Worship envy?

by vernsanders on May 20, 2009

Have you ever had this experience?

This is from the July/August, 2000, issue of  Creator, and written by Michael Adler.

Mountaintop Experiences

OK, say you’re the music minister at the local NEWLIFECOME-AND-GETIT WE LOVE JESUS COMMUNITY FELLOWSHIP. It’s Monday, you’re minding your own business, trying to get the cobwebs cleared from another weekend with the brethren, and a phone call comes in. The voice on the other end is about ready to bust through the phone with excitement as they begin to describe their weekend. It’s one of your choir members who just happened to be absent yesterday. Church Member Joe just got back from Such and Such Worship Summit Conference and “whoa, did we rock for Jesus!!” After a thirty minute, blow-byblow description of every tune, every guitar lick, the swaying and hopping of the audience, and the hour long altar call, comes the broadside to the bow: “Man, I wish it could be like that at our church every Sunday!!”

Your stomach settles into a nice little knot as rejection sinks in, and you try to rationally balance what information you just took in, so as to keep your ministry in perspective.

In the career choice that we have made as music ministers, the phone calls will come and most often it will not be overtly accusing, just kind of whiny. Rather than let it burn in your stomach, why not remember a few things that will help you to get some relief? Here’s two options for those who have had that very phone call or conversation. Let’s start with the following premise:
• Church member Joe comes home from a “mountaintop” worship/camp/
seminar/conference experience.
• On the bus ride home he’s already letting his mind wander to his home
church. He’s thinking to himself, “How come my church doesn’t give me the
worship rush that I just experienced?!!”
• He starts to resent your pastor/music minister/facility/instrumentalists/
pew color/bulletin font/whatever…

Mountaintop experiences are what most people use for fuel and inertia to help propel them through life’s more routine moments. Believers do it all the time. How often have you prayed, “restore to me the joy of my salvation”? Why do we ask that of the Lord? Because we are familiar with the thoughts and emotions which accompany that experience. We know that if our spirits are connected to the high that came from that moment, we’ll be better equipped for the lows, or even mediums that we’re facing right now. In mountaintop experiences we also generally experience a higher level of sensory stimulation. Our receptors are awakened and we take in everything that is around us; ideas, feelings, emotions, sights, etc.

When information enters our system under these conditions, long-term retention is far more likely to occur. We are more apt to experience the “I’ll never forget it” moments of life and thus, we find ourselves wanting to just wade around in this moment of time forever. Forget it.

In his book Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer describes the harrowing experiences of what he and his peers consider the ultimate mountaintop experience; climbing Mt. Everest. Even there the climbers had weeks of just waiting at one particular level, just to allow their bodies to adjust to the lesser ratios of oxygen in the atmosphere. It wasn’t physically possible to stay at one level of excitement or energy. Our systems need a break.

Let’s get back to our whiny caller. What if his comparisons are accurate and perhaps your church is more sedate and less emotional in its forms than what he prefers. Perhaps he’ll determine that there is another place where he could be more enriched and where he could use his gifts. And perhaps that place has settled into a worship format that aligns with his level of spiritual maturity and his cultural preferences. Help him find a place that will be more of a match. Our goal should not be to retain members in our little kingdoms, but that the body would be equipped and motivated to live life as proactive believers in a lost world. Different church communities will meet church members at different levels. The kingdom has not lost a soul if one of your guys decides to relocate up the street.

While the above scenario will occur on occasion, I believe a more common response is that his comparisons are accurate but unfair. Remember that the place he calls “home church” has been a place of sustenance and support for him and many like him for generations. That is the place that has provided teaching for his children when they were young, and a healthy spiritual environment for his teens in their tough growing up years. It provided prayers for his family when he was sick, meals to his home when he had
his first baby. The local church is the earthly representation of Christ as we become “Jesus with skin” to the hurting and lost week after week.

If you’ve decided that number two option is a more accurate description of
your scenario, then Church Member Joe needs to be reminded that his comparisons are valid, but that he could use a little objectivity in his final analysis. It’s like allowing one of your children to go over to their friend’s house for an overnighter. That family takes your child and theirs to SeaWorld. Your kid comes home whining about how great a time he had with his friends and how it’s soooo boring at his house. Meanwhile he continues to be fed, clothed, sheltered, cared for when he’s sick, encouraged along life’s path and generally allowed to live his life in a place that’s safe and nurturing. This place is home and though it doesn’t have it’s own built in roller coaster and dolphin petting tank, it will be a shelter and refuge for a long, long time.

Thankfully, the mountaintops will come. We all need them to energize andmotivate us in our walk with the Lord. But the weekly gift that the churchgives to the body should be treated as a fragile, special gift that comes from the Father.

It helps to understand that, as Adler says, there are different types of worship experiences. Here’s a great article describing four types of worship. Originally published in Reformed Worship, it is helpful to both the worship planning process, and also the worship “interpretation” process to that person who just returned from a mountaintop experience.

The Festival-Envy Syndrome: Four Contexts of Worship

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

michael adler August 7, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Hello Vernon,
I recently wrote a piece called “Worship Leader Wanted”. You can see it in my “News and Observations” page of our web site. It has garnered a lot of responses and discussion, mostly in agreement, many with a sense of “wish my church leadership could read this”.
Blessings to you.
Michael Adler

vernsanders August 10, 2009 at 11:36 am

Thanks for the comment. The blog material is great stuff Michael. As an ex-academic, I’ve been working for years to try to make education more relevant on the one hand, and yet not so “job-driven” that students can’t explore the big picture learning that leads to maturity. Arts in general, music in particular, and church music specifically are difficult subjects to manage, administration/curricular wise, because you need to know everything before you can understand anything. It is an ongoing struggle for any academic institution that cares about the discipline(s). I think that is why there are so many “institutes” (like Robert Webber’s Institute for Worship Studies, Fuller’s Brehm (and Bock) Center, and Calvin’s) which, like the Westminster Choir College before them try to layer specific learning on top of general ed gained elsewhere.

What do you think?

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