass’, ‘faith’ or ‘reason/art’, ‘sacred’ or ‘secular’. To be sure, I would never think it appropriate to play a John Mayer song during Mass, regardless of its liturgical placement. This surely doesn’t mean I’ve constructed a dichotomy, placing the song within the category of ‘not-Mass’, ‘reason’, or ‘secular’, as if it somehow existed outside of the ‘Mass’, ‘faith’, or the ‘sacred’. This would be construing a sphere of reality apart from the Divine which is Tom’s greatest concern.

        But ultimately, distinctions need to be made (which I think is what you keep pointing to). In my contribution to the discussion, I’ll merely put forward the rather benign suggestion that these ‘decisions’ should be made tentatively, slowly, and only arise after much deliberation. We, after all, only see through a glass darkly. It is perhaps because of the complexity of the task coupled with its sheer and utter importance that I would push away from any tradition which simply hands this ‘power’ into the hands of individual clergy or local communities. Not only is there a great potential for harm (even if unintentional), there are actually different theologies at work which, I think, produce very different liturgies and Masses, even if they use the same liturgy and celebrate the same Mass on the surface. There is simply no easy answer here, and I think things are quite a bit murkier than fundamentalists on either side would admit.

        . . . But I’ve prattled on for long enough.

      3. Caleb,

        1 – I think you’ve identified well Tom’s concern that we don’t call anything not-worship. (A point I agree with.)

        2 – I think you’ve identified well my concern that, though everything might be viewed as worship (liturgy), not everything is appropriate for a corporate worship gathering.

        3 – More importantly, I think you’ve written something here that’s brilliant and beautiful. And it’s buried 20-something deep into blog comments that will be read by 3 people. You really must put out the same – or something similar – in a more widespread medium. I’d be tempted to just take your comment, clean out the parts that wouldn’t be understood apart from this specific conversation, and post them as a stand-alone post to this blog.

        And well done on finding your polemical voice.

      4. Caleb – something I meant to ask and didn’t. You would be in the minority among Anglicans in your insistence on transubstantiation, right? How’s that working out for you?

      5. Teddy,

        First, thank you for the compliment. I really appreciate it.

        In regard to your question, my preference for transubstantiation does place me within an Anglican minority, but I’m traditionally not a Nazi about it. I can definitely ascribe to the Eastern Church’s notion, and I’m okay with most appeals to “real presence” (though I tend to be more suspicious of them). If I would ‘insist’ on anything, it would be the Substantival Presence in the Eucharistic elements (i.e., I think Calvin’s notion of spiritual presence, however one wishes to reconstruct it, is simply outside the boat), and I think the Theory of Transubstantiation is perhaps the best at articulating that Presence.

        The Anglican Church insists on “Real Presence” (which, depending on who you ask, may or may not include Calvin’s notion of spiritual presence), and Transubstantiation is certainly included within this larger category. Honestly, I’ve never had anyone poke at me for this (though I seldom advertise my preference), but I will admit it can sometimes be frustrating while attending Episcopal Mass at a very low church and the Body and Blood are not treated with “proper” (as I would understand it) reverence. Last Easter, since my parish did not have an Easter Vigil, my wife and I attended another local Episcopal Church. Afterwards, we joked with each other, asking if the Mass actually counted . . . but it was only joking. To be sure, I would have these same problems within the Roman Catholic Church.

        The Anglican Church has always had to ‘work with’ the Nonconformists and Puritans, and in many ways, it still does. Some days I think it would be nice if they all simply left and joined one of the bazillion Protestant denominations (just as they probably wish I would join the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church), but most days, I think it’s what makes the Church the Church. We’re all in here together, bumping elbows every so often.

        In keeping the same subject but switching the direction: From other things that you’ve mentioned, it sounds like you have a rather ‘high’ understanding of the Eucharist/Mass, especially when compared with most United Methodists. How’s that going for you?

      6. That’s all very well-put, Caleb. It’s funny – seems that each of us is probably one step away from our more natural home. Anglicans seem to be standing in the middle place between Protestants and the RC and EO. In many ways, I see United Methodism, at its best, standing between Anglicanism and all the other Protestants. Our sacramental views (at least on paper) are pretty close to the Anglicans’. Certainly much closer than they are to all the anabaptist views on the other side.

