Every Sunday morning across this nation, people wake up to go to church. Some do it out of ritual and some do it because they feel it is their responsibility as a Christian to go to church. Still others go because they simply love going to church.
I am now starting my sixth decade of being involved in church. I was raised in church and have always gone to church. In my 51 years of life, I have been involved in many different churches and many different styles. But in recent years, I have come to the conclusion that we in 21st century America have simply lost sight of what Christ ordained when He began the church.
For those of us who have some biblical background, we know in our head that the church is not a building and it is not a methodology. We know there are two definitions of church. There is the universal church that encompasses all Believers everywhere and there is the local church which in the New Testament is a gathering of Believers. The church was not a building nor was it a corporation. The Greek word translated church is Ecclesia which simply means, “The called out ones”. We are called out to be disciples of Christ – to make a difference in our world by being a light that shines God’s love. But sadly most of us look at church more as the place we go and/or the corporation that runs it.
To prove this, we simply have to look at phrases that we use almost every week.
- We GO to Church – Every Sunday we “go to church” We go to a building. We are never called to go to church. We are the called out ones, not the ones who are called into a building. If we were truly focusing our lives on Christ, we would be more concerned about being the church on Monday through Saturday to our world around us than we are going to church on Sunday. It does no good to go to church is we aren’t being the church.
- We HAVE Church – This is perhaps the phrase that bothers me the most. You sometimes hear this phrase uttered from the stage by the worship leader right after a rousing song when he says, “Now we are having church.” Or perhaps the pastor says something like that after he makes a particular strong point. My friends, a rousing song or a strong point is not having church. I sometimes want to stop them right after making that statement and ask, “What does it biblically mean to ‘have church.’” What if we focuses more on “being the church,” of doing those things Christ did and what He told us to do? Does singing a rousing song mean we are having church more than when we feed the hungry or give to the poor or evangelize the lost? Please pastors and worship leaders, turn our focus on Christ and His commandments and not to the emotion of a rousing a song or strong point. Emotion does not equal having church.
- We PLAN Church – We plan how to get the people in and out of the auditorium. We plan each moment of our service. We plan which songs to sing, when to pray, when to make announcements, and when to preach. There is nothing wrong with planning the Sunday morning service. In fact, I believe we should plan the Sunday morning service. Otherwise, we run the risk of producing chaos. But here is the danger to planning church. We start to focus on the plan of the day and we forget to focus on Christ. I’m not even going to talk about how so many churches have become the church version of multi-million dollar corporations, complete with CEO’s and a Board of Directors. I am going to simply focus on the Sunday morning plan.
Worship time is perhaps the biggest culprit in replacing a focus on Christ with a focus on the church.
I am not going to debate whether or not a contemporary type style or a traditional style is better. They both have their merits. Truth be told, if I had to choose, I would choose a contemporary worship service as long as it does not become a production or a show. Unfortunately, too many churches have now created a production each Sunday morning rather than a true time of worshipping God. Allow me to explain what I mean.
- In many churches, the worship leader is an official position or office at the church. I have no personal problems with that idea on its own. However, in many cases, the position of worship leader has been elevated to such a high position that we forget that biblically, there is no such position listed in the church. Ephesians 4 tells us that God gave different roles to Christians within a local church for the purpose of training each person to works of ministry. If you look carefully at the positions God ordained for the church, worship leader is not one of them. He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors, and some to be teachers. In Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3, we also see deacons given to the church to help people who are in need. I do understand the value of worship and I am not saying we should not have a time of worship in our Sunday morning services. I am saying though, that churches should be very careful on the emphasis they have on a person leading worship when worship leading is not even an officially God-ordained position for the church. Unfortunately, often times people choose a church based on its worship leader or worship style. That is replacing Christ and Bible focus with church focus.
- In our society, “good” worship leaders are said to “usher us into the presence of God.” Most good worship leaders even believe that it is their responsibility and the responsibility of their team to “usher us into the presence of God” or in some cases they even say they are there to invite and usher God’s presence into the auditorium.
- Friends, this is such an unbiblical thought that even borders on the level of heresy.
- Matthew 18:20 tells us that when two or more are gathered together in Christ’s name, He is there in the midst of them. So if the Sunday morning church service has people who are there in Jesus name, then there is no need to “usher us into God’s presence.” He is already there. No worship leader can bring God there.
- So why do worship leaders think they need to usher us into God’s presence? Quite simply, it is the fact that subconsciously (if not on purpose), they believe that being in God’s presence must be accompanied by certain emotional reactions. And somehow they believe that if those emotional reactions are not visible, if people are not raising their hands or swaying or clapping their hands, then they must not be in the presence of God. And what better way to stir the emotions than through music? That’s why we have music. Whether we are talking rock, pop, blues, country, or Christian, music by its very nature is designed to stir the emotions.
- The truth of the matter is that good worship leaders can manipulate the emotions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t even take God in the midst of us to stir our emotions. Years ago, I used to make a season highlight film of my basketball teams after the season was over. At the end of each season’s film, I would choose a song and pictures that were specifically designed to stir an emotional reaction. I knew that if I could make the moms cry in those closing moments of the film, I had pulled it off successfully. That is the power of music done at specific and designed times. “Good” Worship Leaders are masters of this craft. Let me give you an example. At a certain church, I can predict exactly when “God is going to move” every Sunday. After singing a few songs, the worship leader has the audience sit down as the worship team and a few hundred member choir performs a particularly rousing and moving song. They are usually great songs. But without fail, I can tell you exactly when the majority of the audience will “spontaneously” stand to their feet and raise their hands. It happens every week. It’s either planned and by design or God moves at the same time in the same way every single week. Believe me, I know what they are doing. Its by design. I am not saying that performing these songs are wrong, but let’s call it what it is. It is designed on purpose to stir the emotions for a desired response.
