What We Ask About Worship

One of my favorite features of the WordPress statistics page (web hits & clicks, etc.) is the “Search Engine Terms.” This means that if you Google a phrase that leads you to my blog, I’m told what the phrase is. For instance, I once wrote a blog about getting my butt stuck in the passenger seat of my car due to a bubble gum accident. Now, I’m privy to a good amount (more than you would think) of butt-gum internet searches: butt stuck in window, butt in gum, left butt stuck, my butt is stuck, and so forth.

By far, the most common search terms that bring people to my blog have to deal with worship. Last year, I was Freshly Pressed due to my blog Confessions of a Former Worship Leader. In short, my thesis was twofold: the church encourages musicianship without calling it music, or concerts, fostering a milieu of anxiety ridden (red-headed, guitar playing) church musicians; and the church, or us, has gone overboard, or obsessed, in presenting a program-over-people approach of worship.

I don’t mean to revisit the post fully; I have no intention of that. Personally, I’m very much beyond it (admittedly, because, I don’t attend Sunday service anymore). However, since the worship blog brings droves of readers to my site—with a bevy of search terms along with it—it seems wise to share what I have learned from the people who frequent my site.

SIDE NOTE: These search terms are used for education and discussion only, not to expose anyone’s dirty laundry. If enough take offense, I will be happy to reconsider the content of this post.

Searching

The worship conversation is still very much alive, the disconnect as well. Every day (not an exaggeration) I read search terms from people who are confused, angry, broken, curious, sometimes tormented by what the church (we) have labeled as “worship.” Others are looking for the “perfect team,” and others, still, for the “perfect formula.” The chasm, or disconnect, is growing wider, and that is unfortunate.

Here’s some selections from the past year with a few short comments at the bottom.

getting burnt out as a worship leader

after leading worship i feel empty

i picked the wrong person for worship

we can’t worship and honor god just any way we want

how to fix a broken worship team

raising your left hand during worship

worship should it be trendy

is it wrong to work up worship

difference between concert and praise night

worship leader struggles

is the praise n worship leader allowed to have sex

feeling believed in as a worship leader

the demise of the worship leader

how do worship leaders feel when leading worship

best way to set up my worship team

doubts about my role in worship team

why do we pump people to praise in church

our worship service has become a rock concert

don’t put on a concert when leading worship

using worship music to get in the mood to hear god

things to do to have a good worship singing session

should churches have a worship leader

have you ever thought that the worship leaders should be off to the side and everyone else can just worship

Forward

What does this all mean? Well, the old adage you can’t make everyone happy definitely holds true here. The church looks different through everyone’s eyes, worship especially: some want to rock harder, some want to rock less, some want to elevate others, some want to bomb the stage.

While I’m tempted to capture and exploit a theme, I won’t. Posting this was enough from me; I’m curious to hear from you. What does this say about us, our generation, our worship? Are we on the right track? Are we lost? Perhaps we are bored and endlessly searching. I don’t know.

Maybe you do.

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14 comments

  1. Good post, thanks Kevin. Of course, recalling another of your posts, this might be a cynical ploy by you to drum up some more stats, as you’ve previously hinted that your faith based posts get more traffic than others… or maybe this will fulfil your dream- your site will now come up when people search for butt-gum-worship!

    Sorry, being facetious and unkind there.

    I think its a real issue for many many people, partly because of the elusive nature of the subject- what is worship anyway? how do we define it? you may as well try to catch water or draw a picture of fire- you’ll get something, but never the whole thing. And someone else will get a slightly different understanding/piece of what it means.

    Sorry to hear you’re not part of a local faith community in Rochester… hope something comes along that allows you hear the voice of God within community sometime soon.

    1. Butt Gum Worship! Now that is something. Maybe if I ever start another band, I will name it that.

      No fears, Andy, my wife and I are very much apart of a local faith community (a home group type thing). We just don’t attend a formal Sunday service anywhere.

      And you’re right. Worship has many meanings, similar to love or Christian or church.

      1. good to hear that.
        How about some informal friday evening worship? We used to worship whilst clubbing (praying for other folks in the place, and not just the girls we wanted to talk to), and then have Saturday morning prayers over breakfast in a cafe…

        If you use the name, I expect credit!

  2. I can only speak from my (admittedly limited) experiences with “praise and worship” gatherings, but its easy to see how a leader might feel empty, a bit “sold-out” or over dramatic. There is a theme of sensationalism, of being emotional, almost uncontrollable, as if to give the illusion of being filled (possessed?) by the Holy Spirit. Worship leaders have taken on the unspoken role of being PERSUASIVE instead of convinced. I often felt like I was being sold something, through emotive music and charismatic speeches. Modern Christianity is perpetually in a state of “trying”. It has lost its grace, its unhurried acceptance of God’s will, and it seems to have stopped listening and just keeps trying to sell the church. With such an emphasis on newcomers, we’re left with the classic weekly “milky” teachings problem. We’re always going back to a basic presentation of the gospel, and therefore we lose the ability to advance spiritually through the church. There is no room for the “rubber meets the road” kinds of questions that helps us see our commonality as humans on earth as our shared relationship with the Almighty. Why don’t we hear discussions about the emptiness felt by worship leaders within the church? Why is it a secret problem? My belief is that hierarchies have become more important than humility. Church structure has unfortunately trumped basic Christian values. It used to be very different in The early days of the church.

    1. Kendall, this was fascinating. Thank you. Your statement, “Modern Christianity is perpetually in a state of ‘trying'” has effectively blown my mind! The “theme of sensationalism” or the illusion of possession within the church also bothers me. I don’t mind a “charismatic” service, but the label of a “charismatic church” creates issues. Why can’t church just be what it is—a group of people coming together without expectation.

