Monday, October 15, 2007

Koinonia Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this post I described my experience at the young-adult church service, "Vintage" which is held on Tuesdays at "The Chapel," a mega-church in Getzville, NY. I tried to explain the worship part of the service as objectively as I could, but we all know how sarcasm just sneaks in from time to time. In Part 2 I would like to follow up my description of the service with some of my thoughts. To preface these thoughts let me just say that I believe that the purpose of the Church is to build community with other followers of Christ and spread the Gospel to those who have not yet experienced the Love and Grace of God. This is why I have titled this post, Koinonia, which literally means fellowship or a communion with God.

Anytime I walk into a "mega-church" I get sick. It's like a disease or a phobia; I just get sick to my stomach. The main reason for this is because I see the building and immediately think of money. The facilities at this church were state-of-the-art and no doubt costed the community a pretty penny. My mind automatically thinks of the many other ways that the church could spend Her money instead of building new facilities. To me it points out where the church's emphasis is; where is the priority? When I walk into a mega-church I get the feeling that the emphasis is on the meeting place, the building, and the experience that happens in that particular place.

When I entered the actual sanctuary it was designed in an amphitheater style; a design that fixates on the stage. And a beautiful stage it was; but stages are meant for performers and Koinonia is not about performing, it is about worshipping together. When someone performs there is a relationship created with those who are watching: a performer/audience relationship. The problem with this performer/audience relationship is that it is superfluous and distracts from the real reason that the Church gathers. It is undeniable that there was a performer/audience relationship on Tuesday night as evidenced by the applause after every song. The arena style seating also caused me to wonder what might happen if the stage were empty. Would these seats then have a purpose? It is my concern that this sanctuary was setup as an audience, not a community.

But the stage was NOT empty! And occupying its space was a 9-piece band ready to lead us in worship. The musicians were talented and were no doubt employing their God-given ability which I am happy to see in any church. The energy level was high and the people's hearts were worshipful; this I will not argue at all. Please understand that I am not questioning anyone's heart or intention. I am merely critiquing the theology and liturgical style of the worship. So the first issue I will address is the volume of the sound.

As the amps were cranked and the drums crashed, the physical energy was pumping. But the major problem I have with this is that the music coming from the stage drowned out the voices of the people who sang from the seats. And in a true Church, the goal is a community of believers, not a rockin' band. All is lost when the corporate voice of the church cannot be heard in our worship together. It was a frustrating scene for me because I felt small and unimportant compared to the band on stage. It should not only be the ones with microphones standing in the spotlight who are heard.

I also felt uncomfortable with the musicianship; more specifically the flare or grandeur of performance. Being a musician myself, I find it hard to focus when the musicians are playing so extravegantly; I get stuck watching them. Maybe this is my own problem, but would it hinder the worship of God to minimize ostentatious performance? I don't think so. Making a joyful noise unto the Lord is good, but the leaders of worship have a responsibility that may re-prioritize their performance style.

During the service there were a variety of lights flashing, spinning and spotting all over the place. They focused mainly on the band (as if the people weren't already watching) and often zipped out into the audience in beat with the music. Frankly, the lights are pointless. They serve no theological or liturgical point! They merely distract and disinvite people from focusing on God. The neon shapes were shallow, cheap and downright annoying. Just because you have it doesn't mean you need to use it. And if it isn't serving a theological or liturgical purpose, why did the church spend thousands of Her dollars to own it? This is why my stomach turns when I walk into these places.

Lastly, the content of the music that was used for worship was too focused on the individual needs and works. I get so tired of seeing songs that are about MY NEED or WHAT I WILL DO or HOW I WILL DO IT. These songs are missing the grand point. In Koinonia the people of God worship together. So all of the I's should be We's and the My's should become Our's. And yet still, as Robert Webber says, "The content of worship must always be the story of God's redemptive acts, especially in Jesus Christ." The words in our songs of praise should be focused on God's nature, God's work, and God's promise. To simply acknowldege the love relationship between "God and me" is immature and needy. Music is a powerful tool for worship, but it is the text that is most important! We do not hum together, we sing words! Therefore, as Bonhoeffer states, "The music is completely the servant of the Word, it elucidates the Word in its mystery."

One of the reasons that I get sick to my stomach when I walk into a mega-church is because it makes the followers of Christ look superficial. It makes Christians look shallow. From the outside it seems as though the believers of Jesus need big, fancy, expensive facilities and breathtaking technologies to find God. And that scares me! Maybe I am too self-concious, but I have a deep concern for how we represent the Church of Jesus to the world. The culture of the Lost does not look at the mega-church and see Divine spirituality. It sees commercialism and entertainment. I can attest to this from many conversations and understanding with members of this culture.

In the end, the Worship of the Chuch is about one thing: God. To offer our praise to any other recipient or for any other reason is heretical. And within this Worship of God, there must be a shaping of community that affirms together the Worthiness of God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit. When this is done a remarkable thing happens - some call it Koinonia.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Koinonia Pt. 1

Last night I attended this young-adult church service out at "The Chapel" over in Getzville. A friend invited me so I told him I'd go. I could see the enormous building from the highway. I knew I was in for an experience. The service was called "Vintage." I don't know why. Perhaps they're hardcore wine drinkers!

It was your typical mega-church with a cafe, bookstore, and arena sanctuary. Before entering the arena for worship I was able to get my cup of Joe just like all the other young adults who were socializing - latte in one hand, Bible in the other.

Upon entering the sanctuary the room was filled with dim light and anticipation. The stage was occupied by an nine-piece band basking in fog and green light. As I sat down in the theater style seating I mentioned to another guy, "I feel like I'm going to watch a performance." He affirmed my statement with excitement and explained to me how cool the upcoming spectacle would be.

Just before the loud crash of the drum beat the dude with the acoustic guitar invited us to come and worship - then BIM BAM BOOM the drums began. It was loud and overflowing with energy. The amps were turned up and the bass was thumping. I guess God has grown hard of hearing in His latter years... Thank goodness the drummer knew this and played with extra flare.

The light show was right on par. Various colors zoomed and flashed this way and that. On more than one occasion I was temporarily blinded by the swift gleam of a spotlight right in my face. And I also noticed a variety of shapes that the lights were displaying: suns, spyrograph-type designs, and stars.

I decided to shut my eyes and listen instead of risking another 2-second visual black-out. As I listened I noticed that I could not hear any other person singing except for the ones on stage with microphones. The enormity of the sound that came from the stage was overpowering the individuals who were also singing along.

But that didn't stop the band from really rocking! The drummer grooved and the keyboardist grinded. The crew was obviously feeling the spirit. And as soon as the saxophone solo ended and the electric guitarist faded out his effect with tenderness the audience applauded. Actually, after every single song the audience applauded. I wasn't sure who they were applauding.

At one point, however, the decibel level dropped and the emotional level inflated. The band leader repeated "I need your love" for about twenty measures and built up the anticipation for a finale that no one would want to miss - not even for a coffee refill. And of course, as hoped, the band crescendoed to a blazing piano-sax-olin jam that carried on as the spirit led.

And then finally the worship was done and we sat down.