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.



I hope you can hear the sarcasm in my words — not ANOTHER worship blog.  It seems that everyone these days writes a worship blog.  Why would I want to add to the infinite and frequently trite discussions of musical styles, how to create the ever elusive “flow” or “groove,” or creating a proper worship atmosphere.

The truth is, I don’t want to add to those discussions.  I want to write about things that cut deeper to the heart of what it means to be a worshipper — a disciple of Jesus Christ.  These ideas flow from my discussions with other worship leaders, friends, and my family.

For my part, here is what I promise to anyone that is so gracious as to follow my blog posts and thoughts.  I want to think about the topic of worship from new and creative perspectives — and while, for better or worse, things like musical styles will always have a place in the discussion of worship, I plan to avoid such surface issues unless I have something truly unique to say.  I want this blog to be fun, creative, and thoughtful.  And while I want it to be a place to read something new, I also want it to be something that will provoke discussion and deep thought about the real challenges of worship leading in our modern world.  So here’s the list of my upcoming posts in the hopes that you might come back each Monday.

1.  Sex, Lies, and Worship — A G (or maybe PG) look at the similarities between the rise in pornography and the popular church views on worship

2.  How a Chronic Illness Improved My Ministry — The importance of a good annual physical

3.  Long Live Latin! — Why it’s time to bring back Latin as the official language of worship

4.  Part 1 of a 2 part series:  It’s Time to Fire Your Guitar Playing Worship Leader — The tongue-in-cheek case for a full-time worship theologian

5.  Part 2 of a 2 part series:  It’s Time to Fire Your Classically Trained Music Minister — The tongue-in-cheek case for a full-time worship theologian