Do Not Resuscitate: The Death of Evangelicalism

“We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.” –Michael Spencer, 2009

To be clear evangelicalism is just one of the dozens of versions of Christianity; it is not christianity. It has grown in North America over the past 50 or so years but it has significantly declined over the past 10-15 years. We can point fingers at many different reasons why- all which have some validity. However, I would argue that the main reason this collapse is inevitable is solely due to the fact that the evangelical church has “sold out”.

To be fair, the evangelical church has “sold out” on so many different levels in so many different ways, that it’s hard to find an area that they have NOT sold out in. Their passion to stay relevant to the culture has taken a fatal turn into compromise and destruction.

I can rant all day about the number of areas that have been jeopardized (maybe one day I will), but today I want to focus on a couple major areas that the evangelical church has “sold out” in.

  1. The first area of “sell out” is in the area of defining success. The evangelical church has completely redefined the understanding of a successful church.  I would bet that every evangelical church when asked what a successful church is, would say that a successful church is one that “brings the gospel to the world”.  But that is not happening.  I don’t need to throw the stats at you as they are widely available (Suggeted reading: UnChrsitianby David Kinneman, You lost meby David Kinneman & Barna Group, & The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church by John Dickerson). All the stats point to major decline in all mainline denominations over the last 10-15 years along with the average age of people who attend church increasing above 50 years old. The decline is not just in church membership, but in baptism and new believers. This means that not only are churches not reaching non-believers in their community with the gospel, but once avid church attenders are losing interest and no longer going to church as well. Instead of addressing the issues head on and realizing the failures of evangelicalism, churches have tried to redefine what a successful church looks like, in hopes of re-wiring the minds of its members.
  •  Production based church: A successful church is one that produces a great experience for its attenders. Utilizing the latest technology is not sinful nor wrong but after the service is over, those serving gauge the “successful-ness” of the service based on how many “hiccups” or ” screw ups” occurred during the service. The lights have to be perfect. The sound has to be flawless. The outfits need to be coordinated. The pastor needs to be eloquent. The “flow” of the service needs to work for the people. The service needs to end “on time”. The emphasis is placed on the production.
  • The Worship Experience: A successful church provides a touching worship experience. I mentioned this in one of my earlier blogs (What is the goal of worship? (https://wordpress.com/post/jonscarpuzzi.wordpress.com/4 ). How can there be so much effort into the worship experience and walk away feeling satisfied even though no one connected with the Spirit? The result is like walking out of a theater after watching a great movie. It was great but it didn’t change your life. There is such a huge emphasis on the “worship experience” that I get nauseated even thinking about it now. I wanted to kick something every time someone told me “that was a great experience, it went really well”.
  • The Mega-Church. The formation of the Mega-church has severely warped the minds and expectations of evangelicals. Don’t get me wrong, there has been good that has happened through the mega-church movement over the years. However, evangelicalism has elevated the mega-church as it’s “pride and joy”. They highlighted the pastors of mega-churches who became the “go to” for answers on “how to grow a successful church”. They started showing the glitz and glamor of the mega-church on TV, and soon the mega-church was seen to contain all the answers to a “successful church”. As a result, theology started to exit the church almost as quickly as people streamed in. BUT according to church growth statistics, this too was a fad and is now declining. What it has left behind, among other things, is spiritual confusion, consumer-driven churches, un-fulfilment, disappointment and unfortunately–something a majority of evangelical churches are still striving to become.  It is ridiculous the amount of breath I have wasted explaining to people that the mega-church model is NOT the ultimate church that Jesus expected his church to be. It was something that was tried, and had its “heyday”…now let’s move on.

“Evangelicalism has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.”

