Chuck Swindoll: We're Creating Spectators Not Worshipers
Innovation in worship is good, as long as we use wisdom.

In part 1 of Skye Jethani's interview with Chuck Swindoll, he spoke about the insecurity that leads some pastors to seek a crowd and to pander to cultural trends. Some of you felt Swindoll was just being old-fashioned and grumpy. (I hear Grandpa Simpson saying, "Back in my day we walked five miles to church on Sunday. Twice! And we liked it.") In part 2 he expresses his appreciation for innovation in worship, but is concerned that we employ more wisdom in what trends we adopt.

Jethani:We can look back before modern technology entered the sanctuary and see the same values at work. The crusades of Billy Graham, the revivals of the Great Awakening, even all the way back to the Reformation, you see that Martin Luther used music and forms of worship that were relevant to his German culture. So what's wrong with taking relevant cultural expressions in the 21st century and using them in our worship?

Swindoll: Nothing, if they square with Scripture and if they honor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with using something new. We are called to sing new songs. I love them. Nobody sings louder in our church than I do—both the old and new songs.

But everything must square with Scripture. We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up. Will it equip them to handle the world around them? Will it form them into the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?

In many cases we use new things because they are novel, not because they are helpful.

So the issue is not innovation or tradition, but why we're using a particular method or technology.

Exactly. I have been to church services, and you have too, where the only people who knew the songs were the band. I'm not edified. I'm just watching a show.

And they're not interested in teaching me the songs either. They just sing louder to make up for the fact that no one else is singing. Loud doesn't help. Why do they do that? Do you want me to be impressed with how loud you are singing, how accomplished you are? I'm not. I'm not here to be impressed with you. I'm here to fall back in love with Christ.

Innovation doesn't have to be loud or a gimmick. How about silence? Most people get no silence in their world. Imagine three or four minutes of silence. No music. No background distractions.

Or change the order of worship. Start the service with an invitation rather than ending with it. Nothing in the Bible says to walk down an aisle. So be innovative. I'm not against screens, or new songs, or innovation. I just don't like the gimmicks. I want to know when worship is over that that leader's sole purpose was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. He's not important to himself, and I'm not.

May 09, 2011

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments


March 23, 2012  1:11pm

I agree with Mr. Swindoll on pretty much all of his points. But here's one that I'm concerned about and have been thinking about for a while. He says: "We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up. Will it equip them to handle the world around them? Will it form them into the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world?" Isn't worship meant to be about us expressing our adoration to God? I agree that the words need to be rooted in Scripture so that they're conveying the Truth about God and not causing anyone to stumble. But if worship is about God, why is it important that the words equip, inspire, and grow US? Shouldn't our worship be an expression of our recognition and gratitude for who GOD is and what HE's done?

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August 29, 2011  2:46pm

So we get these people in the door with a cool band, an overhead cool projector with cool pictures and a coffee bar in the back. They can wear anything, torn jeans, t-shirts, etc. I am not against any of this if it is used to bring new people to Jesus. But most churches do not disciple these people and are like the seed that never grows to maturity. That is what I am against. Almost all of the volunteers at my church come from the traditional services, while the rest are there for an hour of entertainment once a week.

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May 13, 2011  2:34pm

"But everything must square with Scripture. We must make sure that new things actually help people grow in the truth, that they edify the saints and build them up." Swindoll cannot square up his ideas with scripture. There is so much scripture that Swindoll is ignoring as he pushes his particular form of platform and expert driven "worship". If Swindoll wants "Spirit filled" gatherings it must square with what Paul said that is in Eph. 5. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord ... This is full participation by all in mutual, two-way verbal experession. This is what is considstant with our identity as "members of one another". This is what is consistant with our identity as a "royal priesthoot" so that we "proclaim the glories of Him...". Swindoll is only square with traditions of men and popularity - a long shot from scripture. There are many more than Eph. 5. Swindoll, and all the crowd oriented gathering folks are in a tradition bubble where Spirit filled gathering is rendered meaningless and they settle for a version of edifying the saints in the truth that is non-reproductive and self-centered.

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May 13, 2011  12:07pm

Nathan: I'm not against training - every believer should be equipped to do the work of the ministry - like in Eph 4. Only when every member is doing the ministry will we / can we even begin to see The fullness of Christ. I was in one church for 25 years - in the last 5 years - I've been in many. The level of participation in most churches is minimal. One of the larger churches had a published 5 year goal of 5% participation in their programs. I thought it particularly brave of them to admit that. Usually 20% (or much less in my experience) of the people do 80% (or much more in my experience) of the participating. If you're in a place opposite of my comment - I really don't think you're the norm. Consider yourself blessed. However - reading your comment - this verse came to mind: Jeremiah 5:31 The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? What do you do when Father Purity falls into sin? Or how about when Dr Divinity deviates from what you think scripture clearly says? You just go along with it - or do you challenge the status quo?

