Church isn’t what it used to be and that can be both a good and a bad thing.
Yes, it’s good that the pastor’s who screamed hell and damnation at every service is fading out of the mainstream, but I’m not sure that it’s a great thing the pendulum has swung entirely the other direction and now we have pastors telling people to do whatever makes them feel good because God loves them anyway. God does love them no matter what, but I don’t know telling people to do whatever they want is the message God wants them to be pushing.
Today church is like going to a full-fledged concert, complete with fancy lights and singers and dancers and sound systems and a complete stage show leading up to the headliner – which is of course the pastor presenting the sermon.
Up until this past Sunday I thought these halftime-show type of churches was only something found in bigger cities, but while looking up an old college friend online I learned there is a copy cat style church near us, complete with fancy backdrop and professional sound system.
I watch a church service based out of Charlotte, N.C. every Sunday and it’s one of those churches that holds a 30-minute worship concert before the pastor, dressed in ripped jeans and a trendy shirt, comes out to preach. I actually love the pastor at the church and feel the worship is heartfelt and truly “worshipful” and not simply entertainment. To me the pastor is very honest about his doubts as a Christian and his awareness that many Christians don’t always feel good enough but pretend they’re fine. In my opinion, he is not at all the caricature his detractors paint him out to be. I’m impressed that he never ends a service without an altar call and always asks for everyone to stand until the Word of God has been read.
Still, I sometimes feel uneasy with the slightly staged feeling of the service overall – the way you know when the sermon is going to end because the keyboard and base players appear in the background to begin playing the pastor’s “background music” to accentuate the emotional, serious final sermon point; how they break away during the music so they can show someone being “spontaneously” baptized in a big tub/pool in the lobby; and how you can see customers at the the merchandise store behind the commentators who talk about the sermon on the Youtube channel after it’s over, making sure they commemorate their visit to the church that now has their own touring worship band.
Though there are parts of the service that make me uncomfortable, I feel the pastor and others associated with the church are sincere and believe what they preach. There are times the Holy Spirit does seem to be leading the service such as when the main pastor swerves off script and prays or preaches a little longer than he should (he has to be careful because he preaches and they broadcast two morning services so he doesn’t let the Spirit get too out of control).
But then there are the churches trying to copy the church I watch or similar churches. The local church that I watched a little of this weekend featured frightened-looking women with large, fake smiles plastered on their faces saying things like “Tell Jesus you love him this morning. Okay? That’s right. We love Jesus.” without even blinking. Creeeepy.
The churches that have worship concerts to kick off services are mainly aimed at the younger crowd, who apparently need constant entertainment to feel like life is real. Maybe I’m an old fart at the ripe age of 42, but sometimes the inability to present the gospel without a light show is disconcerting to me. I love worship bands and worship singers possessing long hair, tats up and down their arms, and recording contracts, don’t get me wrong. I believe many of these worship leaders are anointed and aren’t after the fame. There are others, though, who are just the opposite. As Christians we have to be careful and weed out which is which; not always an easy task.
I miss when we went to church and there was a little lady up front playing piano and the congregation joined their voices together and could be heard, instead of being drowned out by the pounding drums and the singer showing off his or her vocal acrobatics. I miss the pastor simply preaching to preach, not to make sure he produced a Twitter-worthy quote or an Instagram-story worthy clip. I miss people trying to save souls instead of reputations. I miss when a relationship with God was personal and not an effort to seem popular.
Can there still be the personal outreach and the intimate connection with God in a church that uses a light show and a sound system to dazzle our eyes and tickle our senses? Of course there can be and, of course, I still feel God is moving in a church that sometimes seems preoccupied with appearance. Even with the show, with the light, with the perfect color-coordinated advertising campaigns, there is definitely some real preaching going on in some (the keyword being some) of these types of churches.
But we can definitely get lost in all the perfectly crafted moments and lose sight of the simple, uncomplicated, God we are here on Earth to worship and fellowship with. God doesn’t need our light shows or YouTube Channels. He doesn’t need our new clothing lines with the names of our churches emblazoned on T-shirts and beanie hats. He doesn’t need big buildings or big screens and he doesn’t care about subscribers or followers.
All he wants is to have a relationship with us and we need to be careful that the pounding drums and the raging guitar and the pastor’s catchphrase don’t drown out his voice.
7 thoughts on “Faithfully Thinking: Which is more real, new or old time religion?”
People have got carried away with “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing” (Psalm 100:1-2). God is a being with a body and emotions, and every good and pleasant attribute is his, but he’s not a party animal. He values very highly the quiet, serious talks we have with him, and those experiences are lacking in a continuous-entertainment religious “service” during which you can hardly hear yourself think
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye managed to talk a lot to God throughout his day, although he lamented that his poverty prevented him from worshiping to the fullest extent he thought was necessary:
If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray,
And maybe find a seat by the eastern wall.
I would discuss the holy books with the learned men
Seven hours every day,
And that would be the sweetest thing of all.
If Tevye came into some cash, it would be great if he would do those things, but in the first part of the song, he fantasized about the ostentatious possessions and prideful behavior in which he and his wife would indulge. Wealth may be one of the greatest impediments to the sincere expression of faith. Maybe that’s the uncomfortable thing which is at the bottom of entertainment religion.
I tried posting a comment here, but it made me log in twice to do it, and the comment still hasn’t shown up. Did it go into the spam monitor?
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Oh! I don’t know! I’ll go look and see what happened!
I know exactly what you mean about those “concert churches”. The church I used to go to just recently switched to having a worship band, but they still don’t have all the flashing lights. When I went there we had the piano lady and still sang from the hymnals. The church my parents go to has a mini concert with flashing lights that honestly make me dizzy that early in the morning. I think the part that bothers me most is that the pastor of their church is also the pastor of the main church about 20 minutes away. He dresses “casual” (jeans and a t-shirt) for that church then changes to a more formal suit for the next church. Why does it matter what he wears?
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Exactly – unless he’s trying to impress people instead of God or act like he’s someone he isn’t.
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Your post is spot on! I’ve attended both the mega-style churches with the concert-like atmosphere, coffee bars, and merchandise stores and I’ve been in simple, country churches where hymns are sung to the piano and organ. Sincerity is the key and not fame-seeking, cutting edge concerts. Often I wonder who is being worshiped, God or the band; God or the cool skinny jeans clad pastor? I also find some of the newer contemporary Christian songs seem to be focused on “me” instead of on the Lord we say we are worshiping. Those kind of songs are fine for personal listening but I don’t think they praise and honor God and isn’t that what worship is supposed to be about? But hey, I’m a really old fart of 65. Anyway, I think it all comes down to discernment as to which type of service truly gives us the opportunity to develop more fully our relationship with our Savior. For me, that’s what it’s all about.
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I’ve seen sincere people in each type of church and insincere people in each type. Like I said, I enjoy some of the more modern worship, but I also miss the simple hymns and the simple days of just worshipping and not having to have a whole production to go with it.
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