- 1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that there is only one mediator between God and man and it is not the worship leader. It is Jesus Christ Himself. The only way to be in the presence of God is through Jesus Christ. A man, a band, an orchestra, or a choir cannot bring us to God. Only Christ can do that.
God is not waiting for us to sing a certain song or reach a certain volume level or have enough people raise their hands, etc. before He comes. In fact, God is already in the room. To think that God waits for our invitation and waits for some man or some band to usher Him in is relegating God to the status of what we call false gods in other religions. These “worship” rituals we go through are nothing more than a new face on the same thing the prophets of Baal did in Elijah’s time to usher in the presence of Baal onto the altars at Mt Carmel. It didn’t work for them, yet we try to do the same thing. Instead, maybe we should simply do what Elijah did and pray.
Does God need rotating spotlights that fade from color to color combined with smoke machines that give the stage the ambiance of a concert in order to bring His presence into a room? Or is this simply a tool we use to trick our emotions into thinking God is now closer to us than He was before the music started. Or heaven forbid, is to something we do simply to enhance the performance?
Many churches sing songs claiming that it is all about Jesus all the while demonstrating that it is all about the people on the stage. If it is truly all about Jesus, then why are we bombarded with images of the band on the big screen? If it is all about Jesus, why is it that we have to see the masterful hands of the guitarist as he runs through an electric guitar solo between verses in a song? Does that draw our focus to Christ or the talent of the musician? Why not just show the words on the screen so that we can focus on both the words of the song and the one to whom the song is about instead of seeing people performing? Why do we need to focus on the people who are performing?
Preaching or Teaching Time
In addition to worship becoming a performance on the stage, often times we see people focusing on the pastor, his personality, or delivery style. We all like to hear preachers who make it easy to listen to. No one wants to be bored in church while listening to a preacher. But let me ask a few questions to help us examine whether we are focusing more on the church or on Christ and the Word of God.
- Is the focus on the message or on the messenger?
- If we leave church feeling good about the message because the pastor kept our attention, but we don’t really learn anything new or are motivated to walk deeper in our relationship with Christ we are probably focused more on the messenger than the message.
- If the pastor spent more time telling personal stories or making us laugh (as entertaining as that might be) than he did talking about a passage in the Bible and how it applies to our lives then we are focusing more on the messenger than we are the message.
- Is the message from the Bible? Most people’s first reaction to this question would be to quickly answer, “Of course it is from the Bible. He even had verses to prove it.” But truly, there are many pastors out there, even good and godly pastors who do not really preach from the Bible. Let me explain this further.
- There are different types of messages you hear in churches. In fact, in any one given church, it is quite possible that you will hear on different Sundays any variety of these kind of messages. They are as follows:
- Unscriptural messages. These are messages that though sound good are actually teaching something contrary to Scripture. Many of us could point to churches who teach unscriptural things. Some do it on purpose and actually believe things that are directly contrary to Scriptures. Those are churches we should completely avoid.
- Extrascriptural messages. These are messages that though they may be true and good (ie 12 step programs, 5 love languages, financial advice, time management, etc.) are not specifically taught in the Bible. There may be nothing wrong with the truths that are presented in the message, but due to the fact that they are not something found in the Bible, they have no place being taught in the church. Save it for a seminar. Only the Bible should be taught in church.
- Scripturally based messages. These are messages that have a point to be made and the point is loosely based on Scripture. These messages start with a point and then bring in verses, often hopping from passage to passage to help support the point. This is often done in topical type teaching. The pastor chooses a topic to talk about and uses various Bible passages to help make his point. For instance, the topic might be on relationships and within the message are a variety of good things to do to ensure good relationships. Hopefully, each point has Bible verses to directly correlate to each point. However, this style is quite susceptible to what is commonly known as prooftexting. When finding verses to try to back up a point, these verses are often ripped out of context and they literally do not mean what they are being used to mean.
- Scriptural messages. These are Messages that start from the Scriptures and expound from there into application. The main difference between Scriptural messages and Scripturally based messages is that Scriptural messages start with the Bible where Scripturally based messages start with the topic. The Scriptural messages do not deviate from the Scriptures. They do not hop all over the Bible to try to prove a point, but they start with a passage of the Bible, explain it, and give application to it.
- The first two types of messages puts the focus on the message and not the Bible and the God of the Bible. The second two are more biblical focuses. But the third one runs the risk of talking only about what the pastor wants to talk about, whereas the fourth one starts and ends with the Bible. To truly and consistently put our focus on God and His Word, pastors should more often than not, practice teaching Scriptural messages.
In closing, I want to reiterate that I am not for one style of church and against another style. I am not pro or con mega churches or small churches. The truth of the matter, neither are run from the same model that first church had. Last summer, I had a 13 week podcast from the book of Acts on exactly what I believe the church should look like. You can find the entire series on itunes at Time Out With Coach B. However, my purpose in this blog is to hopefully open eyes to the fact that so many churches are inadvertently focusing more on what they do at church than they are the God of the church. My prayer is that churches across this world will not worry so much about their performance that draws attention to the stage, but rather began to focus much more on the Bible and the God of the Bible.