Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests

You don’t have to spend much time in a mainline congregation to overhear someone bemoaning our traditional worship and pointing to those huge evangelical churches that get all the kids to come because of their hip and cool worship. When we see Praise Bands, a lot of us get a little church envy. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to be around Praise Bands and Evangelical style worship, which leads me to a secret about Mainliners: we all get a little envious of mega church praise and worship.

Image source - http://lauraturner.religionnews.com
Image source – http://lauraturner.religionnews.com

That being said, my experience with Praise Bands has become increasingly one of alienation. I just can’t access Praise music anymore, I don’t hear Praise songs as the music of worship. I find myself wondering why I am just standing there, in the midst of a group of people who are also not singing. As the Praise band performs song after song, I am consistently lost as to how the music goes, what verses will come next, how to follow the melody, when to start and stop singing, or when a random guitar solo will be thrown in right when I thought I had figured out when the next verse starts. Even some Praise Bands folks recognize themselves just how alienating their shtick can be:

My alienation with Praise music isn’t because I am not musical or don’t know what is going on in worship. I am a pastor after all, I have been in worship LOTS. I play a number of instruments. I had played in music ensembles, secular and church, I have even played in Praise Bands. I can sing well enough to chant, most melodies are easy enough to pick up and I prefer singing parts from sheet music.

So if I am standing there feeling alienated by Praise music because I can’t follow along, what about most other people? What about those who didn’t spend a significant portion of their childhood being musically educated and playing music in church?

Lots of Praise Bands are full of talented musicians. They often perform very well, better than some professional artists who mostly lip sync. Some of the Praise Bands I have heard could easily be found in local bars or pubs playing for young adult hipsters and no one would bat an eyelash.

Most recently, as I stood listening to a Praise band overwhelm my senses with their loud music (crap… I sound old), the lead singer’s beautiful interpretations of song melodies, and the random guitar solos, I looked around at the people in the pews with me. Most were just standing there too, not singing, not really being a part of the music at all. We are all just bystanders to the moment, we were being played at, rather than played with.

As a Lutheran, I am rooted in a tradition that advocates for the role of folks in the pews. In Medieval worship, the people had become unnecessary for worship. The priests spoke Latin, and the people didn’t. The priests had stuff to say and pray, the people just stood there. The priests often faced away from the people to the altar, ignoring the people. The priests even whispered secret prayers to themselves, and only served themselves the wine at communion, because the people might spill the blood of Christ. Sometimes priests said mass all by themselves, people weren’t even necessary for worship to happen. The priests had all special knowledge and privilege, they basically performed worship at the people.

Martin Luther, the key dude of the Reformation didn’t like this at all. He translated the bible into the language of the people. AND he also translated worship into the language of the people. Liturgy (which means ‘work of the people’, but also refers to those rote prayers, litanies, responses, music etc…) was changed so that the people could be included. No more secret prayers, no more facing away from the people, priests spoke in the language that most people understood, and worship was about participation and designed to be for the people. Worship was so that the people could hear the Gospel, instead of be bystanders to the hocus-pocus magic. The assembly, all the people gathered for worship, were now considered necessary.

Now 500 years later, despite all lessons of the Reformation that Protestants –  Mainliners and even Evangelicals – have been teaching, we are going back to non-participatory, secret language, performance worship. Just like priests who lead worship in a language that few spoke, Praise Bands are incompatible with a worship that is done by the community. Rock Bands are by design meant to overwhelm the audience with sound. They are a performative medium, not a participatory one.

Worship Bands have become new ‘Medieval Priests’. It is becoming more and more clear to me that we are unnecessary bystanders to most of what Praise Bands do. They play so loud that our singing is unnecessary, so we don’t sing. They sing in such highly interpretative ways, that we can’t follow melodies. They use screens with words intended to be easy to read, but that mean we can’t see what is coming and half the time, the screens are wrong, even in the most mega of mega churches.

What happened? When did we forget the lessons that our forebearers fought to teach us? 

