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The One Thing Killing Today’s Modern Church


As a person who has pastored in worship in one form or another for more than 15 years, I have seen ebbs and flows in “worship” in the modern church.  Yet there is one issue that seems to be slowly – and in some cases, quickly killing the modern church.  Ok, so the title is a little on the wrong side of things – there are a plethora of things killing worship in today’s modern church…but there is one that ranks above them all, in my opinion…

…the worship wars.

I am not simply defining any particular worship war.  There are plenty to choose from:

  • to pay or not to pay musicians
  • to pay or not to pay your worship leader
  • secular songs or no?
  • not singing songs in a low enough key
  • not singing songs in a high enough key
  • not singing enough hymns

…the list goes on and on.  Why is the worship war killing the modern church?  I feel that  we have placed 90% of our focus on how to keep up with the trends, follow key leaders, or emulate certain worship leaders or styles that we have forgotten one thing: isn’t about us.

The keys we do songs in are important…well…sort of.  You see, we will still go to concerts in either the CCM or secular world and will belt out songs to the top of our lungs in keys only meant for medically altered vocal chords.  Song keys arent the point, though.

We’ve become accustomed to making the perfect worship services beca20140713-004050-2450324.jpguse we have become a culture that worships worship instead of a culture that worships God above all.

God spoke of His intentions for worship in Amos 5:21-23

“I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?

Wow!  What a statement and question.  I’m not sure how you would have felt…but to hear my God tell me that he would not hear my song would devastate me!  Why did He say such things?  One word: focus.

“The multitude of your sacrifices– what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

Replace some of these words with words like “lights”, “VOX AC30”, and “transparent overdrive” and we have a modern day version of the scripture.  That’s not to say that picking the perfect overdrive pedal isn’t important.  The bulls and lambs were important because they were commanded as offerings.  While a pedal isn’t commanded – ensuring that we are offering our best worship is.  The point in both cases is not in making the method or the mechanics the important thing.  It is in making sure that God is at the forefront of what we do.

Our conversations – our social commentation – our conferences…are all slowly dominated by the mechanics and less focused on the AMAZING God we have.  Many of you have likely seen the image of the “Evolution of Worship”.  While it is funny at the surface, it is a logical process of how far away we have come from the AWE of God in worship.  If I were to lay prostrate on the platform before my congregation – they would likely murmur about calling an ambulance out of fear for my health.  Why?  Is the congregation I lead in a state of wrong maturity?  Or am I guilty because I haven’t modeled this worship as a “lead worshiper”.

Our roles are so much more than we have allowed them to become.  When King Jehoshaphat set out to battle, we read in 2 Chronicles 20 that the singers, musicians, and worshipers were in the front of the progressing army.  Can you imagine the reaction of the other side?  Seeing and hearing leaders of worship boldly singing praises of God had to be an amazing sight and sound…

…and the army marched right behind them.

…step by step…

…led to battle.

Which begs to question:

…how impressed and willing to follow would an army be of the worship service we offer today?

…and how pleased would God be?

Refocus:  Let’s stop worshiping worship…and begin worshiping God wholly again.

45 thoughts on “The One Thing Killing Today’s Modern Church”

  1. Pr Samuel Wong says:

    I have just shared this posting by giving it a heading “This surely and honestly deserves a GOOD THOUGHT”. This self-absolved trend of worship in churches is more dangerous than we think. The way we go about worshiping God looks as if God exists to serve us. In my earlier FB posting I wrote: “Have we ever thought even if God did not create us or He did not send His Son Jesus died to save us…He is still altogether GOD…”

    1. mm
      Jason Whitehorn says:

      Scary thought that we would even think that God exists to serve us…isn’t it. Great insight. Feel free to post your Facebook link.

    2. The Seer says:

      I think contemporary worship in the US anyway, is in the process of imploding. I have served in various capacities both on and off platform, leader, musician, and helper. I’ve been to conferences, read articles, and had training. What I see is leaders and musicians getting more and more confused, trying to figure out how to “Get it right”. My prayer for the musicians at our church is that they would realize “It’s not about getting it right, but getting it God”.

  2. Yohan Krishnakumar says:

    Very True.. I have just shared this on my FB too. Lets talk about it…

  3. Hanny Setiawan says:

    i believe this concern has become world-wide issue. And all is by the wrong teaching in pulpit. we have to fight against this phony movement.

  4. Jestoni Revealed says:

    Wow… That hit me hard… This is a wake up call for churches, not to focus on the lesser things, but focus more on God. As a worship leader, I do believe that there’s a war, a war to be more or to be humbled. Sometimes, the way to win is kneel these shins.


