The Protestant church is in the midst of something called, “The Praise and Worship Movement,” or PWM for short. The pipe organ is out – the drum set is in. Even traditional churches have seen the writing on the wall and are grudgingly offering contemporary worship services featuring praise singing in an effort to attract the younger generation.
But there’s more to PWM than electric guitars. An effective praise set moves the congregation on an emotional level. It helps the body feel the very presence of Jesus.
Many would agree the PWM has breathed new life into the church. But even the healthiest movements have unexpected consequences. I believe PNW is having the unintended result of feminizing the worship experience – and making it harder for men to connect with God in church.
Many of today’s most popular praise and worship songs are feminine in nature. They envision God as a lover rather than a leader. A lot of these songs would be considered homoerotic if sung by a man to another man. What would you say if a man walked up to you and spoke the words of this popular praise song:
I can feel your presence here with me
Suddenly I’m lost within your beauty
Caught up in the wonder of your touch
Here in this moment, I surrender to your love
Men don’t call each other “beautiful.” Nor do they talk about being in love with each other. Yet every Sunday we invite men to express their love to a male God using language no man would dare say to another. Even at Christian men’s events the praise music is often feminine in nature.
At the center of the PWM is a new character: the worship pastor. No longer merely a song leader or choir director, the worship pastor’s job is to create an environment where people feel the presence of God. He is second in importance only to the teaching pastor.
As I travel the country I observe that most worship pastors are men. But most of these men haven’t a clue how to lead men in worship. As a result, women are worshipping robustly while most men stand for 20 minutes with their hands in their pockets, dutifully mouthing words that fail to resonate with their hearts.
How did our worship climate get this way? I’ve identified three politically-incorrect reasons:
1. The worship of God is no longer led by priests, but by musicians.
Priests led worship in the Old Testament. They represented a variety of personality types, including intellectual, left-brained men. But today, 99.9% of the worship pastors in America are musicians. Musicians are often right-brained, which makes them more sensitive and outwardly emotive than your average guy.
I’m not running down musicians: I’m one myself. And I know some musicians who are positively macho. But most musicians bring a certain softness – even flamboyance to their leadership.
Because all the worship pastors are musicians, music has become synonymous with worship. Most non-denominational Christians speak of the music set as “the worship time” and the sermon as “the teaching time.” By doing so, we have made singing the only way people express their love to God. This is a dangerous development, because in doing so, we exclude non-musical types from making a meaningful contribution to worship.
2. Most worship pastors are unknowingly trying to generate a feminine response to a masculine God.
Here’s one of the great, unspoken assumptions of worship today: more emotional the response, the truer the worship. Great worship results in sensation, passion and good feelings. The worship leader’s job is to help the people generate a warm, gooey feeling in their hearts about Jesus. Tears are the best gauge of God’s presence.
In order to generate this emotional response, many worship leaders repeat slow, dreamlike choruses over and over. And over. Simple songs now run 7 or 8 minutes long. This repetitiveness lulls the congregation into what I call a “worship coma.” This technique is not unlike a common practice in Buddhism known as “mantra” or repeating a phrase over and over. Mantras permit the worshipper to empty his mind and create a feeling of peace and euphoria.
Whether passionate emotion equals true worship is not what I’m here to debate. I’m merely pointing out the fact that if ooey-gooey feelings are what we’re shooting for, worship will be much easier for women than men. Women are much less inhibited about showing emotion in public. They can access their emotions more easily than men. So a worship leader who’s trying to get the congregation to feel something will subconsciously target women, because gals are more likely to respond emotionally.
3. Worship pastors buy into “the guy-on-the-front-row fallacy”
Every church has one or two guys who are totally into musical worship. They usually sit up front. They are the first ones standing when the music begins, with hands outstretched, tears rolling down their cheeks. Worship leaders look out at these two guys and think, “The guys are totally into this. Look at Lenny and Steve!”
But due to the bright lights in their eyes, worship leaders can’t see the row-upon-row of men who are standing with knees locked, hands in pockets. They can’t feel the air going out of men’s spiritual balloons when choruses repeat a sixth or seventh time. Few can imagine the unprintable words that fly through a man’s head when the worship pastor says, “Let’s just lift that song to the Lord one more time.”
So what’s a worship leader to do? We’ll tackle that in our next blog post, titled How to Get Men to Worship.