In Defense of Worship as a Concert

By on Jul 2, 2015

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“Worship should not be a concert.”

It’s a common sentiment in many of the circles I run in, and in many ways I couldn’t agree more. The loud music, the blinding lights, the seamless transitions, and, God help us, the smoke machines. It can be a bit ridiculous, and not just as a matter of good taste, but as a matter of good theology. It feeds the ideology of the market and the religion of the consumer. It can condition people to be observers of a show instead of participants in worship of the triune God. None of this is good. Many churches that were once on the cutting edge of modern church worship have realized this and are moving back toward more measured and intentionally liturgical expressions of worship. And to all of this I say, Amen!

However…I would like to speak a few words in defense of worship as a concert.

A few days ago I went to see U2 in Chicago. I love U2. I think they’re the greatest band in the world. I think there are two types of people in this world: people who love U2 and people who suck. Our tickets were in the pit, because while observing a U2 concert from a seat is special, experiencing a U2 concert in the pit is a riot. We had a riot. Singing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with 30,000 other people at the top of your lungs. It is sacramental stuff.

Not too long ago, I went to another concert and the experience was, well, different. For whatever reason, the band decided they wouldn’t play any of their best songs but would instead play a whole set full of obscure stuff no one knew. They also failed miserably to bring the audience into the concert. Some bands know how to do it and some don’t.

Which brings me back to worship as a concert.

It seems to me that worship doesn’t need to be less like a concert so much as it needs to be less like a bad concert and more like a good one. Because if you think people don’t participate in concerts, I suspect you’ve never been to a great concert. At a great concert you get immersed, you lose yourself, you feel connected to the people around you, you feel alive. It’s like you’ve stepped into a different world. And that’s what worship is too: an excursion into God’s real world of revelry, peace, and joy; an excursion that reminds us that behind the veil of things, God’s real world is always at hand.

I think there are all sorts of ways to do worship right. I can dig the high liturgy of my Catholic and Episcopal friends and I try to learn from it and incorporate it into the worship at my church. I grew up in a church with a huge, traditional choir and love hearing the swell of voices unaided by instruments. I have deep concerns with the worship of churches that barrage people with thoughtless light shows and smoke machines.

But when it is done with scrupulous intention and generous accessibility, I think worship could do much worse than being like a concert. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that many would benefit greatly if our worship was more like a great concert instead of less like one.