  1. The second area of “sell out” is in the area of clinging to the “Business Model”. All of the churches I have been a part of over the years, have either adopted the “business model” of running the church, or were in the process of doing so. I have to say this for the sake of my sanity. If the church is NOT a business, it should NOT be run like one. You only run something like a business, if it is a business. Leaders that have come to believe the best way to run a church is by using the “necessary evil of a business model” have been duped to believe a lie. If a church “has to” be run as a business…there are probably a bunch of other things wrong that need to be addressed. The challenge for churches is to avoidthis model at all costs. Agreed, it may be more work but it is better than being lead astray. Churches that run by using the business model shelter their leaders from the accountability that business leaders are held to. The stage is set for total abuse of power; using God as their witness–“church leaders need to be completely respected and obeyed and never questioned”. Businesses would not be able to get away with a fraction of what church leaderships have been able to do. The “money eyes” of church leaders are completely humiliating…I have seen it first hand multiple times.
  2. The third area of “sell out” is in the area of “Replacement”. If Jesus could write one sentence to the evangelical church, I think it would be, “You have replaced me”. Jesus has been replaced with the Bible, christian education, the worship experience, the preaching, the singing, the fellowship, legalism, the church culture, the building, morality, church leadership, christian bookstores…and so on. Evangelicals have such strong relationships with “Christian things”, but all those things have silently and slowly replaced a legitimate relationship with Jesus. Thus leaving evangelicals questioning their faith once one of those things are taken away. As a result, evangelicals have begun substituting their faith with books, unbiblical teachings and heretical aspirations (ie the prosperity gospel). Going hand in hand with that is the replacement and marginalization of the Holy Spirit. The evangelical version of Christianity has been able to operate without intentionally seeking the leadership, guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit.

“There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven mega churches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.” –Michael Spencer

Evangelicalism doesn’t need a bailout, it has already signed a DNR. All evangelicalism needs is a funeral. Let’s remember the good, learn from the bad, bury it…and move on!  Personally, I am not mourning the impending death of evangelicalism, I am rejoicing as I know there is a new chapter that the Holy Spirit has waiting to unveil for the Church!

“Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”–Matthew 9:17

What’s the DL on “Spirit led Worship”

Let me first start by helping us better define what Spirit led worship is NOT…

  • First, it does NOT mean you get to prepare or practice less…if anything it means you need to prepare and practice MORE!
  • Second, it does NOT mean you get to go off into your own personal “la la land” of worship and leave your congregation behind.
  • Third, I know I am not speaking to the majority here, but it is NOT a time to show off. (I’ll explain this later in the blog)

So now that we know what “Spirit led” worship is not, we can head off in the right direction. Unfortunately, the Bible does not decipher between “regular worship” and “Spirit led worship” for us so we cant really go to the Scriptures and pull out an easy answer.

For me growing up, Spirit Led worship was always the alternative to stuffy, boring, planned to the “T”, structured—how “A type” people worship. As someone who has a hard time paying attention for long periods of time, the more structured a worship time, the more I felt like I wanted to scream and smash my head on the pew (this was totally my jr.high days). So by the time I started leading worship, some years later, I was drawn to the FREEDOM that “Spirit led” worship provided.

So what is “Spirit led Worship”? Well, here is my understanding: Spirit led worship is when the Worship leader/ team allows the Holy Spirit to go before them, lead, guide and execute the worship time. In my opinion, there are three levels of Spirit led worship.