        But as I mentioned elsewhere here, the UMC just had a big meeting with lots of important people present to talk about whether to endorse “Online Communion.” My feelings on the subject weren’t too weak. How’s it going for me in the UMC? I think I’m a bit of a pest to the pragmatists — which ends up including most of the people who incessantly talk about “church growth.” They make my head spin. I irritate them. I’m not sure your “career prospects” are too great in the UMC if you’re not a church growth kind of guy…

        I feel like I’m way on the “high church” end of the UMC spectrum (regarding sacraments, not the priestly order — where I’m nearly Baptist, and have my reasons). I’d probably find more in common with the Anglicans. You seem way on the “high church” end of the Anglican spectrum — to the point that I wonder if you’d find more in common with the RC or EO. Of course, biting off and swallowing that whole magisterium at once might be more than you’re prepared for.

  5. I don’t have a problem with you using Why Georgia, unless you were merely pandering to your audience. If you had a genuinely theological and formative telos in mind, then I see no difference between you using it pre-sermon and you using a clip during your sermon.

    Part of this, admittedly, is, as we’ve discussed before, that I think the dichotomy of secular and sacred, or sacred and profane, is overblown. I genuinely think John Mayer’s, and other thoughtful artists like him, convey (albeit unintentionally) the prevenient grace of God in their lives – that God is calling them to see something more and long for something more. It comes out in their songs and art and, I think, therefore, has a place in the worship service, when these elements are intentionally drawn out.

    I don’t think the church gathering is a retreat from the world (not accusing either of you of saying this!), but an engagement with the world, whereby the people of God celebrate and participate in God’s work in the world. In using Why Georgia, you taught and modeled for people how to engage pop-culture with the gospel, you taught your audience to see God’s prevenient grace in the ‘profane.’ And you showed them that pop-culture is not neutral – it is broken, but it’s brokenness is where God slips through the cracks of our souls and shines the light of the gospel.

    I think this can be seen, to some degree, throughout the Bible. Biblical writers quite frequently pull on secular sources in order to show God’s activity in the world – even the non-Israelite world. Paul on Mars Hill, cites pagan religious texts in order to demonstrate that God is not far from any one of us. Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has its origins in an ancient Egyptian mythological narrative about the underworld.
    Again, I’d just like to say that the point in none of these was entertainment as an end in itself. The point was to show God’s activity in the larger world, his prevenient grace, his revelation of himself in the stories, art, culture, etc. of pagans.

    Now, does that mean God can speak through a guy jumping 50ft. into a 12 inch pool?
    Sure. I guess. You chose the illustration intentionally because of its silliness. So, I see your point. Nevertheless, I guess, in theory, I could see a place for such a thing – AGAIN, so long as the telos is beyond mere entertainment.

    I’m thinking of that silly group, The Power Team, from b
    ack in the 90’s, that had a bunch of mussel bound Neanderthals bending steel bars saying, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Sure, it was silly and trite. But unworshipful?…I dunno.

    1. Tom,

      1 – I chose the guy jumping into a pool because I saw it during a worship gathering (that is, spectacle).

      2 – I agree with you wholeheartedly about the examples of Paul on Mars Hill, Jesus’ parables, etc. In all, they demonstrate an awareness of the culture that seems not just good, but closer to essential.

      3 – I think where we still differ is regarding what constitutes an appropriate piece of worship liturgy. Though “Why Georgia” may evidence prevenient grace, I can’t make any case that as a song, it’s an act of praise directed toward God, or a rehearsing of God’s story with his people. It’s a song about a guy who’s trying to figure out life. Along with almost everything else in the world, grace is potential or revealed in it. And there are lots of ways for me to show that to people, as Paul showed these things to his people. But I don’t think Paul would have been okay with the early Christians having a stand-alone reading of Plato in their worship as a sort of set-up for later explanation about how God has revealed himself to all mankind. I don’t reject using and commenting on John Mayer’s music. I just reject John Mayer’s music as an act of worship liturgy.

      4 – I also enjoy the conversation. Thanks.

      1. I just wanted to say that I have you both trumped. As a youth pastor (many, many years ago), I totally used Marilyn Manson’s “White Coma” music video in a youth worship service. If I remember correctly, I preached on Hagar and thought the video went well. Boo-ya! Take that Mr. John Mayer!

        Needless to say, I would not recommend doing this.

  6. Aaaarrrrrhhhhh….I wrote a long response and accidentally deleted it!!!! Crap!!!!

    I’ll come back later.

  7. Would Paul approve of John Mayer being used in the church’s worship service? No..not by itself. But in the context of a larger liturgical movement of lamentation, I don’t see why not. He’s not being consistently used every week. He’s being used in the larger context of the church’s liturgical movement. He’s not being used for pure entertainment sake.
    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not one to speak for Paul, so I say that tentatively.

    But I guess I just don’t see the difference between citing a full text of Plato before the sermon and citing that same full text during the sermon. The whole point, in either case, is that Plato cannot stand on his own, he needs fuller explanation.

