I was reading some articles on the Internet today and discovered a series of articles and observations on what’s happening in student worship these days. Having served as a student minister for fifteen years, I thought I would see what’s up in the youth culture.
What’s up? Weird is what’s up. Strange stuff is on the horizon as we become an increasingly ‘spiritual’ society – while at the same time becoming increasingly carnal. While there were several very good aspects to these articles I was concerned by what I sensed was missing.
In one service, a greeter handed students a nail as they entered a darkened chapel. The room was lit by candles. The service was hushed and meditative. Each person in attendance was asked to hold the nail they received and think of one person they could get ‘involved in God’s work of seeking and saving.’ There was proclamation – but no preaching as such.
I won’t get into all the details. The chapel organizes used lamps instead of spotlights to highlight people who were ‘leading’ in worship. I guess a sixty watt bulb is more spiritual than a spotlight or stage lighting. That was weird in and of itself. While the service seemed to emphasize evangelism, I’d have to say, if I were lost, I’d feel a little weird walking into a room where people were turning lamps on and off.
One movement that’s been around since the 1960’s is the House Church movement. This is when a group of people get together and meet in someone’s house (hopefully one where the furniture can be moved to provide space). In this particular service all the shades are drawn and a cross-shaped shadow is projected on the ceiling. The entire service, two persons are playing acoustic guitars in the background.
In this particular House Church, the singing is again soft, and there are various Scriptures read. Someone gives a testimony and then there is more singing interspersed with Scripture reading and testimonies. Sounds like a home Bible Study with a little flash added more than a church service.
Another movement is the Quaker Service. The leader explains there are two key concepts: (1) Silence is a means of worship and, (2) God speaks to His church through any and all members of the body, not just ordained clergy. I chuckled when this leader explained the guitars were there to ‘accommodate today’s culture so that silence doesn’t become itself distracting.’ Clearly they are using the term Quaker, but redefining it so people are more comfortable. After all, culture must be accommodated.
In this service, some folks flipped through the Bible and read verses that spoke to them but few commented on them. There was much prayer for the nation, persecuted Christians and the community.
There is one trend called the ‘Ring Meeting’ service. I don’t know if it’s inspired by the ‘Lord of the Rings’ or by that recent horror film ‘Rings’ but it just sounds a little strange. It is. They start the service by ringing a hand bell and then the group gathers in a circle. They sing old hymns and share a few testimonies along with a short admonition. All the songs in the ring are upbeat and are more of the camp meeting style. Prayer request are prayed for on the spot. Leaders are spread throughout the ring so you don’t really know who is the ‘leader’ and who is sharing from the ‘congregation.’
In the final service that was studied, the service is centered on the Agape Feast. The greeters are dressed in first century garb. The room is full of round tables and there is a central table with goblets and large loaves of bread. There’s also a table full of food and the congregation lines up to eat (sounds like a Baptist church fellowship).
The atmosphere is again, quiet with hushed small talk, and interaction. Testimonies are shared and then the service culminates in the Lord’s Supper. This service lasted a total of about twenty-five minutes.
Now, I’ll admit there are interesting elements to all these ‘worship’ services. But I have to note the one central thing missing from all of them. The proclamation and preaching of the Word of God. There was no teaching of doctrine, no call to repentance, no stating of the demands of discipleship.
It was worship that was centered on experience, mood and feelings. Such worship is ultimately man-centered not God-centered. I have nothing against testimonies except in most meetings the one’s who share always share and those who probably have something to share, never do because they don’t want to be grouped with ‘them.’
I have nothing against a hushed service. But at the same time, pictures of worship in Revelation are exuberant, loud and a celebration. David got so excited about the Lord, he danced.
The issue to me is ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.’ Paul expounded doctrine. Peter explained what Jesus wanted the church to do. The Prophets told the people what God said and what God expected them to do about it.
There is something fundamentally wrong with ‘services’ that lack preaching. I’m not talking about the occasional concert or special event. I’m all for drama, singing and everything else. However, in a day when there are no absolutes, and values are crumbling, we need a sure word from God’s Word.
To be honest, I don’t need it from someone who hasn’t picked up their Bible all week and suddenly feel inspired. I need it from someone who has studied to show themselves approved unto God. I need and the church needs men who will expound the Scriptures without apology. Preachers who stand and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ I don’t need a candle to worship. Give me some New Testament worship where they sang, prayed and then the preacher stood to preach and call people to repentance. Anything less will ultimately water down the gospel and dilute the message. If you don’t know what God says and why He said it, there’s no reason to live it out. Based on these trends, worship will increasingly become a segment of our lives but not the focus of our lives. The truth sets you free – not candles, guitars, pot luck, silence or a ring.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.