  1. Level one is very basic. When planning the worship service, time is spent in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to guide the leader to songs, scriptures or different elements in the service that will help the church meet Jesus during the worship time. Once the worship leader receives the direction of the Holy Spirit, the worship set is constructed and communication with the Spirit is stopped (I’m not trying to be a jerk…just being honest here) and the rest of the time is spent polishing the set, both musically and vocally. Song order is decided upon…and if there is any diversion from the planned set, it is severely frowned upon. You might even be called out for disobeying God..This is how a majority of our North American Churches do worship these days (90-95% planned).
  1. Level Two is more advanced: Level two takes the preparation from level one but during the service, the worship leader/team is open to the Holy Spirit’s leading. What I mean by that is that during the Worship Service, The Spirit may lead to not do a song, or to repeat a certain chorus or bridge over and over, or that there may be a time or prayer or scripture in the middle of a song that was not planned or even possibly just do a chorus or bridge from another song. Some of you just got super stressed and that’s ok! Moving from level one to level two is not meant to happen over night. It can take months or even years. It will take more practice and a heightened connection with the Spirit. But don’t get caught up in all of it though…because the main goal of leading worship is to increase our trust and faith in Jesus as we lead. As a worship leader, we should always be looking for new ways to push ourselves in our faith and reliance on Jesus. We should be afraid of getting comfortable in our worship service…because the mundane leads to atrophic worship, which then leads to the decay of our church. This style is increasingly becoming popular as a strong median (50-70% planned)
  1. Level three is usually what people understand as “Spirit led worship”. Usually the Worship leader/ team will have a repertoire of songs that they practice regularly and can perform very well. So instead of practicing all the time the week of the service, the worship leader/ team spends more time in individual and corporate prayer. They strive to be on the same page as each other and in sync with the Holy Spirit. The worship leader/ team may enter the worship service knowing a time span they has (ie. 45 min) and they may only have 2 songs agreed upon. But during the worship service, much time is devoted to prayer and the Holy Spirit leads the leader/ team to different songs/ scriptures/ choruses/ bridges that can be done to compliment the direction of the worship service. The next step in the service is not planned as the worship leader/ team is completely reliant on the Holy Spirit for direction. This style is something to be strived for but is not very common. (5-10% planned)

Now, ok lets be real here. How can worship that does not seek to push us into further reliance and faith in Jesus…be true worship? Wouldn’t that be “self dependent” of “self led” worship? But yet how many churches do we know, that are stuck in this rut? I don’t know how many times I have observed a worship service and left going, “wow they didn’t need God at all in that set…they just had to rely on themselves”. How is that pleasing to God? Sure we aren’t suppose to be showing off and drawing attention to ourselves like a concert, with drawn out instrument solos, or singing in a key or octave only you can hit, or playing a song that contains complicated words that most people have to google, to know what they mean -.-

So I guess what I am saying, is this; every worship leader/ team should learn how to lead by faith and look to increase their reliance on the Holy Spirit during their times of worship. I believe one of the main reasons why many of the churches here in North America have such bland…mundane…borning…”life sucked out of them” type worship, is not because of the songs they sing, or the style of music they play or even the instruments they use. It is a direct result of self-reliant worship…they have diminished the role and power of the Holy Spirit and his ability to overwhelmingly blow us away with a personal encounter with the Divine—that my friend is the goal of true Spirit led Worship.

How Should I Pick A Song Set?

I don’t know how many times I have been asked this question. For any Worship Leader, this is can easily become the most stressful part of the week…it can even lead to sleepless nights, I can promise you I have had a good share of my own sleepless nights tossing and turning and second guessing the chosen set. So here is my “two cents”…I’ve broken it down into two ways of picking a set:

Beginner: We all have to start somewhere. I remember back when I first started leading worship…I was 18 and only had a general idea of what I was doing, but not nearly enough to know—that I had no idea what I was doing. So as a beginner I started by…

  1. Waiting until the title of the sermon is released, which is usually on a Thursday night, then read the passage and pray to God that the pastor isn’t using the message version…or else you will have to go find a real Bible to read the passage over.
  2. Then you take time to decipher the topic, and hopefully it is a very easy topic like grace, or Jesus’ love, or trusting God.
  3. Then as a beginner I would hit up Google or iwillworship.com or www.songselect.com and type in the topic and see what songs popped up that had those key words in it.
  4. Then I would chose 3-5 songs that I was familiar with and organize them from “soft” to “loud” or vice versa…and then BAM there was my set!

Now there is no shame in using option #1 if you are starting out as a worship leader, but the problem is if you stay there week after week, year after year. As a worship leader we need to continually grow and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. And what I am really saying when I say that is;

“We need to learn to rely less and less on ourselves and rely more and more on the Holy Spirit in every aspect of our worship preparation.”