  5. Bob says:

    It’s fine isn’t it? Religion is just a white lie that’s been told throughout the years to keep everyone happy =)

  6. Nic says:

    While I agree that we can get enamored with the mechanics, the scripture quoted had more to do with social justice and exploiting the poor. Getting distracted by the trends is bad but we should be careful quoting scripture that mentions music and sacrifices and miss the context of cheating and taking advantage of the most vulnerable as a basis for our critique.

    1. (Jason W.) says:


      Thanks for the comment…however nothing is lost in the verse. The verse, as originally intended and currently applied, was meant to show what WASNT important by comparison.


  7. Andy Barlow says:

    IMO blogs like this, laced with heavy overtones of accusation, do nothing but encourage the continuance of the “worship wars” in the modern Church. Even a strange duality is present in the writing of this blog, where on the one hand the Church is accused of having “left its first Love,” and on the other we are encouraged to leave comments so we can have a chance to win a t-shirt or Starbucks gift card.

    Despite her issues, the Church is still the bride of Christ, and she is deeply loved. I would rather read blogs to this end, rather than read blogs that point out her warts & pimples.

  8. Worshipper says:

    I think there’s no question that such wars are happening around churches on a weekly basis. The problem with this article as with so many before it, is that it very vaguely demands that we return our focus on Jesus, (as if worship leaders totally forgot about him) and yet they offer no practical answer as to what that looks like in a modern church. Do we just take down the stage and have a single guy with an acoustic guitar? Do we get rid of the sound system? Do we go back to overheads instead of slides with fancy backgrounds? Turn on the overhead lights? At what point do you arbitrarily decide that lights or sounds distract from worship? True, we need more powerful songwriting, and great words to unite and inspire churches together. True, there is a movement among musicians who use the stage to play music, not worship God, but ultimately that’s the responsibility of that worship leader to get his/her team to focus on what’s really important.

    There is nothing inherently more or less spiritual about old hymns, nor is there anything better or worse about new Hillsong songs or whatever simply because they are new and have new sounds. What matters is the heart behind the lyrics, and the way the songs are presented before the congregation, whether they have life in the church,and draw people’s focus to the Lord. That also has to be coupled with good teaching and leadership from the church leaders to foster the culture of worship first, music second. I think most churches point at worship musicians and write them off as being cynical or picky when it comes to the music, but really, if we’re being honest the death of great worship has nothing to do with music.It has everything to do with leaders and the cultures that they inspire and foster within the churches. Go to a church that sings very superficial, self-focused songs, and I guarantee you the message will not be preaching about dying to yourself, but will also be a superficial, “make-your-life-better-with-Jesus” message.

    We have to realize that music is most definitely NOT the “one thing killing today’s modern church”. Titles like that are nothing more than buzzfeed-inspired clickbait. What’s killing the modern church is leaders who do not grab the call of God on their church and pursue that, and lead people courageously to what God has called that specific community to, as well as the church globally.

  9. Corbey Dukes says:

    In both of those books
    (Amos and Isaiah), the prophets ended with what God was saying that He wants
    His people to be before they worship:

    Amos 5:24 But let justice roll on like a river,?righteousness like a never-failing stream! (In verses 5:11 – 15 Amos speaks of how they are unjustly treating the poor)

    Isaiah 1:17 Learn to do right; seek justice.? Defend the oppressed.?Take up
    the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

    So, worship (regardless of the style) when we care not for the least of these is not worship…it is for our own entertainment.

  10. Pal Lau says:

    As one of the worship leaders in my congregation, i spend time on intercession for church, local social issues, global issues , wars such as israel vs hamas everyday, have monthly church outreaches too ,and meantime i’d spend time on learning new music techniques.

    I think the Holy Spirit uses the daily prayers to give me power to go deeper so i can better understand the lyrics i sing .
    I dont mind if i really sing off key on stage or have no fancy enough decorates, I care only if Yeshua enjoys the worship or not.

    I’m from hong kong and we have similar evolution scenario as well. I wish we can become strong fighters as the ones who circled Jerico.

    1. The Seer says:

      I want to come visit one of your services! I was a musician for perhaps 15 years then became worship leader. I was not a trained or experienced singer or leader – I had to jump in after the previous leader suddenly resigned. I couldn’t rely on my great skills or experience leading, because I didn’t have either! Prayer was the only way we made it, and God was faithful, giving us some awesome services in spite of our imperfections. Sadly, the pastor, rather than celebrating the spiritual impact of God’s presence, instead laid down withering criticism of the imperfections,of myself and the band to the point I finally quit. Throughout though, I learned to pray and conduct spiritual warfare in a MUCH deeper way than ever before and now, just a couple years later, I am director of prayer ministries at our new church. How God pulled that off, I’ll never understand but I praised him through both the good and bad times!

