House Bands and Smoke Machines

April 8, 2010

I was in a church recently and asked my wife why we couldn’t see the worship leader at the front. We both realized simultaneously that the “house band” was employing a smoke machine! I half expected David Lee Roth or Jon Bon Jovi to come flying out through the haze to the center spot. And yes, there were several spotlights.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine was showing me through their newly renovated “worship facility” and he humbly told me they just spent $50,000 on stage lighting for the band. I choked on my bile…I did. Then, I attended a local “worship” event two weeks ago where they had strobe lights, changing colors, sound effects and 12 speakers in the small church auditorium. The bass booster rivaled all the gang-banger cars in my neighborhood.

The final straw was an article in the local  newspaper quoting someone leaving an Easter Worship service at the local mega-church who said, “It was awesome. The band was really kickin”. I am trying to imagine God leaning back, listening to their songs and saying “Angel-dudes, come here…that band is really kickin'”

I am frustrated and feeling alone in this. My thoughts are all over the place these days with annoyance about church and music. I have wondered when the worship service got hijacked by CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). That was the actual thought that went through my mind. That is the same day I heard Michael Spencer (the Internet Monk) had passed away. In honor of this great writer and Christian, I went through some of his blog archives. I found this from 2002:

CCM is a commercial enterprise, owned largely by secular corporate interests, and certainly driven by the values of the entertainment industry more than those of the church. It is part of the entertainment culture, and only partially related to the culture of classic, orthodox Christian tradition. CCM has virtually no accountability to the larger Christian tradition, or even the Christian musical tradition. (A list of the “One Hundred Greatest Songs in Christian Music” shows no awareness of traditional gospel, country, Black gospel, Southern gospel or classical music. Odd, ignorant and sad.) As an industry, it has no accountability to the larger church and only rarely any accountability to the local church (with some refreshing exceptions.) It has no standards of doctrinal orthodox, and resists any notion that its lyrics may at times promote error and even heresy.

He is saying that what most churches call “worship” now is simply the decisive invasion of the Christian Music Industry into our church services. It is to the point now where so many new Christians have been taught this is the only way worship is done, to change it would cause a riot. When this is the only way “worship” is practiced in church, can you blame people for equating worship with CCM?

Worship is not about us. It is not about music.  It is not about feeling better when it’s over. It is telling God how much we think he is worth. (That’s what the word “worship” means….worth-ship) Now we don’t bother…instead, we tell the band how much they’re worth. Apparently, several hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology. I often wonder who many people are clapping for at the end of “worship songs”.

This is what makes me mad. Worship is not a concert! Hear those words again: Worship is not a concert. It is not even music. You can use music. You can do it at a concert. But you can do it on an airplane, in a tunnel, when all your children and possessions have been taken from you (remember Job) and you don’t have to have ANY MUSIC AT ALL!

You are going to hate me for saying this, but many, many churches don’t have worship services, they have well-constructed, highly entertaining concerts. That’s why they’re spending $18,000 on a projection system, $12,000 on a drum enclosure, $80,000 for a floor that looks and sounds like Starbucks, and Mackie mixers that make P Diddy drool (or whatever his name currently is). The churches that can’t afford this, or who would rather have a children’s pastor, are left behind as the crowds go to hear the next great concert church  that appeared overnight in a School gymnatorium.

They don’t have worship leaders, they have cheerleaders who lead us to believe it is a sin not to clap, to have a bad day, to not know the words to the 200th new song we’ve learned this year and who can make the last syllable of every ballad contain 18 modulated  notes. I am one of those who test pastors for their theological knowledge and so many “worship pastors” haven’t much of a clue about theology.

It is time to eliminate the professional musicians and American Idol audition cast from the front of our churches and let a few people who have mad and deep love for God be up there. People who appreciate that silence is worship too. That bringing an offering or submitting attitudes of greed to our Father is worship. It is time for a few songs we sang 20 years ago to be sung again: Perhaps for two Sundays in a row. Perhaps have a time where people talk to God and listen for his voice…oh, it would have to be quiet enough for that.

I yearn for the day when no one says “that was an awesome time of worship” after the ringing in the ears stops – and people say nothing because they are speechless and repentant in the presence of a Holy God.

And those who do have a love for technology: Get over it. Technology is certainly a valid tool, but when it becomes an end in itself, it is a curse and a distraction. I have ADD…I can’t watch the screen where new lyrics are flashing and concentrate when the stage has already changed colors five times while I’m doing it. Just as preachers and teachers need to learn not to use PowerPoint/EasyWorship so strangely (really? Do we need a Dancing Jesus in the corner of the screen?), so we need to say “less is more” when technology meets worship.

