Well, let's start by evaluating how many people are here. The actual number of people here isn't terrible, but the room is "built" way too big. It is a gigantic room, with too much space between tables and chairs. The room is obviously used for different purposes during the rest of the week, the remnants (tables, chairs, etc...) are just laying up against the walls. The stage is...well, I don't know. The lighting is strange. No one is singing...I think because they are sitting at tables. The PowerPoint is...hey wait a second, where is the cross? Oh look, there it is! Stuffed over in a corner with some extra sound equipment. It feels like a comedy club, not a church.
Ok, so, what do we need to do? Get rid of about 40 or 50 chairs, and set up some pipe and drape to close off the room a little. Fix the lighting. Spotlight the preacher, come up with some sort of lighting plan for when the band is playing. Get the cross up on the stage, over to the side at an angle is fine so you can still run the PowerPoint against the wall. Get some music going before the service actually starts. Etc...And then it occurred to me:
My goodness, this is supposed to be church, not a political event. I'm trying to figure out what story the media would write if they had pictures of this, when I should be worshipping the Lord God Almighty.So here's what I'm thinking: Traditional, liturgical worship, particularly when paired with the Lord's Supper/Eucharist/Communion is necessarily focused on Christ (at least for people who confess the Real Presence). There is a lot, lot, lot of prep work that can and does and should go into awesome "high church" worship. But my sense is that most of it is related to the dignity of the service itself. The preparation is about expecting that the Lord is present in this place, engaging the tradition honorably and worthily, and allowing congregants to participate in that to the fullest extent.
Contrast that with my sense about the prep work of contemporary, low-church worship: I feel like we're trying to create an environment that we can convince people to come to. We want the lights low and the people crammed together, to amp up the energy. We need well-designed rooms because it's more professional. We encourage people to bring in coffee and snacks because it's friendly and supposedly proves that "God can fit into your lifestyle" or something. Bottom line: we have to create the conditions to make this service succeed.
I want to be clear. Jesus shows up at contemporary worship. "Where two or three are gathered," and all that. "Contemporvant worship" has the capacity to reach people for the Lord, it allows people to encounter God, it creates and encourages faith, it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. I would never say that it doesn't.
But when you have the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, when you have the liturgy, brimming with the language of the Bible, language that has stood the test of time, that has steeped millions of people across time and space in the faith, then, just...wow. It's going to "work" - He always has. The rest is easy. Making sure chairs or pews are arranged well becomes about allowing people to best participate in the encounter, not about convincing them to stay or come back.
So, am I anti-contemporary Christian music now? Am I advocating for an end to all midweek Young Adult Worship that isn't the high-church Divine Service/practically a Roman Catholic Mass celebrated by the pope? No. I'm always in favor of everything that God uses to reach people. Let's keep the music, and let's use it where it's appropriate. Let's have concerts and clubs and Young Adult Ministry. But let's stop pretending that the 8:00 "traditional" service and the 10:00 "Contemporvant" service are the same thing, just catering to different preferences. They aren't.
**I'm perfectly willing to engage anybody on this topic. If you think I'm totally off-base, tell me so!