Unsolicited Advice for Those of You Going to Passion 2010: Worship

In the coming posts I will venture to offer some unsolicited advice for those of you who are going to Passion 2010, to help you get the most out of your experience there.  As one who has been involved in several Passion events over the years, I feel qualified to do this, so here goes:

Passion is primarily a worship movement.  It did not start out this way; its primary purpose was to promote awakening among young people–primarily college students–to the purposes of God in our world.  But with the meteoric rise of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels, and others over the course of the previous decade, Passion has now come to be seen primarily as a worship movement.  Because of this, I will start by addressing the issue of worship.

I wish to begin by directing your attention to a post which appeared on Michael Spencer’s blog and which I linked here a few weeks back, called “The Big Worship Goof”.  The idea of this post is that we evangelicals have got it almost all wrong on worship because we think it’s all about music.

That’s right.  And in shrinking our view of worship down to being all about music, we have adopted a view of worship music which demands RIDONKULOUS levels of musical, technical, and professional expertise, and of course crazy amounts of money to be spent on this expertise and the equipment and technology which it demands.  We have allowed worship to become dependent upon a massive commercial and professional enterprise of worship music which is inexorably wed to the Christian music industry–along with its unquenchable thirst for profit and change.  We have allowed worship to become something which is inexorably targeted toward the young among us–which means that just like Benjamin Button our worship leaders are looking younger and younger every day.

In the process, we have blown any notion of traditional worship, or of worship as an intergenerational thing, or of worship as anything which does not consist of cranking up the band and getting crunk for Jesus, completely and totally out the window.

And we have altered our conception of God to the point where we believe that he is NOT present among us–despite the clear and amply abundant Scriptural teaching to the contrary–until we all get rip-roaring crunk to the latest Hillsongs ditty and induce Him to (OH so reluctantly!!!!!) allow His spirit to fall down upon us.

And we call this a good thing?

This is wrong, people.  Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now DO NOT think for a moment that this is about losing the band and bringing in the pipe organ and cranking up the old hymns.  Traditional vs contemporary music is NOT the issue here.  Of course there are some voices out there in the blogosphere which believe that Puritan theology ought not be divorced from Puritan practice so away with the T-shirts and loud worship bands.  But these voices are just as wrong as we are, even though they advocate the opposite of what we advocate.

The answer, my friends, is not to be found in contemporary music or traditional music.  The answer is to take a much broader view of worship.  A view of worship which allows room for ALL to come together in the presence of God, no matter how young or old they may be.  A view of worship which includes liturgy and communion as part of it–in other words, the worship does not stop when the music stops.  A view of worship which includes the idea of worship through service, participation in Christian community, and just a general seeking to live out a life which is pleasing to God.

A couple of takeaways from all this:  First of all, if your church tries to promote any sort of gathering, retreat, or whatever for college students or young adults by saying that there will be “awesome worship”, HOWL WITH PROTEST!!!!!  Any church that tries to promote its event by saying that there will be “awesome worship” is only helping to further our oh-so-prevalent and oh-so-wrongheaded obsession with the idea that worship begins and ends with the musical set which precedes the message in the service; this needs to be protested most vociferously.

But–and there’s a HUGE but here–first you must earn the right to protest vociferously.  In order to do this, you must gain the influence which only comes through years of active involvement, service, and commitment to a local church.  If you attempt to protest anything that a church is doing without having first shown yourself to be deeply committed to the mission of that church, then they will not listen to you.  And they shouldn’t listen to you.  I will develop this idea further in a future post.

Another takeaway:  Live lives which show that you are committed to the idea that worship is way more than just a few songs at a certain point in the service.  Seek to worship God by looking for Him in the presence of the poor, the widowed, and the oppressed, which is precisely where He has said on numerous occasions that He will be (James 2:5, Matthew 25:31-46 just to name a couple).  Avail yourself of the sacraments of Baptism and Communion, as God has promised to meet with us in a special way through those sacraments.  Avail yourself of the resources which are available through a vital connection with the liturgy and the tradition of all those believers who have served God faithfully down through all of the centuries that the church has been in existence.  And especially avail yourself of the resources which are available through active involvement in Christian community through the medium of a local church.

My hope for you at Passion 2010 is that you would not yell out “JESUS MESSIAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!” the way some would yell out “FREEBIRD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” at a rock concert–and then consider it a momentous spiritual event in your life when Chris Tomlin actually plays it.  Because the reality is that much of what you considered to be so spiritually momentous will probably dissipate as soon as the smoke which is coming out of the smoke machines clears.  Lasting spiritual change comes about through acts of service and through participation in Christian community.  Don’t settle for anything less than this.

So if you think that worship is nothing more than just what happens during the first 30-45 minutes of the main sessions when Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Matt Redman, or Charlie Hall is singing, think again.  Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, and Christy Nockels should be the first to tell you this–and I believe with all my heart that they would be.

And while we’re on the subject of worship:  Those of you who have been around Passion for a while are no doubt aware that one of the core truths which Louie has come back to frequently over the years is the idea that we are all excellent worshipers, much better at this thing called worship than we would grade ourselves to be.  This is because we were created by God to worship.  One of the most lasting consequences of the Fall is that, in addition to being good at worship, we are very good at worshiping things other than God who alone is worthy of our worship.

So as I close today, let me push you a little bit.  When you are standing down in the front and getting crunk with Chris Tomlin or David Crowder or Matt Redman or Charlie Hall, feeling the holy rush and throwing your hands up in the air in response to it, who or what are you worshiping?  Are you worshiping God?  Or are you worshiping Chris Tomlin or whoever happens to be on that stage?  Or are you worshiping the experience created by all that music and all that technology blaring at you and the rush that you get from getting crunk to Chris Tomlin or whoever is on that stage together with 25,000 of your closest friends?  Or are you worshiping that massive commercial, professional, and technological enterprise of contemporary Christian worship music that brings you all the music you know and love so dearly?  Or are you worshiping your own capacity to worship?  Or are you worshiping the idea that worship begins and ends with the music before the message?

John Calvin once said something to the effect that human beings are idol-making factories.  And it isn’t just the people outside of Christianity who are expert at idol-making.  Many of us who are Christians do quite a fine job of that ourselves.