As we mature as worship leaders our worship preparation should look more like this…

Mature:

  1. Start the week by spending time in prayer and seeking direction from the Holy Spirit. If in fact the Holy Spirit is leading the pastor who is preaching, the Spirit will be leading you as well toward the same goal that he has for the coming week.
  1. Since it is not about us and what we can do, we start the week by surrendering our control to the Spirit to do what HE wants. This is a huge step of faith because we have to trust that HE will be leading all elements of the service towards what HE wants to say through us. As we take this posture of surrender and trust, the Holy Spirit will come through and reveal to you what songs and in what way HE wants you to do them. If you are sincere in seeking this out, your job as a worship leader becomes much easier. After He reveals to you what songs and theme He wants you to do, you are ready for the next step…
  1. MORE PRAYER! No joke, more prayer is needed. This time you should be praying…”How should I do these songs?” Maybe the Spirit wants you to do the whole set acapella or acoustic rather than with a whole band. I don’t know and neither should you decide until the Spirit directs you. Again keep pressing into what the Spirit is revealing to you. However, you need to be prepared with a pencil and a notepad. Jot down what the Spirit is speaking to you. Soon enough, you will have both songs and arrangement down. The first time doing this will be nerve racking…and maybe a little scary.

The first few times I did this, I couldn’t eat all week. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t do anything except keep praying that I was getting everything the Spirit wanted, right, and I wasn’t missing anything. The last thing I wanted to do was to get something wrong or leave something out.

  1. After you have everything down, you start working on how to include the worship band into what the Spirit has directed you to do. Maybe for that week you have the whole band scheduled to play but the Spirit has been impressing upon you to do a two acoustic set with only two vocals…you need to communicate to the rest of the band that they are not needed to play that week. Say what? Yeah…that’s not easy to do, but if your band members are seeking God like you have been they will not only agree to it but they will expect it…why? Because the Spirit was revealing that to them too. Amazing how that works! Now if your band is not at that level of spiritual maturity…things may get a bit complicated. But you as a leader are here to teach your band members along with the church body.

I remember leading worship at Fourth Memorial in Spokane, and when the band showed up for practice, they were ready and willing to do whatever the Spirit wanted. During that time we had an amazing drummer who loved to drum and he was good…like he could have been playing for any of the big named rock bands out there…like he was that good. So when he showed up and I was like “yo man I need you on the djembe tonight, instead of the full kit” or “we are going with a two guitar set tonight” he never protested and was excited to be contributing in that way or even sitting the week out to support by sitting with the church body. It was the same deal with the vocalist and other musicians as well. This took a lot of pressure off of me, its comforting to play with a group of people who not only trusted you but trusts that you are following what the Spirit has been leading you to do.

Now this doesn’t mean you are closed to input. Just as much as we as leaders, desire for our band to trust us, we need to trust that they are being lead by the Spirit too. So once you clearly explain where the set is going and what the Spirit has been impressing upon you, when they offer suggestions, take them into consideration and work with them. I am not a pianist, as much as I have tried in the past to learn to play the piano, it is beyond me…so when my pianist suggests an interlude with a specific progression that will allow for a break in the action, if you will, for the church body to have time to meditate on the words before we go back into the bridge, of course I will listen. Often times the Spirit will confirm that this is the way to go or not. Cool how that works huh?

From the couple years when I lead worship at Fourth Memorial, I can’t remember one time where the Spirit led me wrong. I always looked forward to connecting with the pastor minutes before we took the stage, about what he was preaching on that week…and guess what? The sermon and music set ALWAYS went hand in hand! So often was the case that they pastor and I would marvel at how perfect the set and message went together…and we never talked during the week! It was all the Spirit leading the both of us toward what HE wanted to accomplish during the time.

