Contemporary worship leader, please know that I’ll benefit from some of your songs and won’t complain to any member of the church. But, please know that it’s not easy for me. I know I’ll never be able to play in the worship band again. And, no matter what you say, in my heart I know there’s something better, something more centered on Jesus, His holiness, His cross, His initiative, and His grace.
Even though I love rock music and church music, mixing them together is like oil and water. I’ll admit it: I’m a recovering contemporary Christian music worship leader. At one time, I even played my fluorescent yellow Ibanez Saber in the church rock band–guitar solos and all! Now, there was no smoke machine, no breathing fire, no levitating drum kit, but there were too many similarities to a rock concert. (OK, not to Kiss, but at least, say, to The Outfield or Counting Crows maybe?) Here are some of the reasons why I wouldn’t play in a church rock band today.
It’s distracting. I don’t want to contribute to an atmosphere that will distracting people from the worship of God. The songs sometimes have such little melody, and sometimes people don‘t really even sing but just “float”–that’s what I call it when people lift up their hands, maybe close their eyes, and repeat words over and over as they sway back and forth. One church I was involved with would sometimes turn off the lights. It sometimes looks like people are entering an altered state of consciousness, like in some Eastern religious cult. (Read Hank Hanegraaff’s book Counterfeit Revival for some extreme instances of this.) That’s not for me.
The songs of the church rock band focus on “me” too often. Some of these songs focus on what people are doing, whether lifting up their hands, singing, or praising. They focus on the “act” of worship rather than God as the “object” of worship. I’d like to go to church to get away from the jerk I call myself for a little while, to leave him behind (in one sense, at least) while I‘m at church. I‘d like to see God’s holiness and forgiveness through Jesus. Focusing on me and how good I am as I sing isn’t what I have in mind.
I don’t want to manipulate anyone. If I strummed my guitar faster and faster, I bet people would rock out, and maybe begin to float a little. They might clap at the end of the song, maybe even whistle or give the band a standing ovation. This goes back to being distracting at the very least, and at worst, is manipulative. If my task would be to turn peoples’ thoughts toward the words of the songs, or bring any edification through our minds, through which we’re supposed to love God, this wouldn‘t be the way to do it.
I don’t enjoy being negative. I don’t like criticizing songs, what other people are doing, or having to deal with my own improper judgment in the first place. I know there’s a place for criticism for sure, but it’s not something that I really enjoy doing at the end of the day. I find myself criticizing the people on the stage, the multi-colored stage lights, and the people floating all around me. I have enough struggles in my life to even want to begin to think about all of this.
I want to enjoy going to church! Yes, church is important to me! The contemporary worship leader may say that if I can’t worship it’s my fault because the songs are good. Fair enough–some of the songs have good words, and decent people are singing them all around me. I should be able to worship God in any and every place! Nevertheless, is church really supposed to be this difficult? If so, why? If I would enjoy a more traditional service, with responsive readings, corporate prayers, people not doing distracting things, and hymns that are more focused on God and Jesus than on the “act” of worship, why is this such a bad thing?
I don’t think I’m just getting old. My convictions actually changed a long time ago. Contemporary worship leader, please know that I’ll benefit from some of your songs and won’t complain to any member of the church. But, please know that it’s not easy for me. I know I’ll never be able to play in the worship band again. And, no matter what you say, in my heart I know there’s something better, something more centered on Jesus, His holiness, His cross, His initiative, and His grace.
Ernest Mann lives and worships in California.