In all the hype on whether we’re traditional or contemporary, what kind of atmosphere we want to create, and which songs we like, I think we’re missing something. And I think it goes beyond music: it affects how we preach, how we listen to preaching, even how we behave before and after worship.
What we’re missing is a sense of holy fear, a sense of awe at Who we are worshipping. On Sunday morning we are talking and singing and meditating on the things of God—the God of the Bible, the thrice-holy God, the One whose eyes are too pure to look on evil. I don’t think our worship usually reflects this at all. What characterizes our worship services (yes, even at our nice, orthodox Reformed churches) is lightness. We tell funny stories, we sing pretty pop songs, we hear a nice talk about how much God loves us and wants us to have happy families. But our stories are meant to amuse, not convict. A lot of our songs sound like the kind of things a high schooler says to his girlfriend—not much like the Psalms. And our well-crafted talks, with the occasional movie clip thrown in, sound a lot like a Christianized Dr. Phil.
This doesn’t just apply to “contemporary” services. It’s not really any better to have more classy music and architecture, dress nicer, and read pretty words if that’s where it stops. A lot of more “traditional” services I’ve been to seem just like the contemporary ones—a game of dress-up, only this time we’re playing Dinner Party instead of Rock Star. And you can find churches where you can play Brooding Barista or Enlightened Social Revolutionary, too. But a lot of the time, still just dress-up.
What would it take to change this? I think it would take pastors and worship leaders being gripped by a sense of the absolute majesty of God, and passing that attitude on to everyone else. If this were our starting point, we would marvel, first of all, that God allows us to approach him at all, and then we would be very careful to approach him with regard for who he is. This wouldn’t mean we had to pretend to be sad in worship—in fact, it should make us more joyful. Not cheerleader joyful, but justified sinner joyful. Armed with a sense of the holiness of God, we would take our role in planning and leading worship much more seriously, from sermon prep to band rehearsal to putting kids to bed on Saturday night. It would show on Sunday mornings, not just in a well-delivered sermon or well-executed music set, but in a renewed zeal to worship. And not just to worship, but to worship God.