Leadership Journal has an interesting interview on worship with Chuck Swindoll, author of dozens of books over the years and more recently The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. In the latter Swindoll laments the degree to which worship has been replaced with entertainment, resulting in a weakened spiritual body both individually and corporately. Says Swindoll:
We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things.
I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it’s enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.
And alongside that is a corporate mentality. We’re tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). “We really shouldn’t look like a church.” I’ve heard that so much I want to vomit.
“Why?” I ask. “Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor’s office to look like a doctor’s office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church’s worship center to look like a talk show set?”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.”
Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.
But if we’re here to offer something the world can’t provide, why would I want to copy the world? There is plenty of television. There are plenty of talk shows. There are plenty of comedians. But there is not plenty of worship of the true and living God…
…everything must square with Scripture. We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up. Will it equip them to handle the world around them? Will it form them into the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?
…I’m not against screens, or new songs, or innovation. I just don’t like the gimmicks. I want to know when worship is over that that leader’s sole purpose was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s not important to himself, and I’m not.
Here’s what troubles me: I don’t know why leaders younger than me aren’t saying this. I’m not talking about novices, but the leaders in their forties and fifties.
Why aren’t they raising questions and showing some concern for where the church is heading with its focus on media and headcount and passive spectating? I know one church that has 17 people on their media staff and only 12 on the pastoral staff.
When a church is spending more of its budget on media than shepherding, something is out of whack. We have gotten things twisted around. My book is simply saying come back, folks. I’m not against innovation. But we need more wisdom.
Take a minute and read the entire discussion as Swindoll answers questions such as:
- Early in your book you say that when the church becomes an entertainment center, biblical literacy is the first casualty. So why do you think the church has become so enamored with entertainment?
- We can look back before modern technology entered the sanctuary and see the same values at work. The crusades of Billy Graham, the revivals of the Great Awakening, even all the way back to the Reformation, you see that Martin Luther used music and forms of worship that were relevant to his German culture. So what’s wrong with taking relevant cultural expressions in the 21st century and using them in our worship?
- Speak to the 35-year-old pastor leading a young, growing church. The ministry is focused on communicating the gospel and honoring Christ, but he wants to incorporate more technology and media. How does that pastor know how far to go? What are the red flags he and his team should look for?
- Let’s talk about what you do on Sunday morning. How do you discern the difference between the genuine presence of God among his people, and a fabricated experience generated by the staging, music, and lights?
- You are a very engaging communicator. Philip Yancey even said that “Charles Swindoll doesn’t have a boring bone in his body.” Some might even say that you are very entertaining to listen to. How do you reconcile that with what you’ve just said about the dangers of being entertainment driven? How do you ensure that people attracted to your ministry are engaging it for the right reason?
We’re not of the opinion that corporate worship has to look like it did in the 1600’s, the 1850’s, the 1970’s or any other era in history. But we are of the opinion that it should be centered on God, focused on God, and should enhance one’s awareness of God’s goodness, holiness, transcendence, bigness, awesomeness, and presence among us.
If the focus is on stage personalities, celebrities, and a cool atmosphere designed to facilitate acceptance of a speaker’s message, Jesus probably isn’t the focus of worship. Worship is what we do in response to God. The work we hope to see taking place in the hearts of the people is the work of the Holy Spirit.
We do not worship God when we delight in Sunday morning shows, and real life change is not facilitated by convincing people we really are cool in order to get them to listen to us and ultimately respond to the message.
After all, real Christianity isn’t cool or politically popular, and the biblical emphasis on godliness and an “others first” lifestyle isn’t particularly helpful in climbing the ladder of success. We shouldn’t present a version of the faith that is any different than what it really is.