Worship or Worshiptainment?
By Howard Green
The countdown clock ticks away on the screen. The lights begin to dim and the crowd around you is energized as they all stand to their feet amid the laser lights, mood setting fog, and colorful swirling graphics on the walls. The music is a pounding force that begs your attention. As the singers belt out their anthem, they exhibit precise choreography as they move about on stage. The frontman or woman commands everyone to stand up and clap as the smiling backups are gesturing to the exited crowd to join in. People in the crowd are energized and focussed on the great stage production in front of them. The scenario I’ve just described is what you might expect at your local arena, amphitheater, or stadium. Unfortunately, this scenario is also played out in thousands of church sanctuaries every Sunday morning. When we gather as the body of Christ, are we gathering for worship or worshiptainment?
John 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
Worshiptainment is a word that’s been thrown around a bit, so let me clarify what it means in this article. Worshiptainment is a morphing of traditional worship of God one would expect in a Christian gathering and an infusion of the world’s methods of getting people in the mood to worship. Simply put, it is using entertainment, hype, and controlled conditions to get a crowd to encounter some sort of spiritual experience. The desired result is creating an experience they will return for each week. It is all about the numbers, calculations, formulas, replication, and strategic vision, much like a corporate structure. In the realm of growth as the measure of success, true worship, evangelism, and discipleship take a back seat to proven formulas.
Before we continue, I want to be clear about where I’m coming from and my motives for this teaching.
There are many places one can enter into worship. We can worship God in our car on the way to work. We can worship God as we sing praise to Him while shaving or applying makeup in the bathroom. We can ascribe worship to Him as we kneel down by our bed in the morning or evening. We might sing, speak, or silently pray to Him. It could be in our home, on a secluded hiking trail, or among other believers in a crowded sanctuary, but when we break worship down to it’s basic definition it always means the same thing: Worship is actively glorifying God our Father and Jesus our Savior. In this teaching, we are focussed on the miss use of the worship service in our churches and what is passed off as worship at many Christian conferences in our time. Offering up worship to the Lord is not out of compulsion, hype, or something that’s task oriented. True worship comes from the heart of a believer who offers it up as a pure expression of love, gratitude, and awe for the Lord.
I also want you to understand something very important. Some will read the title and assume this article is nothing more than a diatribe against a particular music style, venue, or personal preference. That would be an unfortunate misunderstanding because what I’m covering here is something vastly more important than personal preference or traditional versus contemporary worship styles. What we are focusing on here is what is the motivation, methodology, and outcome of our worship to God. Some people like singing and acoustic guitars. Others like pipe organs and classic hymns. Still others appreciate drums, electric guitars, and contemporary songs. As long as the music, songs, and especially the lyrics give praise to God alone and don’t detract from the focus on Him, that is worship.
When I was in the early years of my Christian walk in the 1970s and 1980s, I loved the songs we used to sing in my youth group and church I attended. I found that most likeminded churches and christian gatherings were the same. We used to sing about Thy loving kindness, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high, or all hail the power of Jesus name. Certainly in the 80s there were the hosanna praise songs which were more contemporary, but biblically based. The point is this, classic or contemporary, the focus of the worship song was squarely on God.
What we are addressing here is something very different. Worshiptainment is extremely dangerous. It’s danger lies in it’s subtle ability to take the focus off of Jesus and place it on ourselves, our struggles, on this life, and on other people. Worshiptainment places the focus on everything else but who worship should be ascribed to. Worshiptainment in it’s very essence is a movement based solely on the flesh, not the Holy Spirit. I call worshiptainment a movement because it is becoming woven into the fabric of many previously or otherwise biblically based evangelical churches. The onset and growth of worshiptainment has exploded in scope in just the past few years. You can see it’s seeping into our churches, and gatherings. It is epitomized in larger nationwide and worldwide movements like Hillsong and Bethel Music.
Matthew 4:10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”
It doesn’t matter if you sing traditional, contemporary, or both styles as long as our Savior is central. When Christians gather corporately to worship Jesus, He alone should be our focus. This brings us to the issue at hand. How can Jesus be the focus of worship when there is clearly a focus on ourselves or the people in front of us. I’ve been to fellowships, churches, and gatherings where the fog machine, lights, and music are so overpowering, there is zero chance I could focus on the One seated on the throne.
Some of the songs that are being belted out are more like marching anthems of Oh, Oh, Oh-Oh sung by the performers in perfect cadence instead of broken, contrite, and humble servants worshipping before the King. You can’t throw the name of Jesus into the lyrics of a song and expect that to cover the garbage that passes for worship lyrics. These so called ‘worship leaders’ basically repeat the same shallow chorus over and over again as the congregation has another Sunday morning experience complete with warm feelings and goosebumps. This isn’t worship before a holy God, it is a show. It is a lukewarm, be like the world show.