I would encourage every worship leader and worship teams to strive for this approach. Changing to this way of preparation will not happen over night though. It is as much as a mental and physical change as much as it is a heart change. It is about coming to terms with the willingness to surrender ALL to the Spirit to do what He wants to do with the time of music.

You will experience some push back from the less spiritual mature in your church but do not waiver, take this time to teach and challenge them. It is always going to make people uncomfortable when control is taken away. But remember just because you lead worship or play on the worship band…it doesn’t mean you have arrived spiritually. You still have ways to go in learning about our Triune God and how much we lack in truly trusting Him. (If this already is making you nervous, wait until I get to Spirit led worship in another blog).

I can tell you that when you prepare this way, when you walk off stage, the feeling you have is drastically different than when you prepared like option #1. There is such a freeing feeling that it wasn’t you, and you know it. You are just a follower and a vessel that the Spirit decided to use to accomplish his purpose. And nothing feels better than knowing that the God of the universe used you for his purpose! Of course, He could have done it all by himself, but HE received glory in how we trusted and surrendered to Him—wait…isn’t that the goal of worship that we talked about before? Exactly.

What is the Goal of Worship?

1: Musical Worship needs to accomplish one main Goal: That Goal, is the glorification/the worship of our Triune God. I am a strong believer that appropriate worship, needs to incorporate the Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  Worship that does not acknowledge all three members of the Trinity, is “lopsided” and I am not just speaking of musical worship here. As humans we tend to gravitate towards things we like, such as grace, mercy and forgiveness…but we shy away from things that make us uncomfortable such as, wrath, punishment, vengeance, not being in control, total surrender, to name a few. However, as we start to develop who God is to us, we let the things that we “like” come to the surface and subconsciously we form this idea in our heads who God is…even though it may be completely off of who God truly is. I don’t think I am being too harsh here, but isn’t that idolatry?  …Right? When we start worshipping a god that has characteristics that we are comfortable with while disregarding those characters that we don’t like…its as if we have created our own “god” while using God as a template.
          As a church we need to be mindful of how this “subconscious thinking” works in our church body and do our best to present “Yahweh” in his entire form to our church body with no discrimination.
          It is important to eat a balanced diet, but providing a balanced approach of God and his character in our worship experience, is even more important. Sadly, MANY of our churches today serve “lopsided worship” during their services. They focus much on one of the Persons while excluding the other(s). As worship leaders, we need to remember that God is “Three in One”…not “three separate ones that we can choose depending on how we feel”. Worship leaders need to present a balanced yet holistic picture of the Trinity during times of worship…because in the end, that is our responsibility to teach, educate and pave the way for our church body to encounter our Triune God in a honest and real way.
If you are wondering how to do this, I have a couple tips.
1. Use Trinity language in your Prayers
     -“Holy Spirit we ask you to move among us in this time”
     -“Jesus we need your everlasting grace in our lives”
     -“Father you are good in all that you do, help us to trust you”
2. Select songs that help emphasize Trinity language (For example a set should incorporate songs that sheds light on each Person’s of our Triune God…prefaced, of course, by the reasons why you chose that song)
     -Son
               -Christ Alone
               -Break every Chain
               -Lord I need You
               -Revelation Song
               – Healer
     -Father
                -How Great thou Art
                -10,000 Reasons
                -Blessed be your name
     -Holy Spirit
                -I Surrender
                -Give me Faith
                -Let it Rain
                -Spirit of the Living God
          I could go on an on but hopefully that gives you an idea of what I mean. Many of the doctrinal issues that we find in our church can be traced back to the songs we sing. Trust me when I say this, Music is a powerful tool that needs to be used right in the church. Unfortunately, many of our churches today are not using music to its full capacity…they are just picking songs, either sticking to the traditional ones, refusing to change…or they are just playing the newest and most popular…kinda like a radio station.
There needs to be a better sense of purpose and passion when choosing a set…(I’ll cover how to pick a set in another blog post).