What Is Happening in the Pews?

Throughout history corporate worship has been one of the places where spiritual victory has been claimed and celebrated.  In the revivalist eras when preaching by the likes of Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Graham set the tone for not only mass evangelism ministry, but for the worship of local church bodies, public worship was at the center of spiritual transformation in people’s lives and by extension in communities.   Reviewing the dynamic transitions in Christian faith traditions across the breadth of history, it seems impossible to miss ways that worship was a centerpiece of spiritual renewal.  In the case of most all of Protestant reformation and renewal, preaching and singing alike in small parishes and towns sought to emulate the atmosphere of the settings in which great men such as those previously mentioned preached the Word and were accompanied by notable congregational singing.  A review of their personal lives or bibliographic memoirs demonstrate times of spiritual struggle on personal levels and in some of their public ministry situations.  The same can be said for the musicians that assisted them, though I find musicians to be less inclined to share openly about such struggles for reasons I can only surmise.


In his book, Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition, author and historian James F. White notes that “people are the primary liturgical document.”  That is to say, you can tell something about the worship by observing the people who engage in the same.  I find this to be a profound truth and a cause of pastors and worship leaders along with all church leaders to take pause.  Recent research demonstrates a dramatic disconnect between pulpit and pew in many if not most churches.  If professional survey results are to be believed, convictions of the preacher are not being translated to become convictions of those to whom the sermons are being addressed.  Certainly, there are likely a myriad of reasons for such a disconnect, but as a close observer of practices in Christian worship I cannot help but wonder if worship music has not been instrumental in ushering in the cultural bent toward self-actualization that often flies in the face of biblical admonition to follow Christ.  Some essayists opine that many preachers have misrepresented gray areas of faith-practice as fundamental truth, when in reality biblical evidence is either unclear or even simply non-existent regarding those issues.  In American context such teaching certainly opens the door for parishioners to then wonder how much of any of the message is bonafide truth.  Given our cultural bent toward “have it your way,” “it’s all about you” anyway, further trouble in presenting clear, “Thus saith the Lord” seems obvious.  Confusion of that nature coupled with songs and singing that reflects self-absorptive practices are problematic at least.  One can readily observe such practices in many worship settings: lyrics that always seem to end up coming around to my worship or my experience as opposed to reflecting the person and character of the Triune God, and musical “accompaniment” that is so loud that participation by worshipers if it is taking place is covered up so as not to reveal those periods where few if any are actually engaged in worship singing.  Perhaps it is time to take stock of what is taking place among the worshipers in our pews.


As some current trends might even indicate, I wonder if our next reformation will display in the form of dramatically simplified worship in which raw talent replaces technological production, where the sound of humbled worshipers’ voices will become the predominant sonority of worship music, and preaching will place full faith in the clarity of the Word.  I cannot help but believe such a return may close the gap between pulpit and pew, and strengthen spiritual transformation in worship that relies afresh upon the Holy Spirit to be its only power source.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

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