Is this Real Life?  Who would have ever thought that a seven-year-old’s trip to the dentist for oral surgery to remove an extra tooth would end up an internet phenomenon? David Defore Jr.’s dad says he videotaped events surrounding his little boy’s first surgery because Mom was unable to be present. It was not until seven months later that he decided to post the now famous video on facebook and then on youtube, a decision that brought him both notoriety and criticism. At one point in the video the anesthetized child sluggishly asks, “Is this real life?” By 2013 this video had more than 120 million views, and was referenced often in popular culture, especially this one line, a recurring punch line in writing and speech, “Is this real life?”

As we consider current trends that work against genuine worship, in this article we want to contemplate another reason that author-theologian, Michael Walters notes that worship isn’t easy.


Is worship real life? There is nothing wrong with ritual, which is a repeated series of acts (rites), as occurs in all forms of faith practice. Ritualism, on the other hand, is precisely what the prophets condemned in the Old Testament, whereby the people allowed the rites to become meaningless, and separated from life. When many of us think of ritualism we think of formal liturgies, or so-called high-church environments. It is quite possible for worship in any kind of stylistic environment to digress into ritualism. In such worship God has a place in our lives, and that place is “at church” and we expect Him to stay in His place, so to speak. When worship is relegated to something that happens during a one hour service on Sunday morning, worship is easily divorced from life itself. Whether in Latin mass worship, or rock & roll church with the latest technologies and a hot band, worship ritualism is displeasing to a righteous God according to scripture. How do we get into such a pattern? The trajectory is easy to follow, especially in middle class American culture. Since “time is money,” time is valued and protected more and more. It takes money to live, and it takes time to make money.   Busy-ness is valued because it represents “getting ahead,” “going above and beyond,” or if we want to sound less greedy about it, “we’re doing what it takes,” or even more noble, “we are providing for our own.” Somewhere along the way, it may occur to us that we are missing out on something. Given that our time is being gobbled up in our busy-ness, we determine we have earned time of leisure, time to do as we want. Segregating our lives into well-partitioned compartments allows us to assert our own self-interests. Christian worship is valued primarily for what good it might provide for my family and me. I will determine whether it is worth the time, and if so, we may go to worship or church to walk through the steps as prescribed in the one-hour routine as provided. Whether weekly, or occasionally, this approach sees worship as an event that occupies an hour of time each week, available to me. Walters says it is a “nod to God,” which takes place inside the church, and not to be confused with “real life,” which takes place every moment of every day. In reality the controlling point is still rested in us.

One of the greatest evidences of this compartmentalized mentality is borne out in polls that routinely report that people who attend church display approximately the same moral behavior as those who do not. We go to church, enter the prescribed worship routine, whatever it is, and check that off our list. Then we leave that compartment and go back to “real life” to live in our other compartments. If we have some moral sensibility we may react to the degradation of morality in the real world, and we may be concerned about moral decay. Even in response to that decay, our tendency is to feel we need to do something. We will organize to rail against homosexuality, promiscuity, drugs, or general moral decay, and before you know it, we have formulated yet another partitioned compartment. We are ill-equipped to deal with these complex issues. Our futile efforts are powerless to fend against the real powers of darkness at work in the world. What’s more, we begin to run into ourselves, as our time constraints demand that something must give. We bail on responsibilities “at church” to campaign in political lobbies, or other “Christian” involvements, confused by our inability to prioritize or to more holistically embrace how Christ integrates all of life.

It may be true that Christians struggle to battle misperceptions of sacred – secular dichotomies in the culture constructed or presumed by those who would like to dismiss faith from the public square, but worship divorced from life seems to reflect a much deeper problem since genuine worship by definition would seem to engender obedience in all of life. Genuine worship would surely result in believers whose very lives reflect and display Christ in every arena, regardless of cost or repercussions, and thus be empowered by the One Who is “with you always.”

Characteristics of ritualism: worship divorced from life:

  • Hyper-consciousness of a stylistic affinity, whether formal or casual
  • Worship singing more focused on feelings in the moment than either great eternal truths, praise and characteristics of God, or issues of real life
  • Either pomp and circumstance, or uses of technology and production techniques displace real presence of the congregation, and distract from physical presence of people
  • Overuse of presentational components (musical, oratorical, dramatic, technological) and thus less sense of incarnational presence
  • Lack of genuine hospitality in worship atmosphere
  • Lack of prophetic address to real life contextual issues in preaching with equivalent presentation of Gospel resolution
  • Response opportunities such as altar calls or invitations overly routine, overly restrictive, or disconnected from revealed Word and challenge
  • Absence of open commissioning of congregation to bold Christian living as means of continued worship

God is sovereign over all of life. Genuine corporate Christian worship is not a retreat from normal life but is rather a continuation of ongoing worship and praise, and humble submission to God’s intention for our lives, as well as a reminder of Jesus’ promise to be with us always.

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


  1. […] previously on Michael Walters’ proposal that says, “ritualism is worship divorced from life.” (read here) By contrast, Webster’s dictionary says ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, […]

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