    I think the situation is even more troublesome when it comes to using John Mayer, because of the nature of his art. Let me explain: John Mayer did not choose to write an essay about trying to figure out life. He wrote a song. So by citing his words, but not playing his song, we effectively remove the pathos from his art and reduce it to ethos. But if prevenient grace is found in the pathos – the means – of the art, then I think it hurts the art to reduce it to mere logos. I know I’m arguing for the integrity of the song, here, but the song’s integrity matters to the artist. And it’s in the integrity of the art that prevenient grace is found.

    So should Mayer be used as a part of the liturgy? Yes, but not by himself. He needs the larger context of the liturgical movement to make his art all it can be – to give his art the fullness it needs in Christ. When set in this context, I think Mayer’s song can help reveal and point to the larger story of God and redemption.

    Again, I don’t want to speak for Paul here. But I just see very little difference between citing pagan mythology approvingly in a sermon and citing it in the church’s liturgy. After all, by virtue of the fact that it was Paul, himself, who did this, he made these segments of pagan text a necessary and good part of Christian liturgy. I think Paul did something incredibly radical there. Almost scary radical. (On a side note, I find it interesting that he seems to, almost intentionally, avoid using the name “Jesus” in that sermon. But that’s a longer discussion for another time.)

    There are certain Psalms (if I was near my Bible, I’d cite them) that have been part of the church’s liturgy for 2,000 years, but are darn near nothing more than reflections on trying to figure out life, suffering, joy, etc. with little or no reference to God. How do such psalms inform this discussion? – Genuine question; I may completely misunderstand the intent of these psalms. I just see them in light of the larger movement of the psalms and know that though their theological value is not as explicit as others, they are nonetheless radically important.

    I don’t think I said this as clearly in this draft as I did in the one that got accidentally erased. Sorry for any lack of articulation.

    Finally, let me say this: Like you, I have only ever used a secular song in worship one time. So I’m not arguing here out of a sense of self-justification or anything. I think most times I’ve seen this done, it’s been done wrongly – for pure entertainment sake. I’m merely arguing that in certain cases, it doesn’t have to be inappropriate.


    1. Thanks for this, Tom. I think you make a really good case. It’s actually a case I would have made several years ago. (That’s not a snarky way of saying that my views have “matured” — just to say that I agreed then, but see things a bit differently now.) “Everything is spiritual.” Absolutely! And we shouldn’t lose sight of that — actually, we should draw attention to it.

      I think we may be at an impasse, though, on what’s appropriate as a piece of worship liturgy. For me, anything that can be listed as a separate act of worship needs to explicitly — not just implicitly, or with some interpretation — acknowledge that it’s done as an act before God. A John Mayer song fails that test. I’m interested in the Psalms you say don’t acknowledge God. Show me more, and perhaps I’ll be persuaded.

      This may sound silly to you, but I would be okay with playing the entire John Mayer song (since we’re stuck on that example), if it were just wrapped into the first minute of the sermon. The sermon is an act of worship, and it would be enough for me just to begin the sermon with a word on how God seeks out the searching, how so many people in our world are searching for something, and then, “Listen to this John Mayer song. I think its success isn’t just because he’s a great singer. I think a lot of people relate…” By doing that, you wrap the song into a larger act of worship, and you make it clear that the song itself is not an act of worship. Small thing, but in my mind, at least, it’s a big difference from just playing “Why Georgia” as a “special music” piece after prayer, even if it’s explained.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if I were in the minority on this. If only everyone would agree with me on everything… the world would be a much duller more awesome place.

      1. Until I get a chance to look at those Psalms (to see if they’re even really there, or if I just made up a ‘fact’ in my mind), would the Book of Esther serve as an enticing piece of this conversation?

        It’s a book overwhelmed with God’s grace, has a ton of theological and historical value, but never explicitly mentions God. It’s about a young woman who’s just trying to figure out life in the midst of an oppressive empire.

        Let me look for those psalms when I get a chance.

      2. Or would Song of Songs/Solomon serve as a good example of a guy just rejoicing in the God-given gift of sex, while rarely, if ever, referencing the fact that it is God-given?

      3. Alright, I’ve given a brief search of the Psalms and only found a few that might even be close the claim I was making above. They were basically written to a king or to another person. But, even if just briefly, they reminded the king of God/the LORD. So, technically speaking, they mention God.

        So, maybe I should’ve just first went with Esther and Song of Songs before I ignorantly false-remembered the psalms. I apologize – This conversation is too worthwhile to be bogged down with such mistakes.

