Goose Bump Worship

“If I get chill bumps it’s worship, right?”

Caveat: I love Hillsong, Chris Tomlin and all his metrosexual friends (yes, Crowder, that includes you), and any gathering of believers in which Jesus is honestly lifted up, through music, as worthy of praise and adoration. I like the music…I like the sweet keys, the soaring strings, the plaintive guitar picks, the shredded electric, and the rhythm section that can send my emotions reeling with the pitch-perfect brush on the high hat. Oh, yeah, I LIKE feeling like I am gathered with the tribes around the throne of the Lamb. It’s moving, sometimes deeply.

Oh, and there’s not a thing wrong with it. Did I mention that?


All the same….

I’m beginning to wonder why exactly we do music like we do in our “contemporary” (American & evangelical) churches. I feel certain most of us who lead musically, in whatever capacity, genuinely desire to glorify Jesus and see the congregation worship him. And so, we talk a lot about “creating an atmosphere for worship” and other similar phrases. We arrange the instrumentation and vocals to maximize emotional impact. We arrange other elements of the service, too – videos, communion, candles, responsive readings, the lighting – all to “create an atmosphere” where people can hopefully be free of distractions, calm down enough to listen to the message, and emotionally connect with God, either for the first time, or the millionth.

I just wonder if that’s the best approach. Because it leads to these kinds of comments after a worship service:

“I just loved the music today; I felt so close to God.”

“Wow, that video so made me cry; honey, let’s do give some money to that mission team.”

“That was nice but I like the way Charlie Hall did it at the last Passion conference better; I got into it a lot more there.”

Is this what we’re aiming for, as worship service leaders? Chill bumps, tears, oohs and aahs? Those things are fine, but are they the definition of a “good” worship service? Should we even be aiming for such a thing as a “good” worship service?

Check out the few references to corporate worship in the New Testament church. Personally, I don’t get the impression their gatherings consisted of one contrived (yes, I said contrived) emotional mile marker after another. Amazing, unbelievable, miraculous things happened at their gatherings, but all those things were at God’s initiative: the Holy Spirit unmistakably visiting, prophesying, answered prayers (many involving believers in prison…hmm), hearts opened to the gospel by the Holy Spirit. I doubt it was ever because somebody cued the strings at the right moment, or edited the testimony (via video) so it wasn’t too long-winded, or closed the shutters to imbibe a different mood.

Browsing the New Testament narrative, it looks to me like the early believers, at their best, prayed, believed, obeyed, and then got out of the way, and, at their worst, took matters into their own hands and caused problems.

Do we think we can manufacture what only God’s Spirit can do? I think we often try – with good, though misplaced, intentions. And with self-centered, emotionally-dependent, and quite possibly shallow results.

So what’s the solution? Throw out all the Darlene Zschech songs, or just do them badly? Keep the fluorescent lights on and quit buying those hazardous if mood-enhancing candles?

Nah. I want to keep the Hillsong music, and I want to do it well, but only because I want to offer my best to Jesus in worship because he deserves no less – not because I want to play on someone’s heartstrings like only the Holy Spirit can or should.

It’s not the elements themselves (or even the striving to do them well) I’m questioning, it’s the thinking behind them. I suggest we do music, the Lord’s Supper, and all the various elements we’ve somehow decided belong in every corporate gathering, with the recognition that only God’s Spirit will actually move a person…and we may or may not be able to immediately tell if that’s happened. I suggest we do away with the thinking that “creating an atmosphere” is any guarantee that God’s Spirit will indeed work like we think he should. Sometimes worship services go badly indeed, in our judgment, and people still get saved.

I LOVE that God is not dependent upon us, nor obliged to us!

Published in: on September 22, 2011 at 1:03 am  Leave a Comment