March 8, 2006 / David Fitch

The Feel Good Pep Rally as Worship – The Place of “Praise and Worship”

So I was sitting having lunch yesterday with a friend who has been a part of our church for the last year. He complained that our church has too much “Praise and Worship” type singing. He reported that a number of people don’t sing. And he implicated that perhaps we too had befallen to the dreaded temptation of the “Feel Good Pep Rally” style of worship, the critique I myself had levied at some contemporary worship services in The Great Giveaway. I listened and replied telling him that I thought he might be the exact person in need of such singing and returning praise to God. It might be exactly what his wearied soul needs to order his body and soul towards the order of God in praise. I challenged him to submit to the singing that comes pretty much at the end of every service at Life on the Vine after the preaching and hearing of the Word.
At Life on the Vine singing comes at the end because it is always a return to God for what He has done, what He has said in His Word and what He will do in the days, weeks and years to come. It is not always an up-style singing because sometimes the hearing of the Word may indeed require some confession in song (especially during Lent). During our service there are always versions of the threefold functions within liturgical movement: confession, submission and affirmation of truth. What happens in high-church services through the reciting of confessional prayer, the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, happens at our church using art, poetry, Scripture reading, and various call-responses. The worship is hopefully alive with participation in these movements in the work of God. There is also the preaching of the Word, and of course the Table of our Lord. As we gather before the mystery and presence of God, hopefully there is a sense of a people receiving and then giving, hearing and responding. The response at the end comes usually in the lifting up of praise, thanksgiving, affirmation and exaltation unto God. This last element too takes practice. And it changes us all. It does not come out of thin air, but as a response to the hearing and seeing of God’s Word and work. It is an act of obedience. It really can shape our experience of our selves before God.

The feel good pep rally approach to worship personally turns me off. Many times I have felt manipulated and sometimes falsely moved. And I confess that at Life on the Vine we have a “worship band” typical of the feel good worship services of evangelicalism. The hymns, and tunes used are contemporized as well as all the liturgical movements in the time of worship. So there is the ever present danger of the feel good pep rally at our church (sorry if your haven’t read the critique but in is available here and here in slimmed down versions). So for people like my friend, we have to watch the words we sing. Make the words substantive and rich yet contemporary and inviting enough to foster real participation. We have to say some words to help lead people into what this singing is about. We then must use the full range of music to reflect the beauty and majesty of God. We simply can’t do without authentic praise of the Triune God.

We’re back from Russia with our son “little Max.” All is well. Next week I hope to blog on yet another list of the “must theological issues” I think are confronting the emerging church.