  3. I’ve not been much to church in the past year. One Sunday I visited an Episcopal church and was reminded of my college days when I was part of a Lutheran church. I was frequently moved during different parts of the service, and often found it easy to focus on the attributes and work of God thanks to the rich language of the liturgy and
    hymns and the solemnity of the organ. Every Sunday I could count on being submerged in substantial language and led through rituals rich in meaning.

    During the 20 years I attended charismatic churches, I had many wonderful times of worship, but also many many Sundays in which I was annoyed by a leader’s pushiness (especially when they compared worship to a sports event), distracted by typos or grammatical errors in song lyrics (this led me to volunteer as a projectionist), bored because the same song was repeated for 15-20 minutes (I’m not kidding, my Dallas church averaged only 4-5 songs in the hour allocated to “worship”), frustrated by shallow or incoherent song content… I also wondered why “worship” consisted only of singing.

    I think charismatic and evangelical churches have a lot to learn from the liturgy and the great hymns.

    1. I relate to your experience so well. After a lifetime of attending evangelical churches, my wife and I have been (loosely, mostly home group) attending a Grace PCA church (Presbyterian). I thought I would hate liturgy! and all the classic reformed run-arounds, but I have to admit, there is an element about liturgy that is bonding. Your last sentence, “I think charismatic and evangelical churches have a lot to learn from the liturgy and the great hymn,” is true. At least I’m beginning to think so.

  4. While I value the contributions of youth in ministry, I now question my own pastoral decision to have principally teens and young adults lead worship. The “fire” they had for the Lord had yet to turn to glowing embers and was easily quenched by criticism from the pews.

    1. Tony, thank you. I would argue the age isn’t the problem (though a big factor), but rather the lack of supervision and open conversations from the church body. If there was one job I could see myself fulfilling in “ministry” ever again, it would be to counsel young people in service. I feel they are so often thrown (whether by themselves or someone else) into a position without proper fellowship and accountability. If I had someone to talk to, maybe on a weekly basis, when I was leading worship, I probably wouldn’t have burned out as big as I did.

  5. You don’t have to go to church to believe in God and the bible. Although I do watch a couple preachers on TV. No matter what, I have faith that can not be shaken, and no one can convince my otherwise. My faith is still strong! Mom

  6. The word worship has a massive question mark over it in my eyes. It has done for a while now. I no longer understand it, which might sound negative, but I actually feel like my disillusionment has come at a good price. I now see a real need for alternative definitions and methods of Worship, i wish this topic would be explored more often.

    My personal experience is that I no longer find worship the same, regardless of the setting, because I stumbled across something a few months ago. Which was my own state during worship, and i’m sure there are many others who are in the same state.
    I found that when I was worshiping i was in a kind of “AUTOPILOT” mode. I know the song, i sing the tune, i sway to the beat/music, I close my eyes. All these things are just general actions that i seem to have picked up subconsciously from seeing others throughout my life. How much of the congregation is in this state? I think think this is one of the main problems. We have these pre-conceived notions of what worship is “supposed” to be like – Just do a Google image search and you’ll get thousands of images of the same thing (bar a few exceptions – which are significant ones) Hands raised, eyes closed, singing, etc…
    I’d say that in some ways worshiping has almost become a religion in itself, because in the midst of all these questions is one common trend – the satisfaction of …..Christians, or the congregation, or even non-Christians, even satisfying ourselves.
    I’m not saying that Worship isn’t supposed to be satisfying, I just think that it shouldn’t be conditioned by so many unspoken yet implicit rules and obligations.

  7. I happened upon this post because a friend of mine posted it on Facebook: your last year’s post and then I found this one. Anything about worship tends to catch my eye. I definitely burned out as a worship leader, and I’m frustrated with church in general, for all the reasons that people have written about here in your comments. I’ve asked myself the same questions: what is the point of this performance-based worship? You’re right: a lot of the music is geared towards eliciting a response from the audience, or helping them to have an “experience” with God. While I want everyone to experience God, I find it robs us of true worship when we are focused on feeling something. That would be like me going on a date with my husband and instead of focusing on him, I focused on trying to get a feeling from him. That wouldn’t be any fun at all, and he’d feel I was being selfish. When you focus on the joy itself, you lose sight of the source of the joy, and you lose the joy as well.

    Music is the language of my heart. I can’t deny it. And there is a place for musical worship (let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water… Not that you have). I think God enjoys our music as well as the fact that we need it for unifying reasons. It is also a tool for indoctrination. At least that’s what the hymns were written for. The writers were battling heretical doctrines that were threatening the church. That’s why most (not all) of the old hymns are so full of rich doctrine. Nowadays the theology in worship music is all jacked up. Just because everyone has sung it for the past ten years, doesn’t mean its actually Biblically sound. So many songs are asking God to come, and fill the place with His presence. People see God as far away, like he needs to be asked to join his loved ones, when countless scriptures tell us He’s not only omnipresent, but He’s also one with our spirit. Nine out of ten songs are about me and how much I “will do” for God. The focus is on us. No wonder people are hungry for something more. We need to turn our focus back to the one who brings us joy. Joy is the result, not the focus.

    I think worship is more than music, and more than a lifestyle; it is a revelation of who God is. Until you really know who He is, the extent of His love, and what he has done for you, you can’t really worship. I can sing about His love, but if I don’t know He loves me deep down, I’m just singing words that might be vaguely encouraging. If I don’t trust Him to live through me, I’m living a “holy” lifestyle out of obligation. When He reveals Himself to a person, I can guarantee the result is an active expression of worship whether that be through singing or exclaiming or dancing or whatnot. Music just happens to be a beautiful expression of worship.

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