I suspect it has something to do with over-emphasis on the individual in North American Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism. We don’t often worship as communities any more, we worship as a group of individuals. More like the folks in a movie theatre, than the folks playing a team sport. I also think it has something to do with our suspicion of history, of tradition, or anything old or ancient, we are obsessed by what is new.

Praise Bands have lost the worship plot. They are more about performance and than facilitation of worship. Praise Bands at their best completely exclude the Body gathered to worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFull disclosure: I am fully aware that when I lead worship in my ancient vestments and with ancient liturgies, many can feel alienated. But Liturgy as its best is meant to include and to reconcile. Liturgy is a team sport, where each is given a role, and where no individual can go it alone. Just like any team sport, it takes learning and practice to know what is going on and to play well.

Liturgical worship has stood the test of time, it has been around for 2000 years. You can see our liturgical roots in the writings of the early Christian church. Liturgical worship will remain as long as Christ’s church does. I don’t know if the same can be said for Praise Bands. Praise Bands just may go the way of the Medieval priest saying mass to himself in the dusty corner of a cathedral. Praise Bands are likely to become an obscure historical footnote, remembered only by those wishing to take up the ancient priestly performance.

So, are Praise Bands excluding people from worship? What is our way forward? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

UPDATE: There has been a lot of thoughtful conversation here in the comments , on Facebook and on Twitter. I written a followup post that hopefully addresses some of the comments which you can find here: I want Mumford & Sons to Play at My Church

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54 thoughts on “Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests”

  1. There are musicians who seek to enable the worship of the people with words that have meaning & then there are those who seek to promote themselves. It is possible to offer music of great beauty to which we just listen. My younger daughter sings in a cathedral choir in England & when I join the congregation there on a Saturday evening for Anglican Choral Evensong, often after a busy day, I love to sit, listen to the music and meditate on the text of the liturgy which I have known since I was a boy. I hope that I have been shaped by those words and the music to which they are sung. Next Sunday I will lead worship in an Anglican parish with a praise band led by a musician for whom I have a high regard. I love the contrast.

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  2. I think Praise Bands can lead the music in worship, but it requires that they go against what their medium naturally promotes. I have led worship with my guitar hundreds of times. My issue isn’t one of instrumentation or the age of the music, it is with the natural tendency of Praise Bands to drown the congregation out.

    I do recognize that organs can do this too, however, it is less likely.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of praise bands vs congregational singing of “traditional” hymns. When I spoke to my brother (pastor of a mega-contemporary church) about my observation that few of the hundreds of people at the service I attended in his church were singing, but only watching the praise band perform, he acknowledged that it is, indeed, a performance.

      I’ll stick to my liturgical vestments and hymns that actually teach something of substance or contemplative songs like those from Taizé that are designed to draw people deep and inward rather than to whip up emotion.

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  3. I agree 100% with your take on this and have been puzzled by the phenomenon. I have been to a parish that has a contemporary service on 1 Sunday in each month. The attendance on this service increases by about a third but no one sings along. The “extra” people attending these services though are not young people (the young people are usually there all the time) but generally tend to be older folk. On Traditional worship services, the crowd is smaller but everyone sings. I have always identified parishes as either “singing” or “non-singing” This parish is definitely a singing parish, so this rise in attendance coupled with the reduced participation doesn’t make sense to me.

    I also have a problem with some (certainly not all) of the music that praise bands “perform”. I refer to these as “Jesus is my boyfriend” tunes that tend to focus on the individual’s personal relationship with God rather than the corporate themes in liturgical music. I have heard one song that is presented as a “creed” song and there is a line something to the effect of, “If I believe Jesus died for my sins, then I am a miracle”. I don’t really understand this line, but if it says what think it means, then I definitely do not want to sing it as a creed.

    I have never had a problem with different instrument groupings in leading worship but am uncomfortable with those who “perform”. As a church musician I have a job, and that is to assist in the corporate worship of the parish. I leave performance to the secular part of my life.

