Beyond Sermons and Songs: Why Experiential Worship Isn't Enough

Churches pour enormous resources into creating meaningful worship experiences. But what if those experiences don't carry the meaning we intend? Pastor and theologian David Fitch believes a worship experience by itself is not enough in our postmodern culture. Instead he calls us to think beyond sermons and music to create a new framework for understanding worship that may not be new at all.

At our theology pub last month we sat around and conversed on the issue of worship. I put forward the typology of "lecture hall" versus "rock concert" as the primary modes of worship for evangelicals, and I suggested that both were inadequate for forming truthful minds and faithful experience in Christians.

The people at our pub ranged in age from 16 to early 50's. Most seemed to agree that a worship service geared entirely towards a 55 minute sermon seeking to dispense information to Cartesian minds is inadequate for spiritual formative. Less obvious and hotly debated was rock concert-style worship's ability to form us into Christlikeness.

I continue to assert that a sufficient theology of worship must come to grips with the epistemological shifts of the last century whereby we can no longer be naive that a "religious experience," like the one sought in a rock concert worship service, provides immediate access to God. Experience is something learned and trained into. An experience is produced through interpretive frameworks, particularly language. As Lindbeck would say, "there is no uninterpreted experience." This is one reason the evangelical church must move beyond the "rock concert pep rally" if we wish to recover a worship that shapes truthful minds and faithful experience. Rock concert worship produces an experience, but then fails to give people a framework to interpret it.

Carl Raschke's The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace PostModernity (Baker, 2004) argues that charismatic worship is the best way forward. I am certainly grateful to Prof. Raschke for his analysis and am in agreement with him on many points. Still, I am puzzled by Raschke's proposal that evangelicalism embrace charismatic worship experience as an engagement with postmodernity. He states:

Charismatic Christianity is emblematic of the new postmodern evangelicalism. It is multicultural, global in scope, and interracial. It is post denominational, not simply non denominational. It is post propositional and post theological. For the most part it is more biblically oriented than many of today's so-called Bible churches. The dance with the Lord is the dance of the believer in the full presence of, and in full relationship with the Lord of heaven and earth, who is the Lord of the dance. Dancing, like genuine faith, is an intimate experience.

Displaying 1–10 of 27 comments

December 28, 2005  7:36pm


Report Abuse


December 22, 2005  5:52pm

To RDM, you missed the point. My dad never divorced himself from the church, but neither did he involve himself with all the arguments. He simply lived to serve others and quietly set a Christ-like example for all. It wasn't until that point that I began to understand worship myself. His take on our worship struggles at church was voiced to no one but me. He never judged anyone and only then because I asked for his input. If anything, his entire witness was anything but pharisaical. But, up to that point, the rest of us were just that.

Report Abuse

Ricky Hall

December 21, 2005  7:39am

It seems like many in the blogs and in the article are quoting from a lot of sources other than scripture. It's funny how we debate in the church about what worship is or isn't but none can truly judge the heart of a man and say they aren't really sincere or because they have guitars and lights or an organ and candles they have veered from the "truth". Jesus said, "I am the truth..." If we are focused on Christ and glorifying Him then we are in worship. None of these debates profit us because the unsaved and the unchurched don't care about this...they need to see Godly love and an environment where people aren't fighting each other over preferences in music. This article is so heady that we miss the simplicity of our true calling as the church. It's not about Charismatic churches and experiential worship but if that's where your focus is then truly Satan has pulled you into jealousy over another's success and your focus can't be on Christ if you're spending all your time examining others and judging their worship.

Report Abuse

Robert Reasner

December 20, 2005  1:50pm

It is amazing to ponder what all this discusion looks like from heaven. A creative God watching his linear offsping trying to reform a box. We have a culture that embraces 2 hour programs every where except the church. Can you imagine if all movies, theater productions, sports events had to conclude in an hour. Maybe if we presented more creativity, varied the menu, and left folks wanting more we would see this debate from another angle. Here is to a new year full of fifty minute sermons, charismatic, and emerging worship, sprinkeld with insightful liturgical moments that awaken our spirtitual insticnts to the prescnce of an interactive God. Here is to houses of worship that are pursuing new places while broadening the menu rather then reheating leftovers. Here's to Christmas services that celebrate his Birthday as if he was the guest of honor. Merry Mass of Christ.

