A Rock Concert Is Not “Like” Church
I got to go to the Macklemore concert on Friday night. If you want to hear about how that went, ask me, seriously, I want to talk about it until I die. . . .
[I]t reminded me of church. – Dannika Nash, ” An Open Letter To The Church From My Generation”, “I Said I Don’t Know” – And Other Hard Questions To Ask, April 7, 2013
It is one thing to be moved by a positive statement about an issue of importance. It is yet another thing to be in the moment at a concert, allowing yourself to release your inhibitions. These, however, have nothing to do with worship. Few statements demonstrate our failings as a contemporary Church than that someone could confuse the genuinely ritualistic aspects of the concert setting and Christian worship. Doing so in the name of a generation, pleading that older folks hear the need younger people feel both for positive, inclusive statements as well as a worship experience that energizes them says that we may have well gone just a bit too far toward entertaining congregations rather than leading them to the Throne of God.
Good concert experiences can be emotionally satisfying. The thrill of being with other people who like a particular artist, seeing and hearing him or her or them performing songs you like, it’s a kind of flash-community, all sorts of different people joined together because of their love for this particular band or person. The lights, the visuals, the crowd, and the music overwhelm the individual and people get caught up in the moment, raising their hands, nodding their hands, moshing, screaming all propriety set aside as the audience lives out being an audience.
Christian worship, however, is something very different. It is a community united not by specific aesthetic tastes; a congregation doesn’t meet just in passing, but live through generations; most important, they are gathered through the power of the Holy Spirit in order to praise and worship God. All elements of worship are not designed to celebrate the people as they are. Worship is designed for all to hear the Word of God, to gather at God’s table, to present ourselves as a living sacrifice worthy for the work of Discipleship for the Glory of God. No matter how much we might wish to hear any particular message, the reality is that worship doesn’t exist to satisfy any particular need we might have. Words of grace, of course, are part and parcel of the Word of God. If you go to worship, however, to have your particular prejudices or preferences affirmed, you aren’t doing church right.
Yet I think a whole lot of responsibility for this failure of understanding, the ridiculous idea that worship should be entertaining and uplifting for us lies right at the feet of . . . the church. Whether we use “traditional” or “contemporary” worship styles; whether we sing hymns or Praise songs; whether we confess together the Apostle’s Creed or read something cobbled together by a worship leader – none of it should be for the edification or satisfaction of anyone in the congregation. If you aren’t uncomfortable during some part of worship – the prayer of confession, say, or perhaps singing a stanza from a hymn or song that convicts you of something of which you weren’t previously aware – then you aren’t paying attention. Most of all, if you’re looking for emotional uplift and joy and celebration as the reason you’re going to church, then someone has failed to tell you what worship is all about. Should a person feel uplifted in worship; if a person is moved to cheer, to cry, to clap; these are all good things and should be indulged. The presence of absence of these and other things does not make worship. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the Word proclaimed in Spirit and Truth, and the open table available to all: These are the marks of worship.
Church isn’t about having our prejudices confirmed. If the Church speaks of justice and inclusion for all, it does so out of faith. If younger people aren’t hearing these words or seeing these actions, it might well be they aren’t paying attention. How many clergy, even Bishops in the UMC, have risked their orders, their ministries in order to act out their conviction that ours will be a truly faithful Church only when we truly are open to all? If you’re looking for this kind of thing in worship, however, you’re in worship for all the wrong reasons. Head back to the concert hall. The is the Church of Jesus Christ, not the Church of the Millennials looking to be satisfied.