The American church is good at corporate worship. Granted, the vast majority of churches still consist of small congregations that are lucky to have a single piano player capable of hammering out a few hymns. However, as the church continues to move from scattered rural gatherings and merges into ever increasing urban audiences, our ability to produce a weekly worship experience is quickly becoming second to none. Even some secular venues fail to contend with the melodic and technological advancements made in the worship halls of American churches in the last 15-20 years. We are, without a doubt, good at it.
Our musicians are talented. Our techs are knowledgeable. Our productions are glorious. I recently watched a video from the Passion conference in Atlanta, Georgia. It takes place annually in the Georgia Dome to a crowd of thousands of college age students. Every year, it seems as if the production bar is raised a little higher. This year included a live stream conversation with the commander of the International Space Station, from the International Space Station! Many of our churches have similar spectacles. The production that happens across America on a typical Sunday morning is nothing short of extraordinary. It seems as if much of the church has become an expose of technological marvels interwoven into the corporate worship experience.
I don’t write all of this necessarily as a tongue-in-cheek negative assessment of the worship experience in the American church. I am pleased to see that the church has begun moving forward to capture the attention of a fast-paced and changing culture. I am equally pleased that we are willing to relinquish some of our sacred cows in an effort to, as Paul put it, “be all things to all people.” So, undoubtedly I encourage worship leaders to seek excellence in their own gifting and in that of corporate worship.
However, along with my appreciation for the forward strides we have made, I am also prone to questions. My main question has always centered on purpose. Why do we seek to produce such moments? Our answers typically revolve around glorifying God and advancing the Gospel. In that sense, I understand it. After all, what Christian doesn’t want to bring glory to our Creator and advance the truth of Jesus in the Earth? Nevertheless, I believe that God’s intent for the corporate worship experience may be much simpler than what we have produced it to be.
I believe we gather corporately to celebrate our common belief in the truth of Jesus Christ and the love of the Father. We come together to build our faith. And, our faith will never be built in isolation the way that it can be built in community (that’s a different article). We gather to grow relationally with our Savior and with a community of believers. My fear is that sometimes our production allows us to create isolation in a crowded room. It’s too easy for the show, rather than the relationships, to become the focus. It’s possible for people to be so entertained that they not only miss interaction with fellow believers, but they miss interaction with the King. This is the fine line of production in the American church. So, as there are two sides to everything, I have concluded that among our strengths, the fact that we are proficient at producing the corporate worship experience may also often times be our weakness. Being good at it can be a problem.
Honestly, my greatest moments of encounter did not come during the church’s greatest moments of production. The lights didn’t get me, nor did the smoke. The LED screens didn’t lead to my transformation. The fact that the transitions were smooth and the pastor was funny ultimately brought little change to my life. The service being produced down to the minute and fitting into my carefully planned schedule didn’t do it either. But then again, in reference to the salvation of the Cross, I was never a consumer looking to buy a product. I was a broken person in need of healing. I found it in simplicity.
The corporate worship experience and the church as a whole for that matter can benefit from reminding ourselves that the two most significant events in human history were as insignificantly produced as any other ordinary moment. No two events changed the course of history like the birth and subsequent death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, Yahweh didn’t see fit to produce either moment (at least not from a human standpoint).He merely introduced change to His creation in an era in history where man’s technological advancement was still incapable of turning it into a spectacle. There is beauty in what Yahweh communicates in this. We don’t have to produce Christianity; we just introduce Christ.
Entertainment requires production, healing does not. Joy requires no fabrication or manufacturing. Salvation does not necessitate smoke and lights. These things need only to be communicated and experienced. Let me be clear. I am not against all of the production that is happening in the American church. However, I am adamantly against the idea that we must produce a corporate experience to entertain masses of people so that they will pick our church over the other options. We must ask ourselves why we are producing something that was originally communicated in such simplistic terms. Again, I understand the attempt to be relevant in our culture. However, I believe that sometimes our attempt to offer hope shrouded in a production leads to hope being lost in a production. Though this is not always the case, we must be aware of the potential hazards to communicating clearly the message of the Cross.
Many of us found Him in simple moments. My most significant times with the Lord are still with small groups of people and little to no production. Just an acoustic guitar and a hunger for more of Christ. Additionally, the fact that much of the church feels that our productions must continue to increase in technicality and grandeur to ensure that our people don’t leave and go to the next great show, furthers my thoughts that we are trying too hard with the wrong elements. Sometimes productions can be so good that we don’t create simple moments. In reality, when people encounter the life-changing blood of Jesus that alters their very existence, we no longer have to create productions for them. They willingly seek the face of God whether you put on a show or not.
As a worship leader, I strive for simplicity. This doesn’t mean that I abandon the pursuit of excellence. This also doesn’t mean that I am against lights and LED screens. In my church, we have a full eight-member worship team every Sunday. However, I still find beauty and glory in the simplicity of Jesus Christ’s existence. That’s what I want to reflect in worship. The church shouldn’t fear simplicity or even awkward moments. We as worship leaders should not fear them either. It’s okay to strip the production down and just come face to face with the God of the universe on simple terms. After all, we must remember that the vast majority of the Church of Jesus Christ doesn’t exist inside the United States or worship with the same production capabilities that we do. Yet somehow, the tribes and peoples of the nations still find Him. It just tends to be with less demanding conditions and a much lower budget.
Ultimately, the truth of Jesus Christ needs no production. It only needs introduction. In my opinion, this is where our focus should reside in the corporate worship setting. As worship leaders, our production should always be secondary to our introduction of the living, breathing Savior. If introducing truth instead of producing shows became our focus, I believe the American church would find itself turning out far more disciples than it does consumers.
To my fellow worship leaders, I encourage you to find simplicity in worship. This doesn’t mean we should abandon excellence or the working of our craft. It also doesn’t mean we need to abandon all forms of production and sell our LED screens. I just encourage you to find beauty and glory in the simplicity of Jesus Christ’s existence. That is what I want to reflect in worship. The church shouldn’t fear simplicity or even awkward moments. We, as worship leaders, should not fear them either. It’s okay to strip the production down and just come face to face with the God of the universe on simple terms. After all, we must remember that the vast majority of the Church of Jesus Christ doesn’t exist inside the United States, or worship with the same production capabilities that we do. Yet somehow, the tribes and peoples of the nations still find Him. So if I could leave you with one challenge, it is to make production secondary to the simple reality of a living and breathing Savior. I think if we did that, the church as a whole would find itself producing far more disciples than it does consumers.
About the Writer
Josh serves as the worship pastor at Bethany Church in Quitman, Mississippi. In addition, Josh is a 7th grade social studies teacher and a coach at Quitman Jr. High School. Josh currently occupies the Bi-Vocational/Volunteer Portfolio under the Student Ministries Advisory Team. Josh’s areas of expertise and responsibilities include:
- Experience and expertise as a bi-vocational or volunteer youth leader.
- Advising the team about current developments, resources, and trends related to bi-vocational and volunteer youth ministry leaders.
- Serving as a resource and an advocate for bi-vocational and volunteer youth ministry leaders.
To contact Josh, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.