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  4. I believe it is very unfair to “tar all with the same brush” as the saying goes. Many (most in my experience) Praise bands are very sensitive to their role of facilitating the worship of the people and not being performance oriented. I have had the experience of being excluded in traditional worship music by organists and choirs who think that it is their role, as folks with special knowledge of the language of music, to perform the gift of worship on my behalf. Do I think all organists and choirs think along those lines? No, I don’t. Just as I don’t judge that all Praise bands are like medieval priests – turning their back on the people, speaking in a language that no one can understand and performing worship at the Body of Christ rather than inviting it into worship with them. I have grown up in the liturgical tradition and appreciate the history & beauty of ancient liturgies, vestments and traditions but let’s not get stuck there. I am also happy to see the inclusion of a new generation’s views and modes of worship.

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    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response June! Of course, it isn’t possible to say that every Praise Band is excluding worshippers and all other types of worship are inclusive. However, my greatest hope is that we all plan and lead worship with intention. I think Praise Bands can choose their leadership style because it is cool, and in the same way liturgists can choose their style because it is tradition. Either way is not enough of a reason. Like Martin Luther, my hope regardless of the instrument providing the accompaniment is that worship will be the work of the people.

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    2. I have also found myself alienated by traditional music, esp. the implication that I and my fellow congregants should be able to read music fluently to effectively participate in worship. One of my previous pastors once told me to look around on Sunday morning and notice how many people hold their hymnal but never sing. He was right. No matter the type of music, many people simply don’t sing in worship.

      Interestingly, I found this blog because of a discussion in my church and my firm belief, based on the theory of ‘critical pedagogy,’ that most churches ‘privilege’ musical literacy. Whether it’s praise music or ‘traditional’ hymns (we somehow forget that such hymns are a relatively new invention and that liturgical music has a long history ignored by both current, dominant forms of church music), the ability to communicate in and decode Western musical notation provides certain people within congregations a level of power that others cannot access.

      I think Christians need to ask, “How do we help worshipers feel as if they are comfortable and able to participate?” For me, that clearly begins with asking church musicians, singers, and choir directors to begin examining their own privilege and power within the church.

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      1. Suggesting that the ability to read music is an elitist prerequisite for ‘traditional’ worship is a straw man argument, not remotely true. Traditional hymns are built to be straightforward, memorable, and easily navigated. Congregations who don’t sing tend to be those who are not energised by the lead clergy and/or musicians; alternatively, those accustomed to worship songs where participation is difficult.

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    3. I tend to agree with you June- is there possibly a way that Praise Bands can represent a new and different way for us to engage in the worship? When the youth Praise Band at our church leads the service, I see more people engage, clapping, singing and well, praising. Perhaps there is a gray area between ‘performance oriented Praise Bands’ and ‘worship oriented Praise Bands’

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  5. I’m soooo glad you wrote this… I came from church the other day and googled, “Should praise bands have drums” because they’d been so distracting I could hardly focus (guess I’m old too), but I couldn’t find any meaningful discussion on praise music except for how great it is and how bands sound ’empty’ without drums. I don’t have any philosophical beefs with drums or praise bands for that matter, I just often find they distract me from worship rather than draw me to it.

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  6. Erik, as an Anglican priest I cannot agree with you more regarding your assessment of the value of liturgical worship, the increasingly individualistic mindset of worship and the trajectory of the modern praise band.

    I will say this, I believe there is a way in which praise bands can reverse their inevitable demise. They must begin to ask themselves whether they are a band who is here (in the sanctuary) to entertain, or a team that is here to help others worship the Lord more fully? I have personally seen the right intent of “praise bands” come about in two churches that I currently serve. Their intent becomes clear when you hear that these praise groups use the word “team” instead of “band” so as to emphasize the purpose of coming together to help others worship God. They understand that if people are not able to worship, their team has failed to accomplish the work of their ministry. And if that is the case, they will make immediate adjustments. Furthermore, when coming together to plan out songs for the service, they seek pieces where the lyrical focus is on corporate, rather than individual, worship. Lastly, they see liturgy as an integral part of worship that cannot be ignored or downplayed. Personally I believe that this is a healthy way forward for any “praise band”, and if other bands can embrace this ethic, they will not see a gradual decline, but a growth.

