Fast food worship
Why I am cynical about the approach of modern worship, writes Baptist minister Michael Shaw
I returned from my sabbatical recently. My time away had, through my reading, the places I went and just the space to think, had taught me about how I relate to God in prayer and worship. I had kept on top of my emails but still had a few hundred to get through. But I got one on the day I got back inviting me to a new ministry in Devon and Cornwall.
I enquired about the breadth and depth of the course, and received a very quick response saying that while it acknowledged other forms of worship, it was primarily to equip people for charismatic style worship i.e. bands and choruses. I passed it to my worship team and they were very quick to respond:
“Oh dear, oh dear… this is exactly why I get frustrated”
“Having ‘train’ and ‘worship’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron! Totally takes the rawness out of it.”
These were two of the responses, and to be honest, I agreed. But why? Am I just being my usual cynical self?
Firstly, it comes from a church plant from a well-known movement from within the Anglican tradition. These church ‘plants’ are more like franchise churches. You take the same model of church, plant it near a university and drag Christians from across the city to your ‘resource’ church, so that in a few years-time, you will send those people back to resource the areas you dragged them from in the first place. Now I like a cheeky takeaway, but we all know that salty, sugary food cannot sustain you. I think it's the same with this model of church: it will have a detrimental effect on your spiritual health. These franchises attract Christians from across the city, you know that after a while you will need something better for you.
The worship these churches offer is simple but liminal. They are events you travel to. You are not a full participant, it is done for you. In my experience they do not encourage a lifestyle of worship, and nor do we see the fruits of true worship, justice, which is the warning of Isaiah 58, because they are all about my experience of God.
Secondly, the problem I have with this form of church and worship is that it is what many young Christians, who have been brought up in a church sub-culture, want from church. However if you ask the average person on the street if they would like to come to visit a church where you sing upbeat worship songs for 45 mins, and then a man (and it is mostly a man) will talk to you for 25-40 mins before being called up for prayer, I know very few people outside of that church culture who will think that is a good way to spend their Sunday evening.
This way of doing church attracts those used to the culture but has no relevance to people outside that culture. In my part of the city (inner-city deprived) it is not something they are going to get on a bus for!
This form of worship, which dominates most of the Christian festivals, is enjoyable, but so is a KFC. It will not sustain and nourish your longer term. In addition it will get Christians to drive (climate change anyone?) past many churches to get their “fix”, and it will not attract people outside of our culture.
So nobody from my church will be going, and while I wish them well, I hope that we can offer worship that is broader, deeper and less focused on performance - and will enable people from outside our culture to meet with God.
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