Evangelical Worship

Last night Brooke and I went with a number of friends to see Shane Claiborne and the David Crowder Band at UBC in Waco (a benefit for Mission Waco). I read Shane’s Irresistible Revolution last year and found it to be quite provocative. I just got his new book, Jesus for President, and I’m really looking forward to reading it as well. So anyways, I was definitely excited about going last night because I think highly of Shane. I was also looking forward to David Crowder, even though I’m not real familiar with his music.

Shane was his typical revolutionary and radical self. You know, a crazy person, someone who actually thinks we should do the things Jesus taught. A complete nutcase (kind of like Jesus). He was great. But his message is not really what has me thinking today. Instead, I find myself thinking about “Evangelical worship.”

I went into the event last night expecting a David Crowder concert. However, it turned out to be more of a worship event – everyone was singing, they had the words projected on the wall, etc. I don’t know what to think about this kind of thing anymore. It’s just been a long time since I was able to really sing worship songs. Now don’t get me wrong, I tend to like David Crowder. I think he is musically talented and I really believe he desires to move beyond typical worship music. So please understand, I’m not critiquing him as much as the whole genre of “Evangelical worship.” After the event last night I’ve just been wondering what the purpose of it is. Why sing emotionally charged worship songs? Why? Because it feels good? Because it’s fun? If those are the answers, I can kind of understand it – and I don’t think I would have much against it. But I think the typical answer is that the purpose is to “praise God.” Now of course I’m not going to argue that we shouldn’t praise God. We should. I even think music and singing can be an excellent way to praise God. But what is the fruit that comes from praising God in the manner of typical Evangelical worship? Good feelings? Warm fuzzies? Most people would probably say that the purpose is to develop a deepened interior spirituality and/or connection with God. I guess I’m just questioning if this is really a result of the typical Evangelical worship experience. Maybe it is. But I’m not so sure. What do you think?

Last night Shane shared a great message. He really challenged us to listen to what Jesus said and to actually do it. He told some great stories of experiences in his own life when he stepped out and tried to live like Jesus. His life story is really powerful. While he spoke there were many who seemed to nod or ‘amen’ in approval. I would imagine many people heard what Shane said and really felt an internal pull to change and to live the message of Jesus. I might even say Shane’s message probably left some people with a sense of discomfort – a good sense of discomfort.

However, it was at this point of discomfort and conviction that the event turned to more worship music. The next thirty minutes or so were filled with upbeat, emotionally charged, and exciting music. It was even good music. I enjoyed Crowder’s music. But I fear that this music only comforted the discomfort that may have been brewing within people. Instead of leaving the event with an internal discontent and a desire to change, people left with a good beat in their head and an adrenaline high.

Is this good? Am I being too harsh? Am I just screwy? What do you think about it all?


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20 Responses

  1. Hey Adam-
    I think those are really really valid questions and there is simply not objective answer. I find worship to be a response to God…what he has done, is doing, and will do. So worship music after Shane’s discomforting message may have comforted some, but really the purpose was to give people a chance to respond to God. I don’t think we can judge how this was felt for all people. So part of me thinks you are being too harsh, but those are valid questions, no doubt.

  2. I agree with the previous commenter; worship (singing or otherwise) is a response to God. Lyrics for worship songs should be full of truth about who God is and who we are and what we do in light of who he is. (Now, not all lyrics have that kind of content, and that’s where “evangelical worship” falls far short of that title and just becomes an emotional pacifier like you talk about in your post.) For me, singing worship is one way that I find myself most receptive to God’s voice, challenging me to follow him in ways that I am often too distracted to hear in the midst of everyday life. Worship shouldn’t stop with the singing. It’s right and good that we have an emotional response to God; he created us to be emotional beings. A right emotional response to God provokes us to serve his purposes, not to be soothed away from them.

  3. P.S. You might like poking around on the Worship Matters blog if you’re thinking about these issues:


  4. Unfortunately, Adam, I think we are in the minority of those who feel this way. I know you know I am having a hard time with “evangelical worship” as well, and don’t know what to do about it.

    Some of it is, I think, related to my “dark night of the soul” experience over the last few years, but I also think there is more to it than that.

    Anyway, you have some good things to say. Thank you for posting about this.

  5. I have to agree that the ability (or not) of evangelical worship (what does that mean exactly?) to soothe away holy discomfort lies with the individual. I imagine for some it was just as easy to fall blindly into the rhythm of Shane’s words as it was to fall blindly into the rhythm and words of the music. How far meaning or conviction penetrates to the heart is up to the hearer, whether it’s a message, book, song, prayer, or silence. This could come across as me saying that your heart was hard to what the worship was intended to do, and I’m not, not, NOT saying that. I’m saying that while one thing (Shane’s message) spoke strongly to you about who God is and what He’s doing, the situation may have been reversed for others. Or it could have been both. Or neither.