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  7. Are you saying those that are leading praise bands in worship are not being lead by God? they do not have the spirit of God leading them? I believe that is where praise bands, choirs, orchestra’s, jazz bands, chanters, ios bands, air bands, percussion bands, etc. can be cause for concern. Without the worshipful spirit of God leading a worship service its easy to believe those partaking in the service are likely not receiving the worshipful spirit of God also.

    in 1723 the following was supposedly written about Issac Watts music:
    There are several reasons for opposing it.
    One, it’s too new.
    Two, it’s often worldly, even blasphemous.
    The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style.
    Because there are so many songs, you can’t learn them all.
    It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than Godly lyrics.
    This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly.
    The preceding generation got along without it.
    It’s a money making scene and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.

    Psalm 150:5

    New International Version (NIV)

    5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

    Do praise and loudness go together?

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  8. Well said, and I agree with your analysis of why praise bands are popular. It is also part and parcel of the phenomenon in certain sectors of the evangelical world wherein a kind of shadow culture exists. Praise bands are simply the bar bands of the church, as you intimate. In a strange way, it is a safe way to be the church: it facilitates “conversion” because the new world simply mirrors much of what I knew in the old. Alas the foundations have hardly been shaken…

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  9. When worship teams proactively seek God’s wisdom through prayer, thoughtful consideration as to lyrics and placement of songs alongside scripture and messages from the pastor, discusses the songs amongst team members and asks them to consider how we can convey the meaning to the congregation, teaches new songs to the congregation, and attempts to keep most songs that are familiar so people will sing along, it is NO DIFFERENT than liturgical or “traditional” styles of worship. I too have seen churches that “peform” both in a modern or traditional style and don’t have much participation from the congregation. But I have witnessed over and over sincere, true, passionate worship in all styles. For some, the “loud” music and even including the instrument of the devil DRUMS and BASS inspire or help them to worship even more freely than they otherwise would with other types of worship. This is an age old problem any time there is change.

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  10. From John Wesley’s Directions for Singing in Worship…VII. “Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.”

    I lead worship at two traditional and one contemporary service each Sunday. I see more participation (I’m not talking about numbers) in general — singing, sharing in prayer, responding to sermon, children engaged, etc. — in the contemporary service than I do the traditional.

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  11. I find this most unhelpful because it relies too heavily on straw man arguments and “worship wars” lingo of the 80s and 90s. Either you like the style of music or you don’t — and contemporary rock worship music varies from place to place and artist to artist that it is ridiculous to paint with such a broad brush.

    That said, you make some good points that, if they weren’t so absolute and hardened, would be good starting points for a discourse.

    Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:
    1) Contemporary rock worship in its current form relies on repetition. This means that you (assuming for a moment that the leadership is planning well, is following that plan, and is working to build long term community) probably won’t engage in the songs the first couple times you hear them. This is the nature of the beast when you live in (as you mentioned) a society that is not largely musically literate. It would not help to give millenials sheet music in the same way that it helps boomers to give them a hymn book. Instead, the culture is built on listening and repetition. Do you sing along with the radio? Why? Because you’ve heard the songs a 1/2 dozen times or more, and you engage them due to familiarity. A good worship leader engages that same phenomenon.
    2) If you only attend a church a couple times (like a visitor), or if you only attend your local church once a month, it is likely that you’re missing all of the well-planned repetition that the leadership has built-in to the long term structure of the service precisely so that you’ll become familiarized. This is also why once/month contemporary services don’t work very well — because there is not enough frequency to build familiarity. By the end of a Christmas season even a newcomer to Christmas music (on the radio) would know when the guitar solo to “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree” happens because they’ve heard it dozens of times in a short period.
    3) It is an assumed core part of the contemporary worship genre that the congregation engages it outside the Sunday worship experience. This is often accomplished through “Christian” radio (I know, eyes are rolling — mine too) and the music that you can only find at “Christian” bookstores (worship albums/cds/mp3s). There is an assumed shared culture. If you do contemporary church, you also listen to David Crowder Band CDs in your car, etc. etc.