  11. Pal Lau says:

    btw, i was one of those in phase 06 , but Thanks God, He has led me back to the former phases. The bride can learn to be humble again, I’m sure in Jesus name.

  12. torre1492 says:

    This article is excellent but the worship evolution graphic infuriates me. It is extremelly biased and oversimplified, reflecting the presupositions of its author instead of reality. While I agree with the article and the thesis that we do in fact have a tendency to worship worship instead of God we cannot oversimplify the issue to suggest that if you are down on your knees you are qworshiping but if you play guitar in a contemporary worship band you are an idolater. Such statements do nothing to bring an end to worship wars but only make them worse. We need to instead recognize that reason worship wars exist is because diversity exists even within the biblical parameters for worship. Unity in worship will occur when we embrace diversity and stop insinuating that our style of worship is the only way to worship God and all others are tantamount to self centered idolatry. Is there idolatry present within contemporary worship circles? Absolutely, but it is also present within conservative worship circles. So in short, I cant stand the image but I love the article, lol.

    1. Gaciru says:

      I think there was so much more to the image than posture. The physical manifestation represents the spiritual and mental disorder or order of the worshiper. Both the image and article work hand and hand!

    2. Ejody says:

      I also play guitar (and bass and drums and sing, and have led worship hundreds of times) and I didn’t find the graphic offensive nor directed at any type of musician whatsoever. While the other images have the subject contemplatively looking down or lifting his eyes to heaven, the guitarist is focusing on his instrument, his performance, his look, his personal satisfaction. That is decidedly NOT what a worship leader (nor any leader) should do, and as the author elucidates, there is FAR too much of that focus nowadays– well-intended as it may be.

      Reading the map wrong while intending to read it correctly will still keep you from reaching your destination, or worse, get you desperately lost.

      1. James says:

        We can’t expect the guitarist to close his eyes & play the instrument. His concentration in his performance also doesn’t appear wrong to me, when he’s offering his music to God as his sacrifice in worship. About looks- I feel musicians & even everyone should only be worried about how they look before God & his throne as that’s what really matters. When we stand in awe of His greatness, our only reaction will be to humble ourselves as much as possible. Bowing & even falling down on our faces comes as a result of us realizing this great God & His grace that saved us. By that time we realize this truly, I think the posture is a lesser important one.

    3. Dennis says:

      The graphic is not about the guitar, but about the increasingly blurred appearance of worshipers. David played a stringed instrument, probably danced and sang out loud. But the rock-a-billy church image and sound doesn’t appear to focus on reverence. And the come as-you-are, stay-as-you-are mantra just seems to encourage people to make-believe instead of leading them to real beliefs. I posted a picture of the top Google returns for “worship” and “rock concert”. They appear so very similar. I find it simply a wonder, though not impossible, that people can still find God through these confusing and contradictory representations of Christ’s character.

  13. jetleets says:

    Have we sunk so low that we are now arguing on “HOW” we worship and forgetting “WHO” we worship.

    I totally agree with Corbey Dukes in his comment below. If we do not do what God commands, how we worship and if we worship doesn’t hold any weight! Just go out and do what is asked of us and do it with the right attitude. That is worship.

  14. Travis says:

    Honestly David is probably the greatest example of a true worshiper in the bible. What can we learn from him? True worship is from the heart. David was a man after Gods own heart. I do agree many churches are getting way to far into the show of worship but a physical manifestation of our worship is not bad. David played the harp as we play a guitar. David danced before God and even in the face of rebuke continued to and even more so. True worship is not always done on our knees. True worship comes from a spirit of humility. It’s not about beating ourselves up as if we are no good but in knowing where our strength comes from. To worship in the dance in that manner does nothing but give God glory and honor. God never wanted the church to view worship as an option. It has always been and will always be a command to worship. With all our mind, soul, strength, might, etc. He has never wanted just a part of anyone. God wants all of us. To be hot or cold. Not in between. How can we shout and jump and dance for the world but not for Him?

    1. James says:

      I like this
      “How can we shout and jump and dance for the world but not for Him?”
      Yes, whatever is our best goes to GOD, the greatest one.

  15. brad says:

    I’m not so sure that Jesus wouldn’t come into our churches and rip out power cables and flip over the overdrive pedals and turn off the lights. Seems to me that he might just clear the stage to make room for prayer again in our worship and be houses of worship. I believe that songs are expressions of our worship, but I don’t remember the last time I went to church and the worship leader actually led me to “talk” to God…they did do some great songs though. But I’m just rambling and trying to find my way, too.

