It occurred to me the other day that trying to have a conversation with someone deeply committed to “contemporary” pop worship is like interacting with Maria from The Sound of Music:
Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her,
Many a thing she ought to understand,
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say?
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
Because liturgy – or whatever you call a corporate worship event – is not primarily personal in nature, but pop worship apologists continue to insist that worship be done according to personal preferences.
It is corporate. It’s something you do together. That’s the very origin of the Greek word “leitourgia.” It is a public work that is done together for the common good of the people. As Christ’s Church, we come together to participate in the work God does. That does not mean hearing music you enjoy. The music’s job is not to stir you to feel good jesusy vibes, but to add dimension to the liturgy itself. In fact, the conversation really isn’t about music, but goes down to the very function of worship, which is to receive Christ in Word and Sacrament.
This is very good news for all of us. Or at least it should be. This means we don’t have to be too concerned about evoking feelings in others and in ourselves. It means we don’t have to offer people the jesusy entertainment of their choice. It means that “reaching people” (or more likely, “getting butts in the seats”) isn’t the point of the whole exercise. It means that we don’t need to offer multiple “styles” of worship.
Unfortunately, it means that if you’re doing pop worship, you’re doing it wrong.
But you have to be willing to let go of words like “taste” and “preference” to have a conversation about worship. If we differ in what we do, these differences are fundamentally not of taste, not of preference, but of theological meaning. So to bog down the conversation in terms of preference is to begin a completely different conversation entirely, and it’s a conversation that, in terms of the Christian liturgical tradition is brand spankin’ new. Furthermore, it involves quite a bit of sticking your face in the soil, because the entire history of Christian worship has followed the same liturgical framework. You have to know next to nothing about your faith tradition, and you have to care not at all about it, to talk about reaching out with a variety of preferences.
Beyond this, the whole idea of worship being about preference forgets that the way we pray is the way we live. Public worship is a retelling of the gospel, which the church carries away from that place in love and service. So to suggest that how we worship isn’t important is a big freaking denial of what worship actually is. How we worship IS important.
So how do you solve the problem? After nearly six years of writing these blogs, I’m still not sure. But I have seen some movement here and there. Good things are happening as we continue to have these conversations around us. It’s frustrating when Maria won’t pay attention, and goes about wandering all over the map talking about who likes what kind of music when you’re trying to talk about liturgy, but it’s a conversation we must continue to pursue.
Because words mean stuff, even if Maria doesn’t get it.
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