    This paradigm is especially difficult to engage for late-coming mainline churches (like the ones I’ve served for over a dozen years). This is mostly true due not to “inaccessible songs” or “guitar solos” or “loudness”… as I’ve heard some pretty damn loud organ music on Easter morning, and the congregation engages it wholeheartedly (funny, just like you find in evangelical churches where they always do epic contemporary worship). The difference is not the old “worship wars” explanations that you trotted out (BTW, read books from the late 80s and early 90s and *everyone* was making those exact same arguments… old hat). Rather, a couple of reasons that they don’t engage is that A) the songs that good mainline contemporary worship leaders might choose are *not* the same as the ones that are played on the conservative evangelical Christian radio stations. They might be by some of the same artists, but often they are “album cuts” that are more inline with the theology of the denomination. A good mainline worship leader is sensitive to the theological differences… but this also is an automatic “ding” against them in terms of congregational familiarity. It takes that many more in-worship repetitions for the congregation to get on board with new songs.

    This is why the congregation must be on board with the vision of the service and know that it is their responsibility to learn and listen outside the service — which is often overlooked by even the best leadership. Social media offers one such solution. I often post youtube videos to a church’s website weeks in advance of introducing new songs. That way congregation members who actually care about being participants in worship can learn ahead — including knowing where all the guitar solos happen etc.

    The best bands and leadership will learn the songs as closely as possible to the recording expressly so that familiarity with the recording can be an asset and point of solidarity with the congregation. This is why taking current contemporary worship songs and making them into badly performed simplified 7/11 songs is actually an injustice to the congregation (and to the song). Well and consistently performed songs are easily picked up by a radio-savvy and pop music savvy group of people.

    Mainlines also often do not commit fully to a format. So, they’ll do contemporary once/month and wonder why it doesn’t work. They’ll underpay the contemporary worship leader staff position and wonder why the quality is low, the planning is bad, and the long term eye toward community development is nonexistent. They’ll under-support bands… expecting one person and his/her guitar to be able to replicate a music format that requires a substantial investment in sound, projection, lighting, and musicianship… not to mention a 5+ piece band. Epic guitar solos can sweep worshipers off their feet — think of the people who attend a Coldplay concert. Are we surprised that a college student and his $150 guitar just don’t offer inspiration or provide the necessary leadership to duplicate that epic-ness?

    If (unsung) Bach organ preludes can be appreciated in churches and extolled for centuries as the finest liturgical tools for centering, worshiping, etc, then I don’t see how anyone could say that radio-style rock music is “too complicated” nor can we say that all music must be explicitly participatory lest it be a “secret language.” Do traditional worship lovers label Bach preludes as a “secret” and “inaccessible” language of the dark ages? Come on. If Coldplay, or the Beatles, or Lady Gaga, or the David Crowder can engage crowds of 50,000 people in a stadium sing-along that inspires everyone there, it pretty much blasts the argument that church can’t be loud or epic and still engage the congregation.

    So, I get it. You don’t like the current form of contemporary rock worship music that you experienced in certain churches that you visited. Maybe it was total crap. I’ve been to a LOT of crap worship services in my time. God knows there are probably more examples of “bad” out there than “good” (often for a number of the reasons I mentioned above). Maybe the leadership didn’t know what they were doing in those specific instances, and maybe the congregation was not engaged. Probably your personal experiences are completely valid… but let’s not crap on the entire genre just because you have a bone to pick from a few bad experiences…. please? I know it is hard — ESPECIALLY for those who wish for a mainline contemporary worship experience that doesn’t suck… but then again, is it the genre’s fault, or is it a combination of circumstances that result in a poorly executed situation that has nothing to do with the style at all?

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  12. Me thinks thou dost have the wrong volume

    As a Sound Engineer, Bassist, Music School grad, and Christian since the 80’s I’ve had my fair share of worship bands in different churches. I’ve also purchased a few concert tickets in my time. One thing I can say for certain is that I’ve see concert goers worship better than some churches. Now if the concerts are 105dB or better that sort of rules out sound pressure level as the cause of people not worshiping. So we have to look elsewhere.

    Think of your favorite band. Think back to when they were the most popular. How many albums did they have? How many songs were on each album?

