Performance Music: Worship?

Jonathan Algier:

[SMcK: He does not mention but Andrew McGowan’s book is the best place to begin.]

Performance worship is now the norm. I fear this is the case with practically all evangelical megachurches and their emulating congregations, which now includes a growing number of desperate mainline congregations, as well. We also see it in the hip, edgy, urban emergent congregations that tout their return to liturgy, but still find themselves enslaved to commercial entertainment forms. Yes, performance worship has killed worship, and it’s done it in several key ways.

Performance worship substitutes entertainment for liturgy. Our new worship language even reflects it. We once had sanctuaries, but not we have “auditoriums.” We once had chancels, now we have “stages.” We once had altar guilds, now we have “weekend stage managers.” We once had a liturgy, now we have a “performance set” (some call this a “worship set” in an effort to maintain some decorum). We once had worship services, masses, liturgies, now we have “traditional” or “contemporary” worship, “modern” worship, worship “experiences.”

At the heart of these changes is a focus on customer service. We want to offer a performance product that will rival anything offered by mainstream commercial entertainment so that they will choose to park their butts in our seats.

Congregations built on entertainment, provided by a combination of rock musicians and celebrity pastors, to be blunt, are more orgasmic than organic. The slavish, masturbatory pursuit of the feeling itself inevitably leads to the worship of something other than Christ. It rejects the Christian story in favor of our own. It rejects true human connection in God’s church and replaces it with introspective preoccupation. It ends with the narcissistic worship of self. It can deliver a spark, yes, and it may get butts in the seats, but in the end, it leaves us wanting. The excitement over the bright shiny objects that attract masses today will eventually wane, and the church will have to offer something brighter and shinier to hold out hope for the future.

Oh, and when we’re successful at selling our worship product, we call that “evangelism.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.