Report Abuse

Blind Beggar

December 19, 2005  8:38pm

To quote Fitch, "...let us return to the mystery centered around His Table, let us return to symbol, poetic prayer, liturgical participation, creedal affirmation, historic confessions, great responses in music and song all born within an arena of worship that is made accessible and beautiful by the liturgists, artists, and curators of our churches." I humbly submit that this is a sure fire way of moving into the same spiritual darkness that encompasses Europe because they abandoned Evangelicalism to "return" to the model proposed here by Fitch.

Report Abuse


December 18, 2005  6:54pm

"That is true worship the way I see see it, son. And the way I see it, until church people "get it" and until I see them bein' Jesus rather than robbin' from him to build a bigger, more comfortable place to park their butts on Sunday morning, they are destined to continue arguin' yet never learnin' what it it means to worship the Son of God." The story was fine until that point. With those words, this man became the Pharisee in Luke 18:11. It's one thing to live your life in a charitable way to others. But divorcing yourself from the Church because you see yourself as doing it right while they are doing it wrong is simply a self centered rationalization. Even sacrificial charity is just a good work. Attitude is everything. We should love unconditionally even those we see as "doing it wrong".

Report Abuse


December 17, 2005  12:20pm

When we say that worship "means I recognize God's glory in every part of my life", what we are really saying is that we should try to force ourselves to be in some vaguely devotional mood all the time, and this just isn't possible. Like it or not, our mood is affected by what we do and what we experience. This is the whole reason for setting aside a special period for worship, whether it be daily or weekly. It's like making a date with my wife. Sure I try to keep my emotions toward her positive all the time, but setting aside special time specifically for interaction with her, in a special setting (restaurant, park, etc), strengthens our relationship and underscores its value. So just saying that we walk around thinking God is great all the time is not as good as doing that PLUS going to church.

Report Abuse


December 16, 2005  10:59am

It seems to me that some of this debate is fairly clearly settled if we take a different view on worship altogether. Rather than seeing it as being about God and not about us, I think we should look at it as very much so about us. I think that we go to church for 1 primary and 1 secondary reason. The primary is to hear the word of God, which brings forgiveness of sins, read and preached. The secondary is to give thanks to God for that Word and for His Son, who died on the cross to win for us that forgiveness. That said, I believe that the center of my spiritual life is very much so that hour or 1:15 on Sunday morning. As the week and the world drag me down, Sunday Church stands there as a certainty, to bring me back up. My church is very liturgical, but I appreciate it, because I know that largely on that basis, the certainty stands.

Report Abuse


December 16, 2005  8:13am

Pharisees and Scribes take heed, legalism will get you nowhere. The church is the bride of Christ but that doesn't mean that the wedding ceremony has to look the same to everyone. If God calls you to a certain place to worship, you would be wise to be thankful that God called you at all, and you should worship Him no matter what form of corporate and individual worship style that might be. When you put I or we at the forefront of your point of view, you put yourself ahead of God and that is a bad thing.

Report Abuse


December 16, 2005  4:12am

Gordon, I couldn't agree more. The reciprocity of day-to-day worship and corporate worship is certainly essential. The problem is in effectively communicating the need for the body to allow their daily lives to interact with the weekly service. It is quite tempting to lean toward making it all a big show and reduce its real usefullness for us the rest of the week. The bigger the church, the more prone it is to trying to "do it all" and leave nothing really vital for challenging the individual members to "be Jesus" in the rest of their lives apart from church. Obviously some get it and some never will. But, I have found that the more we allow the excitement of people's lives during the week to be shared as an integral part of the worship service, the more people begin to see their own worth as true believers when they walk out the doors. If worship doesn't spawn and encourage us to become the hands and feet of Jesus outside of church and then validate our victories when we join together, it fails to accomplish the essence of its true purpose. The story about my dad is case in point. Back then, it was so easy for me to judge his reluctance to involve himself in corporate worship as being unspiritual when in reality, his spirituality not only outshined my own, but it exposed my hypocrisy. The rest of the story is that his own testimony suddenly became an asset to the rest of us at church and was the beginning of setting a whole new precedent for us in terms of our outreach to the community. And of course, Dad began to see that our church was becoming worthwhile of his attendence and he became involved with us regularly. I just discovered this blog site and there is some great thought provoking discourse here. Glad I stumbled into it. :)

Report Abuse
  • Seeing God on the Silver Screen
    An interview with Kevin Harvey on how engaging pop culture might be the best way to share the gospel.
  • Have Stethoscope, Will Travel
    Nurse Kelly Sites talks about her experience battling Ebola overseas
  • Actively Seeking Change
    Daniel Ryan Day talks to us about his attempt to live intentionally different
  • Digging For Truth
    Josh McDowell on the Bible's truthworthiness, the internet, and the future of the church