    Lets say they have 5 albums out. 3 that were not popular and 2 that are hot and have 2-3 #1 hits on them. When you went to see this band play they pulled most of their set list from the last two albums. They may throw in 3-4 songs from the first 3 albums and maybe one from their next. But all in all your looking at tops 12 songs in the set. The radio stations play the hot stuff in a quick rotation, And the band plays the same set all summer as they tour.

    Switch over to the church. In the last 20 years we have recycled more hymnals than any other item in our churches. The overhead projector gave us the freedom to break from the same old same old. When we sign up for CCLI we have access to all their licensed material. That’s Thousands upon thousands of songs. We never have to repeat a song again. We can tailor our worship sets to have a song that hits each one of the pastors points in his sermon. If we don’t find a song we can write one and within minutes of showing up at church have it in the presentation software.

    So what’s the difference here? It’s not the volume of the speakers its the volume of the repertoire. If you don’t allow your congregation to learn and absorb the songs they sing into their personal repertoire, they will have no other recourse than to stand there and listen.

    At least with the hymnals you had the music in front of you. If you knew how to read it you had at least a shot at trying to sing along. Now we have 15 words on a screen with moving backgrounds that look cool. It will take the average person weeks to learn a song and absorb it. If you don’t do that song every week then we are talking Months.

    The Best worship leader values repetition over variety. They not only lead by playing but they lead by teaching the congregation how to use the song to worship God. They hold on to the songs that are cherished by the congregation and only put them in the file cabinet when the church is tired of them. And they refrain from introducing new music until there is truly a need for something new.

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  13. You shoot down your own argument with this quote, “Full disclosure: I am fully aware that when I lead worship in my ancient vestments and with ancient liturgies, many can feel alienated. But Liturgy as its best is meant to include and to reconcile. Liturgy is a team sport, where each is given a role, and where no individual can go it alone. Just like any team sport, it takes learning and practice to know what is going on and to play well.”

    This can be equally applied to “contemporary worship”. In the sentence that begins with the word “but” simply remove liturgy and put in “contemporary worship”.

    For the record, I am a fan of both. I wish such polarizing articles would no longer need to be written.

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  14. Oh goodness… As long as mainline denominations promote such a backward view of what it means to worship, criticizing one of the media (plural of medium) that God is using to lead people to Christ, they will continue to decline. If those sedentary denominations continue to stick their heads in the sand, there is no hope. Perhaps that’s God’s plan. Churches that are no longer culturally relevant will not continue to live. Denominations may not prosper, but the Church of Jesus Christ will always prevail. This is tangible evidence of theological snobbery rampant in our old way of looking at things.

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  15. I don’t have anything to add to the discussion. Your commentary on leading and participating a communal event reminded me of an old rock video. If you have 4 or so minutes, check out Queen Live Aid “Radio Ga Ga” on You Tube.

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  16. I’m pretty late to this discussion, but… well put, Erik. As a fan of Mumford and Sons, cellist, guitarist, campfire singalong leader, lover of ancient hymnody, liturg-o-phile, advocate of participatory worship, and pastor myself, I couldn’t be more supportive of your point of view on music in church. Here’s an interesting clip from Arcade Fire on their attitude towards the concert event: http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/Arts%2Band%2BEntertainment/ID/2441837871/
    Maybe the church could also stand to look a little more carnivalesque!

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  17. I follow you and mostly agree. Nevertheless, you meant “rote prayers” and performative is not the adjectival form of performer. Performative worship is what liturgy does.

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  18. There is no need to reinvent worship.

    The Orthodox Church expresses 2000 years of liturgical, biblical worship. Just return to the Church in Antioch. Acts 11:26

    …earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. Jude 1:3

    Jeremiah 6:16 This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

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  19. I have a Facebook group – Being Church-Dr Amy’s List – that often discusses this and related topics. I would also like to suggest “When You Come Together,” a book about the gathering of believers. It seems to me that there is a growing discontent with the performance orientation of church gatherings, but not much experience in doing anything else – so how do we change? These resources might help.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/136697600074/

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  20. There is also the blended praise band/worship leader who will happily jangle his/her guitar around the same song 500 times until finally on the 501st someone in the congregation will finally go down front for the requisite praying over and laying on of hands. At a church I once attended, we used to argue over whose turn it was to go forward and end the madness. Cynical? You bet. And I returned to the traditional service before I got really angry.

