Pitchfork and Pentecostals
What do we lose when we control our worship too much?

"It would be awesome if this band just ditched their set list and played Bowie's "Hunky Dory" instead."

That was my suggestion. I was standing in a crowd of thousands at the Mecca of indie music, the Pitchfork Festival. And frankly, it was lame. Bands on three separate stages had been playing since noon for hordes of unaffected hipsters. Without exception, the audience stood stiff, arms crossed, observing, critiquing, even snapping selfies, but not responding to the music, not even so much as bobbing a head or swaying side to side.

The bands were equally uninspired. No one smashed equipment or lit guitars on fire or made revolutionary political statements or even wavered one iota from their set list. They just did what they were expecting to do and what they were expected to do and in the end there was nothing to report to anyone who had heard the albums aside from a vapid, "I saw them at Pitchfork."

In the parlance of our time, the whole thing was pretty "meh."

It reminded me of music at church.

I grew up Pentecostal / Charismatic but I attend a (spirit-filled) Anglican Church now. The quality of musicianship in my present congregation is much higher than the worship bands I grew up with (and the Spirit really does show up), but the excellence of the music is so perfect that it sometimes comes off as closed to the possibility that something unexpected might happen when 700 additional people and, presumably the Spirit of God, are present. I get it though. There's a timeframe. There's a lot to do. We can't just throw the plan out the window. The folks for the next service will show up soon and the band will have to do it all again.

Maybe part of me knew this implicitly when recently I asked my wife if we could skip our plans for Sunday worship at our Church and go visit my Dad's small Charismatic church instead.

I had worshiped there for most of my life. We have suffered all of the worship band problems of a small church: a lack of skilled musicianship on one hand, and a congregation that is sometimes too involved (ask any worship leader you know how they feel about personal tambourines). But sometimes … sometimes it was electric. Sometimes the worship leader ditched the plan and the band miraculously followed his lead and a chorus of "We Exalt Thee" transformed from a formal routine into the heart cry of the entire room.

It must have been a fifth Sunday when we visited Dad's church because the choir was on stage along with a full rock band. I cringed inside (see previous note regarding the talent pool of small churches). The worship was good but not the heaven-meeting-earth moment I had quietly hoped for. But then Annie stepped out of the choir and took center stage.

November 21, 2013

Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments


December 01, 2013  11:12pm

Hey Nate, God wants to respond to our response. He is never far away. If we need a symphony, he conducts one. If we need jazz, he improvises. If we need predictability, he is four-on-the-floor. In fact, be ready for any genre of the Spirit. Those who are free in Jesus are free indeed. Freedom is one of God's specialties - don't discount his jazz. You are right - he rehearses us, but sometimes we become offended. Take care to avoid offense - then we can't receive . . . just like the folks in Jesus' home town. Our Lord is not a spastic control freak waiting for perfect conditions. He comes when we ask, and we should ALWAYS have our ears on. Seek the voice of the Father always! Spirit awaits your invitation, but also, sometimes, he just comes on in :-)

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November 25, 2013  12:46am

I would really like to learn from my pentecostal/charismatic brothers and sisters about openness to the Spirit. It's not my background or my temperament, and I realize my discomfort in those settings has a lot more to do with me than they. But I hope this can be a two-way conversation. First, I don't think that "spirit-filled" is something we can clearly define and identify by our response to worship (which, I might add, is a much larger category of activity than merely music). Second, I'd like to suggest the possibility that the working of the Spirit is not always (or even usually) a spontaneous free-for-all, but something that imbues a careful process of planning and rehearsal. God doesn't just play free jazz. Sometimes he rehearses us, relentlessly guiding us to the point where our actions work together towards the vision he had from the beginning. If we can't see the work of the Spirit in that, perhaps we need to pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

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November 23, 2013  6:44pm

"...but I attend a (spirit-filled) Anglican Church now." Walk into any church and it's pretty clear what people want their offering to God to look and sound like. If they want a slightly different nuance, they can just look for a different sign out front. It occurred to me I should want what God has asked for. He has not been silent on this. "... 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, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eph. 5: 18,19 Being filled with the Spirit is not a quality performance level, a body movement level, a volume level, or an emotion level. It is a dynamic much simpler than that. It's a participation level, a relationship level, a preparation level, and an intimacy level. It can't be driven from a platform or by a band. They don't teach this at seminary. It reflects our identity as "members of one another". Anna above had one part of it that night, but God was looking for everyone to speak from their heart, even Lane, if he had prepared. You have to leave Ur to move from platform driven expression to every believer driven heart participation. It seems to me that is what God is asking for. Have I missed something?

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Mark Gomez

November 23, 2013  12:22pm

Lane, I get what you are saying, I have been a small church pastor and mediocre musician for a while. Nevertheless, I would simply add, some folks feel just as stirred by the exact nature of the service and methodical movements within that service that you probably feel are stiff. These are heart issues which have a broad expanse of sensitivities and depth of meaning regarding what will stir each person. It is those differences that make worship all that it is. When the focus is on God, all worship is meaningful and deep. I think the angels never walk away from a time of worship in heaven feeling like it lacked something. Their focus is on God, how could it lack?

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