Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Heart "Bent" on Worship

(Note: See Jon Birch's site for more comics like the one on the right)

Since we have left our church I have chewed on the idea of worship. I was disheartened because there was nothing in me that wanted return to a worship service. I was not sure I would even like it anymore. I was afraid to go back and the idea frankly made me a little sick. This disturbed me greatly because music is so important to my spirit. I know it can connect me to God, to others and to his body. I love music. Others, who I read about and listen to, seem to have not taken anything bad from their experiences in worship and seemingly it was the one thing that they missed the most from their institutional churches. So why did I not want to go back? What was up with that?

Robbymac blogged about worship leaders the other day in Whips, Flames and Morpheus the Worship Leader. Please read this. He defines the two kinds of worship leaders. Those that stress that you “perform” in worship and those that just worship and allow you to enter if you wish. After reading this and thinking on it, I may know a bit more of why I am so reluctant to go back to a worship service.

Now let me be the first to say that worship in my CLB was pretty stellar. Our leaders were impassioned people who did not carry a strong arm into the worship space. We were known for our worship. But at the same time there was this unsaid, unspoken idea (at least in my thinking) that if you were just sitting there while everyone else was outwardly worshiping that you were not “entering in” and could actually impede the work of the Holy Spirit. “True believers” worship freely. This meant that you could see them worship.

I was a leader in this church. I sat on the front row. I therefore, needed to put on a good front. People needed to see me worship so they could follow me and worship too. I did not want to impede the Holy Spirit. I became convinced that to truly look spiritual I needed to raise my hands, dance a bit when called for, look joyful for the joyful songs, somber for the repentance songs and passionate for the more passionate songs. I needed to somehow outwardly show that I was actually worshiping. I have realized in the past few days that I had made it into a production about me, my leadership, my godliness, my qualifications, my holiness, me, me, me.

No wonder it makes me sick now.

And that is what is so hard. Was this really taught at my CLB or was this just my own bent heart wanting to fit in and be recognized? I would love to take a survey of all that sat in the same services as I did. Was it just me? Was I the only one that believed this subtle, twisted message? Did everyone there who were raising their hands, kneeling or dancing really mean it or was it a show for some? Did we as leaders let people know that is wasn’t ok just to be there and not perform? What was actually said?

So many times I want to point my finger at the institution for all its problems and what it does to people but then I realize that the institution that is fundamentally and primarily flawed is my own heart.

For that I repent.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonbirch @ 12:00 am


Cindy said...

Barb, thanks for this open and honest post. I'm all over it. I have to be up front in worship. There are few moments in worship when I'm not analyzing what i'm doing and why i'm doing it-- and that, in and of itself, takes my focus off of God and puts in on me. But the fear of performance --or the appearance of performance-- drives me to maintain the introspection. It's all just exhausting.

Erin said...

Oh Barb - I'm so in tune with your heart on this. I can't even tell you. I don't have anything to add at the moment, except that while it might have something to do with my heart, it also has to do with the environment. Both/And.

Alan Knox said...


I can only speak for myself here. But, for years, I have been told what God expected of me in "worship". After years of doing my duty, those activities became virtually synonymous with "worship". When I finally began asking for myself what God expected, I found something completely different. But, even though I "knew" God didn't expect, need, or possibly want those activities, the activities themselves were still equated with worship in my mind, heart, emotions, and body.

I'm learning more and more that my habits tend to deceive me. But, God is changing me and teaching me what worship truly is. (I still like to sing, though. :)


Anonymous said...

Isn't it interesting that we define "worship service" by what is done during one hour on a Sunday morning? Of course, this indeed can be worship but it is only the smallest slice of worship since scripture pretty clearly tells us that how we live every day in each activity and moment is worship. Romans 12:1 being only the most explicit verse but also verses like Micah 6:8 or Psalm 51:17, etc.

May all of today and each day be an act of worship to the one true and mighty God!

Sarah said...

I admire your candor. I agree with Erin and think 'both/and' is a good answer. Institutions tend to reflect the personalities of the people who organize, maintain and participate in them. And then there can be this social phenomenon of groupthink (for lack of a better term) that becomes a powerful form of social/behavioral control that cannot be traced back to one individual (or group of individuals), but is corporate in nature. It's not just leadership, but everyone who participates in keeping up good appearances.

Everyone kind of implicitly pressures everyone else in the group to conform. And everyone fears the consequences of failing to measure up. So everyone is both perpetrator and victim in a sense. In that way, the problem is more systemic than individual. But it is the sum of all the individuals who are participating in "the performance." This is man-made religion in its highest form.

One of my favorite writers is Vaclav Havel who was a Czech dissident during the Soviet era. He wrote extensively on "refusing to play the game" that their socialist society had constructed. I think that many of his insights are applicable to many churches in America today. Soviet socialism was a kind of religion, with its own doublespeak and social control. I learned a lot from his writings...

Btw, I identify with what Alan wrote. My whole concept of worship has dramatically changed in the past several years.

Watchman said...

As a former person who stood on stage with a guitar and led people to sing and the like, I find your post strikes too close to home. What we know as worship, I was considered an "expert." Did it, taught on it, trained people in it. Now I have no idea if any of it was legit. I sometimes feel like a fool as I think back on those days.

I guess the good thing for folks like us, however, is that is has generated a quest for determining what is authentic. Maybe that expression was authentic at that time, but it certainly would not be for me now. No turning back now.


Barb said...

Cindy, Erin, Traveller, Sarah, Watchman and all others who sometimes comment on this blog,

I really hope that people who happen onto my blog read the comment section. Your input is so valuable to the conversation. It outshines the orriginal article! With only my post it is simply like a preacher on a sunday morning. You only get his point of view. With the comments it becomes a rigid form of a dinner table. Wouldn't it be wonderful to sit down and actually have a conversation about these things. Hopefully that will happen in my life someday.

Mary said...

I can really relate to what you wrote. I don't know if I'm ready to be in a traditional worship service yet - too much baggage. I also appreciate the comments others have made - dinner sounds wonderful, too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, dinner sounds extraordinarily nice. Perhaps not surprising since the first "worship services" or gatherings of the ecclesia were just that....a meal in which the followers of Jesus shared their lives together. No doubt there was teaching, singing and other aspects we associate with "worship services" today but they arose spontaneously out of who the people were as followers of Jesus. One of the things I have learned in recent years is how much more powerful these things are when the Holy Spirit is creating it as opposed to humans trying to control matters.

Until that meal, may grace abound to each!

Sarah said...

I would love a dinner party with the likes of commentors on this blog! That would be fantastic! Plus, we could all try your cinnamon rolls. Mmm...

Anonymous said...

I still can't sing the songs we sang at our old church Barb. They bother me. It always felt like striving. like forced warfare. i hated that. And I hated sitting in the front. Though that one pastor's son who sat next to me with his black sharpe mustache used to make my sunday worship service soooooo much better. :)

Anonymous said...

on the other hand, the urge to have to look like you were engaged during worship certainly didn't come form the very top (the big jk) as he seemed to feel quite satisfied to sit with his arms crossed the whole time ;)

Sue said...

Hey Barb,

I feel my shoulders and stomach have all clenched up since reading this post. I even hate the way it's called "worship", as if it's the only legitimate expression, as if what we all do at home in those little heartburst moments of praise and adoration aren't worship. *That's* the real worship. The church service variety is just ... manipulated coercion.

*Sigh* I am so far away from going back to a church service. I just can't do it.