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  21. Reblogged this on Strangers at the Gate and commented:
    I do not stand very firmly in any particular ‘camp’ regarding modern vs ‘traditional worship – whatever those terms means. I can remember exactly the experience the author describes with regard to worship/praise bands but the same anomie is my regular experience at Choral Evensong as well. Worship should be participatory, regardless of the tradition it claims to stand in.

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  22. I thought I would add my perspective as I have experience of both singing in a church choir and playing in a praise band as a vocalist/drummer. As mentioned by many others, the motive of the musicians is key and problems can be found in both sides of the musical divide. In a praise band context, it would be very unusual to find a musician who did not have a personal faith, whereas quite a few church choir singers I have met sing because they like choral music but don’t have a particular faith. Choirs can exclude the congregation just as much as bands. A choir anthem while the congregation is taking communion is an acceptable time for performance (as would be a praise band solo piece as long as it’s not too loud), but in some formal churches/cathedrals, the liturgy is interspersed with choir pieces in which the congregation is not invited to participate. I am not denying the same problem can occur with praise bands. They differ greatly, partly as a result of the musicians available and the size of the venue. I would say most praise bands intend to lead worship and I have always found most people singing along pretty well (and in some churches jump and dance), which helps as the band in which I currently play has no specialist singer and is pretty much acoustic un-miked in a small church. I am sure there are praise bands who play too loudly or for their own glory, but surely there are choirs and conductors who have the same mindset.

    Dr Maxwell Barnish

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  23. I get so sick of hearing these sentiments bashing modern church, mega church movement, rock music in church, etc. The one common denominator I always seem to find is that the people that write these articles and/or make these sentiments work at/go to declining churches, have been let go by mega churches, or similar. Jealous maybe? Yes the author admits it in the beginning. Listen people, if the style of worship music and how it’s presented bothers you that much, go somewhere else. If you feel alienated by it, then by all means find a new home. For every person that doesn’t “look” engaged in worship there is another that is flat-out sold-out to it. Are we to judge whether they are really “getting it”? Let’s concentrate on what the church preaches, how it acts to the community, the love of it’s people, etc. and judge it by that criteria. I’m not a fan necessarily of the “style” of mega churches, but who cares? If I had one criticism for mega churches is that they often focus too much on leading someone to Christ, and not the crucial steps after. This is changing though. Stop squabbling about style of music and go help someone in your neighborhood. Sorry I sound harsh but I just can’t hold it in.

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  24. It’s ironic to me that the same arguments you used in defense of liturgy can be turned in defense of contemporary just as easy – It seems to me that Luther – given that he ‘comtemporized’ the church traditions of his day, would favor a contemporary worship model today – granted – there are a great many problems that we have with ‘rock star’ mentality among worship leaders – and also with churches who believe that a younger, hipper worship leader is what brings people in the doors – just the same – I’m happy to live in an era where God works through both liturgical and contemporary models of worship and somehow – despite and in spite of our preferences, opinions and whatnot – still manages to reach people.

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    1. Luther made some changes to worship, mostly he deleted the elements of the liturgy that were about priests saying secret prayers to themselves. He added the hymn of the day. Otherwise, as Catholic monk and priest, he would have followed the liturgy everyday. To say he ‘contemporized’ the liturgy would be inaccurate.

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  25. Hello, layman Baptist violinist & guitarist here (love to visit and occasionally worship at my uncle’s Lutheran church too!) I’m always reading, trying to improve musically, so thank you for your thoughtful post.

    I get your points but do wonder if pastoral leaders understand what it’s like to try and (re-)produce sincere worship? Perhaps, but whichever way one understands, I recently decided to take my guitar and join a small worship band outside the church. We now occasionally play thoughtful original worship at low volumes, perhaps at church, perhaps not. Why?