The end result of the worship services in a growing number of church services is best summarized in the word Ichabod. It may as well be written on the front door of the ‘sanctuary’ because God’s glory has departed. I want to warn you that you can’t manufacture a genuine move of the Holy Spirit or revival. The fog can drift, the shapes on the wall can swirl, and the band can play in deafening cadence. The worship singers can raise their hands toward heaven right on cue and belt out their anthem with precision but it produces no fruit. It is an effort of the flesh that will only produce fans, not disciples.
I’ve had times when I’ve known the Lord’s presence was moving in a service and instead of pausing or waiting as people in the congregation silently pray and worship, the leader and singers will strike up the band for the next song on the schedule on that day. Have we arrived at the point when we go from song to song, to announcements, to a cute video, to the sermon, just so we can keep the schedule going and get out on time? What ever happened to being still and waiting on the Lord? Worship and certainly corporate worship can’t be hurried. You cannot shoehorn true worship to fit between your song schedule or agenda for the morning and call it worship. I often wonder if many people in our churches are able to be quiet and stand in awe of the Lord for even one minute during the service without being entertained.
I’m resolute in regard to zeal for pure worship to the Lord in church and Christian gatherings. I’m certain many believers have to be dealing with the same zeal we have for the Lord’s name and true worship. Isn’t it time we lovingly and boldly speak up about this issue in out local fellowships, to other believers, and to those who are supposed to lead corporate worship? Church and the Christian life should not be cheapened or reduced down to a movement, a fad, or a worship experience cloaked in hype, entertainment, and a smattering of religious buzzwords.
We are strangers and aliens and are to be remarkably different in out conduct actions, and worship. We aren’t to ‘do church’, build christianese communities, or embrace a movement. We are called to go out and be salt and light. We are called to love one another. We are called to be holy. Marketing, movements, and worshiptainment will never substitute for the true work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a sold out believer. Love for the Lord and for one another is what distinguishes us from the rest of the world.
How can we expect to see true converts if we are becoming more like the world in order to reach the world?
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
I love the church. I love when we gather together for corporate worship. I believe as the world grows godless by the hour, we need Christian fellowship and worship together to help us finish well. We must be protective and loving enough to (respectfully and gently) correct brethren who are sliding down into this trap of worshiptainment. We are living in the time just prior to the Lord’s return and we cannot engage in or watch those we care about slip into this movement which is basically what worshiptainment is. I love other believers and long to see them desire the true richness of the Lord.
A growing number of our evangelical churches and gatherings have become so seeker sensitive and want to be so culturally relevant that they have reduced the service down to a pep rally, followed by a sermonette, and great fellowship and community afterward. You can use the name of Jesus and place it on big flashing screens. You can have banners full of spiritual sounding platitudes on every wall. It is all window dressing if He isn’t central to what you are doing. We must focus on building His kingdom, not our own.
Today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God.
Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it. A.W. Tozer -1955 On our odd idol- entertainment
Worshiptainment is destructive enough, but when some of our churches begin to emulate the worldly Hillsong movement or Bethel Church & Music movement, worship becomes counterfeit and is directed at the movement, not God. Hillsong has built an empire out of worshiptainment. It’s structure, leadership, and focus are on based on the movement itself and not Jesus. You can have a giant flashing screen with the word Jesus, pulsating music, and a light show that rivals all others, but the Lord desires worship from the heart, not hype. The Hillsong movement’s marriage with the world is well documented. I’m mentioning Hillsong because of the fact that their songs are being sung in thousands of evangelical churches each Sunday. This is not exclusive, but many of their songs are course after repeated course of feel good, ear ticketing, all about me, dribble with the name of Jesus added in for supposed authenticity. I’m not talking about Brian Houston’s personal life, personal sin, or even preferences. I’m addressing a movement that at it’s core, seems to be driving the focus away from Jesus and making everyone part of one big Christianese social club. This becomes very pertinent given the fact that Hillsong’s movie: Let Hope Rise will be released to theaters on September 16th.
Bethel Music, under the umbrella of Bethel Church of Redding Ca. is under the leadership of Bill Johnson. Included in this Bethel movement is: Jesus Culture, Bethel Music label, Schools of Supernatural Ministry, School of Worship, along with other conferences. When I’m in a local church and see Bethel Music is credited as the source of the worship song, I have to cringe. I believe many godly worship pastors or leaders must be ignorant to the fact that bethel Church and Bill Johnson’s teachings are mired in heretical teaching. If you didn’t know and you simply listened to the words of the songs on their own merit, you might conclude there is no problem. In reality, Bethel Church & Bethel Music have produced ‘worship’ songs with the mantra and general idea of being free, king’s kids, and conquerers, all the while holding to the most extreme of practices within their venues. Fire tunnels, gold dust from heaven appearing, and rolling around on the floor grunting like an animal are the norm at bethel Church. This is all well documented and you may read further in our recent article Profiteering Prophets. I cannot begin to think we need to be spoon fed ‘worship’ music from the den of false doctrine that is Bethel Church and Bethel Music.
