Is the next "wave of worship" worth catching?

This past week, Megan and I took the kids to Litchfield Beach, in South Carolina. We ate seafood, built sand-castles, played games, and slept late.  

Also, we surfed.  Much to my delight there were decent little waves coming in for a few windows throughout the week.  Now, I am absolutely terrible at surfing.  But I love it as much as anything I’ve ever tried.  There are very few places I’d rather be than on a 9 foot board in 80 degree water on a 90 degree day. So out we went.  We rode dozens of waves, and every now and then, when the wind was just right, several of the waves began breaking pretty far out, re-forming, breaking again, and re-forming a third time before finally crashing on the shore.  When we managed to catch it just right, those waves were the most wonderful to ride.

Seeing those waves form and re-form reminded me of the discussion we started last month here on the blog.  In my last post I mentioned that it seems the wave of worship renewal that’s swept our generation is ripe for a re-forming, and any astute leader would do well to really re-consider where we are these days with our worship culture.

Several years ago, a brilliant megachurch in Atlanta began projecting their pastor onto a screen (in a mirror-image auditorium) with such success that church attenders couldn’t tell if he was actually live, in their room, or if in fact they were just watching him onscreen.  I remember thinking:  “Finding great worship leaders is about to go front-and-center for a whole lot of big churches.  If their pastor can be on 10 screens overnight, where are they going to find 10 worship leaders who can lead at the level they expect?”  

And here we are today.  

Leadership Network recently published results from a survey that said Worship Style was the most significant factor in drawing megachurch attendance, more significant than the senior pastor, or even the church’s reputation. 

I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, since at the level of popular culture we are certainly more interested in style than substance.

But it is concerning anytime our worship culture begins looking less and less like what we see in scripture, and more and more like what we see in popular culture.  

Of course, this is nothing new; it goes as far back as the children of Israel tending to look like their surrounding cultures.  God’s original idea of his people being set apart as a Kingdom of Priests was exchanged for the more popular Kingdom with Priests, and we’re still there.  Today, many of our worship services hardly champion the Priesthood of Believers. Instead we’ve settled for a (what I consider responsibility-eschewing) Priesthood of the Leaders where worshipers flock to churches, concerts, and conferences, leaning on the leaders to meet with God, hear from God, and speak to us for him, as opposed to each of us doing the same on our own. This was never God’s plan. And we shouldn’t be ok with it being ours. 

Something needs to change.

The more I read church history, the more clearly I see how many significant waves of change have come and gone that have led us to this point in worship culture. Some changes were wonderful, others were terrible, and most were a combination of the two. I’m sure our current culture is a mixed bag all its own, but as we keep moving forward, I’d love to throw out five anchors I see as paramount for any future leaders of worship:

  • Growing in the character of Jesus
  • Gaining competency, excellence, and skill
  • Grounded in the study of Scripture
  • Guided by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and
  • Greatly committed to the Great Commission.

We’ll come back to these at another time, and I know these aren’t ground-breaking character traits. (Actually they’re so basic it’s almost boring.) We as a worship culture have seriously emphasized certain ones of these over others.  But if you see cracks in the surface, you may have a crisis at the source. 

If we as leaders of worship aren’t solid at the source and most foundational levels, it’s only a matter of time ‘til stuff starts collapsing.

 If I see these five commitments displayed in the life of worship leader, I am as confident as I can ever be that we’re at least heading in the right direction.

I’d love to challenge any worshiper or worship leader to really evaluate yourself in light of these five areas.  To take just the first one:  Are we growing in the character of Christ?  Are we becoming more loving, more joyful, more prayerful?  Are we becoming more patient, more servant-hearted, more sacrificial?  In the last year, have we become more forgiving, more generous, more free?

Again, I know it’s neither explosive nor particularly exciting.  And I know that by and large, we prefer fireworks to candles (to borrow an analogy from NT Wright, who shared a few of his thoughts on worship here and here), but I wonder if part of this re-forming of worship is going to look less like the sensational booming of fireworks and more like the simple beauty of a candle’s flame.

What do you think?

P.S. I’m an awful surfer, but even I know the last place you want to be is behind the wave.  It’s one thing if you’ve shot out front: you can often settle back in, but if you get behind it, there’s probably no catching back up.  We haven’t missed this yet.  God is moving.  Let’s move with him.