A G (or maybe PG) look at the similarities between the rise in pornography and the popular church views on worship
Many of my thoughts and questions about worship come from conversations with my family. And so now, you must wonder, “What kind of conversation has this man had with his family that includes worship, sex, and pornography?” Yes, my family is that strange. If you read my About Me page, you already know that my wife is a counselor. It’s not infrequent for us to talk about our biggest struggles in our professional lives and our biggest worries for the future of our children, the church, and the world. Spend any time with a counselor (or even a pastor), and you will learn that pornography has become so pervasive in the lives of people that it is nearly mainstream — you might even say that it has already crossed that boundary with the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey and the subsequent movie. So one day as my wife and I talked about the traps of pornography; the desire for immediate gratification without relational commitment, the false sense of intimacy, the promise of pleasure without responsibility, it occurred to me: these are the same struggles we face in worship leadership.
Initially, I thought that this time, I had finally lost it. But scripture makes a clear connection between the intimacy of the marriage bed and the intimacy that God desires between Him and His church. The New Testament talks of the Bride and the Bridegroom as the Church and Jesus. Song of Solomon is the story of sexual intimacy as it relates to the level of intimacy that God desires with His people. If we are honest with ourselves, we are uncomfortable talking about intimacy with God in marital and sexual terms, but as long as scripture does, we must learn to get comfortable.
So, let’s look quickly at these three comparisons between pornography and our current struggles in worship.
1. Immediate Gratification Without Relational Commitment
Pornography says you should be able to have gratification without any commitment to the person. It’s all about the pleasure of the moment. One person gets all of the pleasure while the other person (on the computer screen, television, magazine) is simply there to fulfill the wants of the other. The new attitude in worship says the same thing. Pleasure and what makes the individual happy is the new standard of success in worship. It’s that way regardless of whether your church sings all hymns backed by a choir and organ or you sing all modern worship songs using a band. Here’s the key phrase you will hear that tips you off that people are critiquing the worship based on their personal gratification: “The worship was incredible this morning.” Translation: “I really liked the music this morning. You should do more things like that.”
But for the person that has a genuine relationship with God, worship is always successful because that person’s worship is not dependent on external circumstances such as music but on the internal relationship with their Savior. It’s not about instant gratification or pleasure seeking. The genuine worshipper understands that worship is a life commitment to love the Lord and to serve Him in obedience.
2. A False Sense of Intimacy
Walk the grocery aisle or look in your local bookstore for articles and books on intimacy. Intimacy has been equated with sexual interaction. Want to create more intimacy with your significant other, learn this new sex trick. Want to create intimacy with your new boyfriend or girlfriend, you should wear this shocking new outfit. It’s such a shame that our culture now sees sexual interaction as the preeminent source of intimacy. Certainly, sexual relations have a place in intimacy, but only one part.
In our worship culture, we are also creating a false sense of intimacy between God and the congregation. That false sense of intimacy, just like the false intimacy of pornography, gives people the sense that they have a deeper relationship with the other person than they really do. It’s a heartbreaking illusion and it is destructive. Let me share just a few things I’ve both heard and read this week.
- God was just all over that service
- I could feel chills all over me during that song
- God showed up this morning
- I could feel the anointing
Can you hear the potential for false intimacy in those words? People are equating an emotion or a warm, fuzzy feeling, with intimacy with God. Consider that music, in particular, has the power to create strong emotional bonds and feelings without necessarily deepening genuine intimacy. When individuals have genuine intimacy with God and a personal daily walk with Him, then they come to worship expecting to grow closer to God and they will. People that come to worship already having a strong relationship with God will continue to deepen that relationship with every interaction just as a husband does with his wife. A genuine marital relationship grows deeper with every interaction because both individuals want to know each other.
3. The Promise of Pleasure Without Responsibility
I suppose this one is the most obvious. Pornography promises the viewer the opportunity to experience pleasure without any obligation to the other person. No ties. No obligations. Just give me what I want.
What is our responsibility when we come to worship? Stand still and watch the show on the stage? Listen to a great choral and orchestral presentation? Hear a great band? We are reverting to the middle ages in our attitudes toward worship. Professionals are performing the “mass” for people to watch without responsibility.
As congregants and worship pastors, we are failing to learn and teach about the responsibilities of worship. We are to engage the text, the prayers, and the singing. It is our role and our very purpose in life. Leaders must be willing to engage the congregation as participants and the congregation must be willing to engage even if they don’t like what they are singing or doing in the moment. It is our responsibility.
What Can We Do? Why This Crazy Comparison?
What do these two things, pornography and our current worship attitudes, have in common? A lack of genuine relationship. I’m actually arguing that at the core of these two problems, and many more in our churches, we are struggling because we no longer understand relationship. We don’t have the time or energy to spend with God and other people. We want what we want and we want it both quickly and easily. Our challenge as worship pastors is not identifying the next great thing. It is figuring out how to engage our congregations in genuine relationship with God and each other.