I think it is time to return to the simplicity of the Psalms, where there were both songs of praise and songs of lament. There are songs of triumph and songs of repentance. There are songs of adoration and songs where we deal with the reality of enemies.

And please, please, please, can we not sing a song 11 times through. In fact, can we stop singing occasionally and just be in awe in his presence.

I wrote all of the above and here is my pedigree: I love rock music. I listen to CCM. I go to concerts. I was one of the first pastors anywhere to bring drums into church. But leave the concert in the concert hall. And you can have all your new songs. Give me Jesus…and one or two new songs. And silence.

And anyone who says this is a discussion about hymns vs. choruses is going to be shut in the drum enclosure down the street.



  1. That was both funny and sad to read. Funny because it’s so ridiculous and sad because it’s so true=(

  2. Art.

    Art is personal and subjective. I can appreciate any worship environment that has been created carefully by artists in tune with their creator; be it hymns done in a beautiful old chapel or the latest Jesus Culture song done in a smoke filled auditorium.

    Hymns suck when they are done as a matter of tradition and modern worship sucks when it is a matter of strategy.

    I don’t totally understand the hearts and minds of true artists, but I am moved when they do their thing in a worship environment.

    But you’re right and it sounds like you’re as turned off by worship as performance as I am.

  3. Vince: Art is beautiful and can be offered as worship. And any music (hymns or otherwise) suck when done just as tradition and without meaning.

    But it is the complete dominance of music in worship…especially music that finds its origin in CCM, that is really bothering me.

    And the money being spent: That probably irks me as well.

    I feel more sermons coming on. Fortunately twice this year I teach at worship seminars, so I will save my ammunition for them.

  4. This is hilarious. My WordPress account continues to automatically publish my articles on Facebook about 6 hours after I write them. However, they only publish the first paragraph and then have a little link to go to the rest of the article.

    An old musical buddy of mine saw the first paragraph and then wrote “Awesome, I would love to see one of those guys lead worship”. I think he just proved my point better than I could.

  5. Thank you (again) for posting your observations on trends in churches in America. They are thought provoking. I personally prefer simplicity in communing with God. Thankfully, it is always accessible and requires no work, just a person’s will to choose to abide with Him.

    It is challenging living in a fast paced, loud, materialistic cultural where the 2 kingdoms conflict and the distraction of one can almost shut out hearing the voice of God. This calls for continual prayer for discretion, wisdom and fresh insight in how to creatively & lovingly reach the lost, care for the needy, train up believers & carry out His purpose for our lives. I have a few thoughts of my own, with finally some time to respond:

    1. it is a lonely voice and/or place at times to be a prophet, but I know that you know you are never alone (at least God is there!). Keep up the ‘rants’ and concerns regardless, because we need to hear, wake up and respond.
    2. you are showing your age:)
    3. the question to me is: whose heart, mind and will is behind the decisions of how money is spent and what particular message and how the message of God is delivered?
    4. I grieve more and more about people beating up the Bride of Christ, whether inside or outside of the Church. It reminds be of spousal abuse, especially for the female who feels she can never be “perfect” for her man. FYI, I praise God that this is not from lie based emotional thinking:) It is a God given burden and a very deep love I feel, carry and pray about regarding the body of Christ. I do know that is takes forces inside and out to purify the wrong believes that the church unfortunately conducts herself by,( with the #1 source being the Word). It seems so rare to hear or read what Christ’s Bride is maturing in. She should be modeling that of the godly woman of Proverbs 31. (of course, there is a big problem if she is not focusing on getting herself ready for her groom:)and is lured by the distractions of the world).

    I do not want religion, ‘orthodox’ or classic tradition, CCM, hymns, repetitive choruses, teaching/preaching at any season of life or period of history just because people decide it is right. If God is in it and being glorified, I think the challenge is to set ourselves aside and worship God in spirit and in truth. May His Bride-to-be fully wake up, come out of hiding, continue to be encouraged to grow in purity, do Her assignment(s) with Joy and hasten the Wedding Day. Maranatha.

  6. Mike, this is very strange..I had this exact conversation with someone in my office yesterday, making almost the exact same points that you had!

  7. Tom, you are obviously a very wise man. I, on the other hand, am just a wise guy.

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