        In any case, I’d love to hear your all(s) thoughts on my Esther and Song of Songs examples.

      4. I just wanted to add that the Psalter, understood as the songs/prayers of David, has always been understood allegorically to be the literal prayers/songs of Christ. As such (and following St. Augustine’s hermeneutic that one can read “Christ” and “Church” interchangeably), the Psalter has always been understood as the prayers/songs of the Church. This is why they have always been included in the liturgy, not as a ‘reading’ (like the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel are), but rather, as a prayer/song, usually being placed between the Old Testament and Epistle readings.

        Instead of reading them through a historical-critical lens (which I certainly wouldn’t wish to discourage), it might help to read them through the lens of Christ; that is, through the mindset that Christ himself prayed these prayers. This makes reading them much more interesting and challenging, and it largely removes, I think, the problematic discussed above.

  8. Teddy-what about a Taylor Swift song??? (for those that don’t get it, that was just a dumb comment to be funny)

    Overall, this is a great discussion and one that I have had several times with several different people (including Teddy). As someone who feels that a “seeker-friendly/contemporary church” got me and my wife “back” to church; I respect a lot of what they do. However, I felt that I topped out there, sprititually, and couldn’t grow in my faith. Therefore, it was time to move on. However, I do think there is a place for that style of “worship/church” . . . If we are to “make discipes” . . . how can we make disciples without first making converts? If those types of services get people to walk in the door-more power to them.

    Am I wrong?? Love the discussion.

    1. Hi Ryan,

      I can never deny what a great thing it is when people come into the church or return and go on to be devoted disciples. I’m honestly not familiar enough with the church you’re referencing to know whether they do anything in their worship that I really just wouldn’t be able to stomach. They do have a very entertaining style, and I have no problem with that (see all the discussion above). It can be entertaining and worshipful, and that’s great. My problem is only when we start putting elements into our liturgy that aren’t intentionally worshipful on their own. When we include things in the liturgy for entertainment purpose.

      Two other notes —

      1 – People have come to serious faith through Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, and a number of others whose methods/teachings I would call deplorable. I celebrate that people have come to faith through those, but that doesn’t mean I’ll condone the messages. I don’t lump most “seeker-sensitive churches” in with this group, but I want to at least note that the ends don’t always justify the means.

      2 – I think you’re in the minority, Ryan. I don’t think most people go to a really entertaining church that may be light on content, enjoy it, but then realize they’ll need to go somewhere else for more. I’d guess more people are having their desires formed differently by these experiences. That they’re having these experiences and thinking this is all there is. I think there are many ways to go about worship. But I also want to believe we can worship appropriately in a way that is relevant, “attractive,” and continually enriching for both “seekers” and long-time believers. If a church’s worship is limited to the point that it’s irrelevant to a group on one end of the spectrum or the other, I might question what they’re doing.

  9. Hi Teddy, I find your specific example of sexual acts being inappropriate for corporate worship an interesting consideration here. As Caleb also says, “human” sexual acts would most definitely not be appropriate worship at Mass, but the Mass itself reaches a pinnacle (in Roman Catholic terms) upon reception of the Eucharist. It is the very consummation of the marriage between Christ and the Church, God putting His Body into the Bride to give life, that has the power to feed our deepest desires for authentic worship. I wonder if anything other than (less than?) this specific act of worship ultimately leaves us hungry?

    1. Also, in understanding the Eucharistic feast as the pinnacle of worship, I do not mean to say that other forms of worship are altogether unsatisfying…as everyone here seems to agree that many times those are the very environments that cultivate in us a deeper hunger. I just wonder if it isn’t the very sexual union of Christ and the Church through Communion that we need to sustain us.

      1. Hey Lauren,

        Thanks for these thoughts. Your phrase “sexual union of Christ and the Church” would likely freak out most Americans. It’s using the understanding of sexuality in a much larger way than we tend to think of it. But I think you’re absolutely right. It seems that where today’s church — at least the evangelical wing — has perhaps lost the most is regarding its eucharistic theology. The United Methodists actually just had a major meeting to discuss the possibilities of “Online Communion.” Thankfully, the result of the meeting was unanimous agreement not to allow the practice. The fact, though, that they even had a meeting about it was horrific to me.

        The loss of a deeper eucharistic theology seems to coincide with the kind of dichotomistic thinking that Caleb and Tom have been fighting against here. Specifically, dichotomies between body and soul, this world and the heavenly realm, the material and the spiritual… I’m not sure which is the chicken and which the egg, but they’re surely related. I’ve had a working book in my head for a while: *Absent from Flesh.*

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