  16. Matt_Richard says:

    Just another article about another guy who doesnt understand that church is about winning the lost, not about satisfying the saved. Lights, perfect music and sharp looking sets help the lost connect and that is what it is all about! That’s why mega-churches are successful and this little conservative churches are dying.

  17. Mike Williams says:

    All “Worship” is insane. Worship of any kind blinds and binds the spirit. From the venality of self adoration to the raw destructiveness of God worship, nothing good will ever net return from worship. Think people, if God truly created the vastness and complexity of the Universe, does God really give a thrice about our idiotic self destrutive tendencies and applause????

  18. Mandy says:

    I tend to disagree. Come on…if you were to behave like monks in church…who born in the years after 1990 would go?? You can glorify God in so many ways…just because someone has a guitar and they play that “devil-rock and roll’s music”…come on…they said that in the 1950’s. The year is 2014, and we have to try to relate to people today, because they matter. This is coming from a 19-year-old female…the criticizing of different types of music simply does NOT appeal to anyone in my generation for sure.

    1. Annie says:

      I was raised, and my children (all 5 of them) were (and are) raised in a reverential congregation. I have been to churches where the band played so loudly that my bones hurt, and I am in very good health!! My 15 year old son will tell you that as much as he likes the band, Skillet, when it comes to services, he much prefers acapella singing, because you can focus on the words you are singing, and the meaning your heart is understanding. We are to worship “in spirit and in truth”. You can’t do that if it is just a wall of sound and you don’t actually KNOW what you are singing. And when I sing, I really do want to be able to hear myself!! And most of the time, when there is a band or choir…they are the only ones singing!! The audience are a bunch of “Looky-Lous” who DO NOT SING!!!! They are busy raising they hands or swaying to the beat, but their mouths are closed, or they are mumbling under their breath. I have seen enough mouths say, “Thank you, Jesus” during one song to want to be physically ill. Not that we shouldn’t say that, mind you. I thank Jesus all the time. I am VERY thankful for all that He has done for me, but we should be singing as a congregation.

    2. The Seer says:

      Hi Mandy – I think criticism of the style of music misses the point and is itself a misdirection. The goal during a worship service should be to direct the peoples heart towards God, and ideally it begins with the musicians themselves. (The congregation can enter in to God’s presence in spite of whether the band is connected, but it is a harder path.) Bands should never be fooled – the congregation and even visitors, can tell whether the band is connecting with God, or whether they are consciously or sub-consciously drawing attention to themselves.

  19. Rosemary says:

    A very thought provoking article. When a heart is filled with worship and adoration to a Holy and awesome God, one can’t but bow down or raise one’s hands with humility and gratitude. I imagine that when we stand before our majestic Lord one day, our knees will knock and tremble and we will fall on our faces and worship Him. isn’t that the picture you get in Revelation?

  20. Pauly57 says:

    For me a older praiser of God(57 years old) I find I cannot find God in my worship service if that service is loud or there is a lot of yelling. For me the “still small voice” concept works for me. I think my biggest problem in church is applause as it is not applause for God but the person preforming for me that brings a service to mans level of self praise not Gods. So for me I will just worship God where I can hear Him. BTW I liked the article.

    1. Caleb says:

      Since when is a worship service about you? I thought is was about worshipping God the Father. Statements like “for me” and “the biggest problem” and “I will just worship God where I can hear Him” are ones that make it all about yourself. If you want to hear from God, praise Him regardless of other’s intentions, loudness of the music, and lots of yelling.

  21. Emmet Fowler says:

    I have been a worship leader for 30 years, 25 of them at the same church and with the same pastor. I have seen it all, done it all and have the T-shirt when it comes to worship leading. I remember when the real “worship war” was whether we sing hymns or choruses. I believe that we need to recognize that part of the problem is that we have made the “worship leader” a vocation in in our modern Westernized American church culture. What used to be the job of a lay person who went to work at a real job during the week and led worship at the local church on the weekend, FOR NO PAY, is now cultivated as a professional vocation that you can go to a bible school and obtain a degree for. So now there are young men and women with worship leading degrees looking for “jobs”, and just like in the real job market, we want the biggest church with the best pay and benefits. The only problem is that we haven’t PROVEN OURSELF yet. Last I checked, the average worship leader is at a church approx. 3 years. Get hired at a “small” church and wait for that call from the mega church down the road with the biggest stage and best lights and sound system, with a recording studio and 20 video screens while trying to write the next hit worship song. Our modern culture cries out for, even demands, connection. If it takes stage presence, musicianship, and a little bit of showmanship, then let’s do it! But the the true intentions of your heart is revealed in your willingness or unwillingness to be FAITHFUL to where God has called you and to learn to do what you do with excellence. If that guy in the picture with the cool hair and guitar is good at what he does and has been doing it faithfully without complaining about his pay (or no pay), his lack of a good sound system (or a good drummer) at a small community church with a heart to reach their community…he has my utmost respect. The tools of worship vary from church to church and generation to generation, but the heart of worship remains rooted in faithfulness and devotion. to God and to people.