Psalm 95:1-6 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
Friends, true worship is ascribing glory to God. It comes from a heart that doesn’t need to hyped, pepped, or conjured up. If you are a true Christian, you know the difference. As many in the evangelical church seem to be embracing the methods of worshiptainment to increase numbers and appeal to the world, you must feel the same tension I do as I want to point people to the only One who rightfully deserves worship alone. Let me reiterate, I love the church, I care for fellow believers, I want young Christians to know true worship isn’t something to be reduced down to religious entertainment.
There is not enough hype and entertainment to carry you along in this ever darkening world or give you enough motivation to live daily for Jesus. Spiritual pep rallies complete with cool bracelets and t-shirts commemorating a movement will not help you to stand for Jesus when it will cost you something or perhaps even cost everything. Conferences, youth rallies, and other gatherings have their place and many are so edifying to a person’s Christian walk, provided they are focused squarely on Jesus. At the end of the day, we cannot let religious activity ever take the place of truly walking with Jesus. If you focus on and sell out to Him, you won’t need to be entertained. You will be exited by the simple fact that you are able to live your life for Jesus to the glory of God.
Looking across the religious landscape of our day, I’m becoming convinced of the root cause of shallow worship. Many have reduced the Lord down to our level. They view Him as a homie, pal, or cosmic genie in a bottle. He’s someone they sing to to make them feel good about themselves. In my opinion, we need to completely do away with self esteem and esteem God as high and lifted up. If we could even take a moment to see what the Bible says about the Lord, we’d be on our faces or kneeling in worship instead of proudly belting out anthems about our struggles or how great we are.
The Bible tells us the throngs of angels surround His throne and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” In Psalm 145 David proclaims, “I will extol you my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Everyday I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. This is a heart filled with adoration and it is expressed as worship to the Lord. Me centered dribble and sappy songs about our hopes and dreams to nothing to bring worship to God.
Worship in the Bible occurs in many times and places. Sometimes it is during a high season or mountain top time in one’s life. Other times, it is after trials and hardship. Jesus ascribes worship to God when tempted in the wilderness. Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothing, beaten severely, and thrown into a dungeon, yet they praised and worshipped the Lord during the night. The point is this: Worshiptainment focusses on the here and now, the mountaintops, and it is me centered. The loud music will fade away, laser lights will cease, the fog from the machine will dissipate, and the exited crowd will be gone. You may feel very alone. When hard times, trials, and persecution comes, you need to be able to worship the Lord, even in that hard place because He is right there with you if you belong to Him.
Proverbs 18:24 A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
I’m certain I’ll get mail in favor of what I wrote and others will write and accuse me of being legalistic or out of step. My motives are to lovingly warn you if you are a Christian to be genuine with the Lord and desire true worship. Be intentional about warning others including your leadership about the dangers of worshiptainment. If you are a new Christian, I’m warning you to seek the Lord, worship Him in spirit and truth, and diligently read what the Bible says about worship. Find a local church or fellowship that teaches the Bible, is Christ centered, and worships with reverence and awe for the Lord. If you need direction as to what a solid biblical church looks like, please contact us.
2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
In the previous verse, Paul is warning Timothy about false teaching being proliferated by those who desire to hear what they want to hear. Worldly passions give rise to people, including once solid believers wandering off into religious myths. I’m echoing the same warning because some of what passes for worship songs in services is not doctrinally solid and biblical and it is leading people away from Jesus and back into the world. It may appear good because there is some truth, a smattering of religious platitudes, and even a mention of Jesus name.
I believe as we approach the climax of history and the Lord’s return, more churches and fellowships will begin to resemble the world. They will use it’s marketing tactics, clever salesmanship, and corporate models to build and replicate for strategic growth. This will continue to be epitomized in it’s greatest manifestation of seeker sensitive overtures and a give them what they will return for next Sunday mentality. Worshiptainment is the end result of playing church and making little of God and much of ourselves and how great our church is.
Don’t tell people how great your church is, how much you love it, or how cool the youth or worship pastor is. Don’t tell them how many activities your church has for the kids and whole family. People need to know how great your Savior is. Please don’t mistake a flurry of seemingly religious activity and especially entertainment masquerading as worship as a work of the Lord. Hirelings and entertainers have many people settling for an enhanced life experience rather than an abundant life lived taking up the cross of Christ.
Throughout church history from the early believers in Jerusalem, Antioch, to those persecuted in the Middle Ages, up to the time of Spurgeon, Moody, and Tozer, worship has been focused squarely on the Lord. The prevailing current in much of the modern evangelical church worship is ‘me’ focussed. In these end times, let us exhort other believers to true worship where the glory is the Lord’s alone. Tozer saw worshiptainment creeping into the evangelical church over fifty years ago and warned us about it. Let’s continue to lovingly warn people against this spiritual decay disguised as being in the Lord’s presence and worship in our day.
All for Him,