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May 12, 2011  4:38pm

Before he passed away, Michael Spencer (AKA The Internet Monk) was discouraged and angry at how the secular music industry had infiltrated and bought out the Christian music industry. His points of contention may not be exactly the same as Swindoll's, but they may be more contemporary: 1. Overemphasis on dramatic elements (such as lighting and sound effects) often don't enhance the worship experience, but detract from it. 2. A tendency to blur the lines between concerts and worship services in public venues has blurred the lines in church venues...thereby forcing out elements of worship that are not concert acceptable (such as silence, Scripture reading, etc.) 3. Tendency of worship leaders to talk about themselves and their achievements (such as what they name their guitars) instead of focus on Jesus. Internet Monk, we need your voice.

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M. Myers

May 11, 2011  11:47pm

Where has Swindoll been?? Sally Morgenthaler has been talking about this for two decades. But, unlike Swindoll, she doesn't have to denigrate media or, for that matter, any kind of technology, in her efforts to help people engage rather than spectate. She knows full well that good old fashioned "biblical" preaching and music have been incredibly successful at creating passive worship experiences for years. BTW, here's a quote from her on this exact subject, from her 1995 best-seller, Worship Evangelism. I guess Swindoll didn't bother to read it. "We are not producing worshipers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God's presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave. - Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism

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May 11, 2011  4:19pm

@JBF Chuck is pointing out a very important point, and look how many are this forum are labeling him out of date or stuck on his own view of culture. But what if he is? Does that matter? @Jerry: Your prescription seems a bit utopian. I go to a church that has all the things you describe as bad structurally and we don't have issues with participation, aggressive pursuit of God, etc. It's an incredibly activated congregation that understands the value of trained pastors-teachers, it's healthy polity, etc.

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May 11, 2011  12:56pm

I've been at several churches where the 'worship' time is really only a show. The leaders literally said 'if you don't like it, find another church'. These same folks felt they 'radically loved all', but really they were only loving themselves and their niche. The older folks, were ignored at best, barely tolerated in reality. Only tolerated since they were paying the bills. But no tear was shed as they stopped coming. If you try to say something to reign in the ridiculous volume, you are demonized. You pharisee!!! If you want to sign a solid hymn once and a while your not cool enough, as if being cools by worldly standards is anything at all. Basically, you voice any negative view of what is happening you are called a judgmental pharisee and demonized. Chuck is pointing out a very important point, and look how many are this forum are labeling him out of date or stuck on his own view of culture. What happens if you rebuke a wise man? Does he call you misguided or does he listen and consider lovingly what you said? If you feel rebuked by what Chuck is saying, are you belittling him or honestly considering what he said? If you're wondering, I'm 45 and love contemporary worship that I can participate in from the congregation. (NO ROCK CONCERT PLEASE!) I also love the grandparents in the church and the old hymns they love. If you younger folks actually love the older folks the community of worship at your church will include considering their needs and opinions.

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May 11, 2011  7:15am

We are trained to 1) Sit and pay attention 2) Be passive 3) Let the paid professionals handle the spiritual tasks (worship, teaching, preaching) 4) Be submissive Is it any wonder the church has such a difficult time with: 1) Participation 2) Aggressive pursuit of God 3) Initiative 4) Leadership Does the church need to change? Sure - stop the professional teaching, preaching, and singing - and give it back to the people. All of this has become a substitute for LIVING IT.

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May 10, 2011  4:25pm

It seems to me that if we would all focus on loving God and our neighbor, this would not be an issue and there would be no need for debate. I will state, that we must be careful in judging the motives and practices of others. If the Churches of Christ really are autonomous, we should be worried about our own congregations and reaching our own communities. I sometimes feel we spend time wanting to "straighten out" the beliefs of other congregations instead. That said, the congregation I am blessed to be a part of does utilize media and innovation to a degree. We also keep an eye out for how we can help each individual passionately worship their God "in their own language/style." While some of us find older songs and 3 point sermons uplifting, others like newer, simple songs and inductive sermons. We try to do our best and mesh together so that we can respect each other and offer a unified but varied praise to our father.

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