    I do completely understand your concern though, and I think it’s valid. I just don’t know that there’s anything practical to be “done” about it, except to be wary that our own hearts aren’t soothed away from holy discomfort. Again, I think it’s a very personal thing.

  6. Adam and Brooke: Thanks for your honesty and your willingness to ask these questions.

  7. Since i wasn’t there, i can’t speak to whether or not the music was distacting or too comforting but i will share what i believe to be true about music. Not just worship music but music in general and i might even go so far as to say art in general. I believe that God invented art. Yes, i believe that he made art as something that is imbedded in each of us (whether it’s the talent of making art or the process of being touched/moved by it) that gives us the ability to express ourselves to him even during times when intellect, words or rationality ain’t cuttin’ it. You may say “but aaron, some music and some art are terrible and not meant to be spiritual” and i say “but you know, i just don’t believe that that’s true”. I think that all music is an instinctual process by which we cry out to God whether we know it or not. That feeling that we’ve all felt before which goes something like “man, i just wish i could be known and understood”, that is directed to God i think, just maybe on a subconscious level. Also, i think that God uses art to speak to us at least as much as he uses words. So all that to say, if the music exists then i think it’s necessary and purposeful, maybe just not in the way that can be comprehended through rationality.

    Wow, i’m rambling. But i think it’s relevant.

  8. Wow. That’s incredible profound and a bit scary – the idea of “soothing away the discomfort.” Because evangelicals: that’s their thing. Challenge you, then sing praise songs to make you feel good. But that’s the problem: what if you’re not supposed to feel good. I’ve heard Shane speak before (granted it was half a decade ago) and he is a challenging person. Probably moreso than any other speaker I’ve ever head. Because he embodies my greatest fears : Oh my God! Maybe we ARE supposed to do what Jesus said! Maybe it IS possible!

    And usually from that point, I trend downward in some sort of shame spiral.

    To sandwich this incredible and incredibly challenging person between evangelical praise songs clearly blunts the message.

  9. Hey man, Stan (my brother in law) told me about your site. I very much agree with what you say. I have been “leading worship” for quite a few years now (since my senior year of high school…I am 25 now) and I have honestly been wondering what the point is for the past while. I guess that is a bit ironic that I wonder what the point is, yet continue to do it. But I really liked the fact that you posed the question “What is the fruit of it?” No doubt I have seen fruit (even in my own life) come from taking part in such worshiping God through music, but at the same type, I’ve also spent a lot of type watching blank faces who seem apathetic to what is going on OR (the exact opposite) people who appear emotionally excited about singing to God, but whose lives show that they don’t really seem to believe in the things they are singing about. It really makes you begin to at least wonder if it is really necessary or if we should perhaps be doing something a little bit different in regards to letting people respond to God. I kind of have more to say about this, but I’ll end now to keep this comment to a reasonable length :)

  10. Wow, thanks everyone. I appreciate all the very thoughtful responses. A couple things I’m thinking about:

    – I really do think music (and art in general) are incredibly important and can often be ways for us to encounter God. I think there’s even something about music (and/or singing – and art) that allows us to encounter God in ways that we can’t otherwise. I just want to make sure that’s clear.

    – so…what I’m really getting at is this amorphous idea of “evangelical worship.” A more recent phenomenon that uses singing and music but also seems to have turned into it’s own “thing.” It’s this “thing” I’m not so sure about. Sometimes it’s the words to the songs I wonder about and other times it’s the whole experience we feel we are supposed to have while taking part in this “thing” (evangelical worship). I hope that makes sense…

    – Also, and I’m thinking of gk’s comment here, we need to be wise how we use music. And what kind of music we use at different times. I find myself thinking of the great diversity of psalms in the OT. So many crazy topics – can you imagine singing about some of those things today?! It seems that much of “evangelical worship” is pretty much the same and creates pretty much the same reactions from people involved in it. Something seems wrong about this. There should be greater diversity of both words and music. Maybe there is music/songs that would have gone well with Shane’s message – I just don’t think that was the case the other night.

    – Lastly, with Justin, I’m thinking of fruit. What is really coming out of this recent phenomenon of “evangelical worship.” Is it good? Bad? Mixed? And what does that mean?

    – Ok, so that was a super long comment…thanks everyone.

    Anymore thoughts about all this?

  11. I just went and read the first ten Psalms. Here are a few excerpts I’ve never heard in “evangelical worship” (or at last not very often):

    – Arise, O LORD!
    Deliver me, O my God!
    Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
    break the teeth of the wicked.

    – You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
    with you the wicked cannot dwell.

    The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
    you hate all who do wrong.

    You destroy those who tell lies;
    bloodthirsty and deceitful men
    the LORD abhors.

