Christian House Bands and Smoke Machines

March 13, 2013

We’re counting down the ten top posts on this blog over the past ten years. This was from three years ago. It is my favorite rant.

smoke machineI 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 using 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. […] is being spent on lighting and sound systems. If you want to know how I feel about these, look at this blog entry from a couple of years ago. I am not […]

  2. A question is, would anybody come if there was no music, just preaching? Many seem to go to church for the music and tolerate the preaching.

    • I agree Montana Man. My take on the condition of today’s church is that the quality of preaching has actually deteriorated while the quality of music has improved considerably. Having said that, it still isn’t a good rationale for creating concerts in church. There is a middle ground we can find. What we miss the most with the concert atmosphere is a sense of community; which in my opinion is the most important part of church.

  3. Finally! I’m not the only one who gets on their soap about this… And I am a worship leader at a home missions church where we sing a lot of older songs because their meaning and worshipfulness. They are also easy for new people to learn and understand. We do have some new songs, but I am picky about them. I wouldn’t want to turn off the Spirit in a service. I found this blog while doing research for an essay I had to write. God doesn’t need any flashy lights or fog machines to conjure up His spirit, if He did, He could do it Himself. Being over the youth the last few minutes baths has been an eye opener as well. Some events are so loud I have to wear earplugs do to ear problems. Some songs are meaningful, but it’s hard to worship when cringing in pain. Thankfully no fog machine or flashing lights are present (usually.) praying for this new way of thinking about worship/praise services. It’s a very important part of a service. Supposed to help us get our minds focused on God to hear His word.

    • Sorry about the auto correct mistakes.

  4. I love this..I am just a disgusted as you. I am where is the real church at???

  5. I love this..I am just a disgusted as you. I am like where is the real church at???

  6. Please do not feel alone! I am searching for real worship! Real worship changes you and you cannot help it. I’m not mad at the people with the fancy lights, I just wish they would tone it down a bit and not try to force it.

  7. I am totally frustrated with the flashing lights, fog machines, and loud music. Migraines are activated by the flashing lights, Your ears hurt because of the loud music. No one seems to care in the church. I guess we accept it or find another church because “we” don’t fit into this type of church’s vision…so sad that it makes we cry to feel that I don’t matter and I have to move on.

    • I totally understand…people might say well get with the times…your just old fashion. God says, ” I change not”
      He is holy….if we truly knew who God was we would in total awe of him. Not our great our guitar riffs sound …our cool beanies and jeans and converse shoes.

  8. We recently added a “modern worship” service to follow the blended style worship service we have been offering for over three decades. The modern service features a small band, edgy lighted props, backlights, and strobe lighting on the bright stage in the otherwise darkened sanctuary. In contrast, the blended service features a choir, orchestra, rhythm band, and a small team of lead vocals. The lights are dimmed here and there, but the room never goes completely dark.

    The addition of this concert-style service is more or less a preference issue..one that many in the church believed to be unnecessary since we blend a vast array of styles already. It seems to me the bright lighting directs all eyes on the stage..not on the Lord..and, since when did worship become about making people feel comfortable and less conspicuous..i.e.hiding in the dark?

    We won’t be worshiping before the Throne in Heaven in the dark. God is enthroned in majesty and His magnificent light will fill every square inch of His heavenly Kingdom. I want to SEE the people with whom I am growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.

    Another thing.. All of the response is directed behind the scenes..i.e. outside the place of worship and/or via the church website. Well, obviously, no one would be able to find a pastor in the dark room, but the online response seems to be rather impersonal evangelism.

    The Lord of His Church must be so sad to see what passes for true worship these days.

  9. All I know is as the word say, ” He must increase I must decrease” John 3:30…. How are we suppose to do this with fog smoke and blinding lights? Aren’t we drawing attention to ourselves instead of God? He doesn’t need any help from us…His spirit is there of we search with humble and sincere hearts. Have a great week everyone. https://www.zazzle.com/starbucksfrapp

  10. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR MESSAGE. I WAS BEGINNING TO THINK I WAS BEING HIGHLY CRTICAL OF THE JAMBOURI I WALKED OUT OF. I went to Costa in the quiet and read the book i had in my bag ‘Hungry for more of Jesus’.
    Why do we applaud the pastor – no-one applauds my WORK – and i wouldn’t want them too. Thank God there are a few others lost, bewildered devastated and thats after we went to ‘church’.

  11. […] we need fancy stunts? Do we need extreme stage lights and fog machines? Do we need motivational speeches? Do we need to change the church so we can attract the goats […]

  12. Satanic beats, no more reverence for the holiness of God. Is this worship when the band plays for 35 min and the message is for 15 min. Religion of Men !!!!!

  13. Thank you for posting your thoughts. You are not alone.
    We’ve been attending a smaller mega for the past three years. Last year our church actually hired someone from Vegas(!) to control lights/sounds during praise&worship. Technically, it’s all very well done. Lots of smoke, lights, great moving graphics on the overhead.
    The service feels very much like a concert, with breaks for emotional appeals to request money, etc.
    We’ve been praying about what to do and I think it’s time to go….

    • I’m sorry it has come to that for you. I am hearing this response from a lot of people these days.

  14. Are We Able To Hire The Smoke MAchine For Our School Disco?

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