    1. Annie says:

      I love that my congregation has a “singing” one Wednesday a month. We get together and sing hymns. A Capella singing and focusing on the words and meanings of the songs. We sing what is in our hearts…praise, honor, love, longing for Heaven, cherishing our Father, and thankfulness for all God has done for us. Blending voices together with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ without accouterments is purity at its best.

  22. (Jason W.) says:

    I think we have travelled down a road in these comments that isn’t the point at all. The point is not about “The Worship Wars”. The point isn’t whether loud music is right or wrong. The point isn’t traditional or modern….the point isn’t lights or no lights. There are times and places for ALL these things. There are churches where ALL these things can thrive. The point is that NONE of these – absent the heart of worshipping God first – are worth anything. My ultimate point is simply to see that we are focused on worshiping God first. Priorities. It seems we’ve gotten concerned with whether or not I may be critizing a particular segment of worship. Rest assured. I am not. 🙂

  23. Erick Onyango says:

    wow…#challenge accepted!!!

  24. Raine says:

    This is a great article and image. I like it, but worship only takes up 30 minutes of a sermon. Whether those leading worship are dressed up in the latest Gucci with flashing lights or in last year’s bell bottoms singing this little light is mine, is really minute. The church has to stay current in today’s world. The real question to me is, is the service as a whole leading people to achieve what’s described in Matthew 10:8 8″Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give?” Is it causing people to obtain John 14:12 12″Truly,
    truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he
    will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to
    the Father. 13?” And I think worship is like the icing; it’s not the cake. Cause worship is personal time with God and can be done anyway people want it. It’s the sermons and the structuring of the entire church that require substance.

    1. Veritas Magnum says:

      Worship has nothing to do with church. It is you connecting every moment of your life with Jesus.

      1. Raine says:

        Can you explain this further?

  25. Michael Ford II says:

    Awesome article. It really made me think about some things.

  26. rezochuck says:

    Unfortunately, after several decades of church attendance, I’ve met only a rare true worship leader or worship pastor. On the other hand, I’ve met many great praise leaders and praise pastors. However, they all call themselves worship leaders and worship pastors. Praise is powerful and essential to honoring and glorifying God. We need praise leaders and praise pastors. Worship is completely different from praise. Both the Hebrew word translated “worship” in the Old Testament and the Greek word translated “worship” in the New Testament–and those words basically mean bow, bow down, or prostrate oneself. That requires deep humility. The several Hebrew words translated “praise” in the Old Testament and the various Greek words translated “praise” indicate actions like sing, clap, shout, laud, compliment, etc. We can simultaneously worship and praise, but they are very different.

  27. Hanny says:

    True. While I’ve always have respect for those people with talents serving GOd, just like GOD gave bezaleel and aholiab skills to build the most glorious Tabernacle (which is of course no longer exist nowadays); What matters most is JESUS.

    Worship should be all about HIM. to please HIM only.. not for our pleasing.

    Nothing should distract our attention from HIM nor disrupt our hearts connecting with HIM.

  28. Sahin says:

    We began a church plant 6 mohnts ago in my livingroom, out gatherings feel more like a big family get together. We usually share food, as we laugh, and chat. Eventually we usually move into a time of teaching/ dialogue around a passage of scripture as people fishish dessert. Sometimes we share communion, sing, share stories, pray together- every week is different. We have outgrown my house and will soon be moving into a public venue. I hope we can keep the familial vibe, as we try to live out our identity as the church on mission, sharing life with each other, as opposed to attending a service. Trying to recover an Acts 2 perspective of what it means to BE the church.

  29. Nicole says:

    I’d love to see the use of liturgy in my chucrh sometimes its too easy to be a modern’ or a traditional’ chucrh and not actually learn from each other. I like that we have a rhythm, but I’d also love to see us break that sometimes read a different Bible passage during communion, have music at the end of the sermon, sing all the songs in a minor key, etc. Often we become so familiar with what is going on that we no longer connect with it.

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