    – No one remembers you when he is dead.
    Who praises you from the grave?

    I am worn out from groaning;
    all night long I flood my bed with weeping
    and drench my couch with tears.

    My eyes grow weak with sorrow;
    they fail because of all my foes.

    Away from me, all you who do evil,
    for the LORD has heard my weeping.

    The LORD has heard my cry for mercy;
    the LORD accepts my prayer.

    All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed;
    they will turn back in sudden disgrace.

    – O LORD my God, if I have done this
    and there is guilt on my hands-

    if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me
    or without cause have robbed my foe-

    then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
    let him trample my life to the ground
    and make me sleep in the dust.

    Arise, O LORD, in your anger;
    rise up against the rage of my enemies.
    Awake, my God; decree justice

    But the needy will not always be forgotten,
    nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish

    Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph;
    let the nations be judged in your presence.

    Strike them with terror, O LORD;
    let the nations know they are but men.

    You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;
    you encourage them, and you listen to their cry

    defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
    in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

  12. Adam,

    Thanks for the invitation to a great conversation. Ironically I think Dave’s mission is to help foster worship that overcomes this emotionally charged impasse. I will grant that a number, perhaps even the majority of people who come to hear Dave have this feeling. But Dave is an incredibly thoughtful and well, articulated lyricists. I think his music is done well to boot. The thing I really appreciate about Dave is that he is successfully missional in cultures that are diametrically opposed. Case in point. He is still part of Six Step’s passion tour where he plays with Charlie Hall and Chris Tomlin. Here I see Dave slowly influencing people with conversation and style and challenging the traditional notions of worship. I think Dave could write Tomlinson-esk music and match his sales records, but Dave has opted not to. His music is thought provoking and complicated calling hearers to be engaged in the stories that are unfolding in the albums. On the other hand he does things like play in venues like he did on the remedy club tour. This both did things like illicit questions from traditional evangelicals like “why did you play in a venue where they sell alcohol,” and earned the band the write ups it received in Blender Magazine and Body Piercing Saved My Life…both praising the music as the one of the few redemptive or worthwhile pieces of the Christian music industry.

    I know you weren’t slamming Dave or the band. I didn’t read that at all. In fact I read you building them up. But I did want to answer why he is doing what he is doing and why UBC does what it does. Our worship time…(meaning the music piece for the sake of this conversation)…is I think both historically rooted in the churches tradition (Phillipians 2 Christ Hymn for example) and missional in that it seeks to raise the question of what worship about.

    Well, I’ve probably written too much.

    Thanks for all you do for the Waco Cohort. I keep meaning to come, but I have Roy on Thursdays. P.S. Did something work out with Doug Padgitt?


  13. Hey Josh – thanks for the thoughtful response. I just want to reiterate that I can tell Crowder wants to push these things in new ways. However, I just wonder if it’s the whole “Evangelical worship” enterprise that’s the problem. And so rather than tweaking content, etc, it needs a larger change…I’m really not sure. I think it’s a good conversation to have though.

    Thank you for all you do through UBC – I appreciate it. And it was a pleasure to be at UBC on Sunday night – thanks for hosting the event and for joining this conversation.

  14. adam

    don’t you EVER apologize for your thoughts. they are refreshing and important. you remind me of one of my favorite authors, anne lamott.

    write on, brother.

    make us feel uncomfortable. we need it.

  15. I didn’t want to get involved in this conversation because I don’t really have anything to add concerning your specific question, but I’d thought I’d just say this: Yesterday my boyfriend and I were watching television when this ad for a worship CD came on. I started humming all the songs (I think there was only one that I wasn’t familiar with) and I was reminding once more of how much I actually miss that aspect of belonging to the Christian community. But the fact that they were selling this on the television during Chelsea Lately really sort of highlighted what you were talking about here, I think.

  16. Thanks for your blog post about Jesus for President and Shane Claiborne! I just wanted to let you know there are 2 videos of Shane speaking about Jesus for President, plus audio clips, visuals, and a blog tour at this link:


    Please feel free to join the blog tour.



  17. […] Ok, things are much worse than I originally thought. […]

  18. […] music. Many of you know my difficulties with modern day worship and praise services (documented here). Participating in these services left me spiritually refreshed and nourished. In addition to these […]

  19. Hi Adam-
    I don’t really know how I stumbled upon this site but I’ve enjoyed reading your thoughts and I really resonate with this post in particular. I actually saw Shane Claiborne speak at my church (Bel Air Presbyterian) a few months ago and the worship seemed trite as a bookend to the revolutionary things he was saying. Granted, I still “felt good” singing the songs and it made for an emotionally complete experience, but it did seem dissonant and lacking in some meaning or interior logic.
    I wrote my own thoughts/complaints about evangelical worship on my blog last year:

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