    I found playing guitar in the church meant having to work with an ever changing number of people, meaning we never develop mature sound. Probably not a concern for pastoral leaders, but something within reach (for me). I certainly understand why our talented worship pastor includes all and it’s commendable but not necessarily artistic.

    This is similar to a layman having an interest in Greek. Nobody cares. Mulling over the scripture in beginning Greek is something a layman does by themselves to better seek His presence. Similar to playing skillfully.

    Of course the church, which is Christ’s body, isn’t there to just facilitate artistry. Instead at church with music, we should be aiming to involve all in singing highest praises. This has led me to take my worship guitar elsewhere–at least to a small band–having a goal of playing skilled contemporary guitar music is generally too much for church. Still, if a talented contemporary band should cross your path then give them a nod for trying to help, for having a heart for God.

    Pastors, you have the harder work and I do my best not to detract. I think this is right approach.

    Looking forward to singing a song at church… old and new!

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  26. I would suggest that the simple reason that Praise bands don’t resonate with you is that they don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs. Everyone has a language and our culture has more languages than ever. As at Pentecost, the Gospel will need to go forth in every dialect. I have been to large liturgical churches where relatively few people sing and to large contemporary services where everyone sings. It’s not a function of the style: its a function of the appropriateness of the language. I don’t speak German, so even the most excellent hymn sung in Luther’s native tongue would fall on my deaf ears. Instead of insisting that we all speak the same language, I would encourage us all to speak the same truth…in love…in whatever tongue God has given our voice. If we don’t “get it,” it may mean we just don’t speak the language.

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  27. Umm. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of what medieval priests did (and still do today in the traditional Latin Mass) “The priests often faced away from the people to the altar, ignoring the people. The priests even whispered secret prayers to themselves, and only served themselves the wine at communion, because the people might spill the blood of Christ.” The priest does not face “away” but “with” the people all facing God (liturgical east). Unlike the “worship leader” the priest is not the center of attention. The altar is. Also he does not whisper prayers to himself, but rather to God. The whole Mass is a prayer directed to God with the occasional reference to a congregation to remind them that they are joined with the priest in the sacrificial act (hardly ignoring them). In recent years, the host and chalice are offered to the people more frequently.

    As for praise bands. Popular music has always been with us. Medieval hymns were the pop music of the day (although that term had no meaning in the Middle Ages). The friction always exists among the faithful according to where they are in a faith journey. Pop music draws in for many, but to stay with it can be infantilizing. Deeper spiritual roots are dug with richer music. Some hymns are good for this, but so is Gregorian chant, polyphony and modern part music (not pop).

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  28. Michael, thanks for pointing out the historical inaccuracies there. It’s ironic that individualism is cited as an issue in the article, since it’s an attitude of individualism that would cause one to speak of the priest facing “Away from the people” instead of “Facing God with the people.” Where’s the centre of attention? Not the priest. Not the people. If the author truly loves liturgy, he should really do some more research on it instead of propitiating old misunderstandings that could be solved with a quick google search. It’s not just the Medieval Church that practised mass with the priest facing with the people. The Eastern Church as well as the Roman Church have always done that, (at least, for the Romans, until Vatican II. :P)

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  29. As a Praise Band worship leader, my dialogical response to your article is two-fold. First, every worship and music ministry’s goal should be active participation. Some contemporary churches sing well, some contemporary churches do not sing well. Some traditional churches sing well, some traditional churches do not sing well. We should all be striving for active participation. After all, as you noted, leitourgia is about the work of the people.

    Secondly, numerous Praise Band churches have adopted the rock liturgy, hence the struggle with “performancism” and other ambiances related to rock music. My point here is that our liturgies probably need to be revisited and revised (I can only truly give this recommendation to low-church evangelicals, as that is my experience). This rock liturgy influence has also affected our worship spaces, so we need to be reflect on this as well.

    Look forward to future exchanges with you, Rev. Erik. Peace be with you!

    Jason Palmer, B.S.M.
    Worship Leader and Musician
    Administrator of TalkingWorship.com

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