Worship Domination and Theology in the Church

Celtic Cross ChurchThe past decade or so has seen a decided shift in larger, urban churches in many ways. Here are a few:

1. The decline or elimination of “Bible School” for adults on Sunday morning. This is actually a trend that has been ongoing for the last thirty years. As many of you know, I write adult Sunday School curriculum material for Standard Publishing, and they still sell 350-400,000 copies of the Standard Lesson Commentary each quarter, the largest such publication in the world. I often speak in churches that use this material and sometimes have the privilege of teaching a lesson for them that I wrote. But in my visits to several hundred churches I notice this: the larger the church (Christian Church or Church of Christ), the less likely it is to use Standard Publishing materials, and the more likely it is not to have adult Sunday School classes at all (or very few).

2. The decline of the sermon and the rise of “teaching from the pulpit.” Many larger churches no longer have a resident “preacher,” that person is called their “lead teacher” or “teaching pastor.” There is a lot of teaching that goes on from the stages of churches (many do not use pulpits any more), and much of it is good. But this is now the only teaching forum that church members participate with. Their biblical and theological education is limited to a 30 minute message (of which 15 minutes might be biblical teaching) for the one or two weeks a month they attend on Sunday morning. This places enormous pressure on the preacher/teacher. The messages must be broad enough to speak to everyone attending. There can be little depth or systematic exposition of Scripture. Messages must give everyone a practical “takeaway.” I cannot remember the last time I heard a message exploring the nature of God, the nature of Christ, or the nature of sin.

3. The rise of worship ministry and its takeover of the Sunday services. The content of what happens in a Sunday morning service is largely determined by the worship department of a church, not the preacher or senior minister. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it has led to some unfortunate things (in my opinion). One of these is the marginalization of the Lord’s Supper. I will write more about this in a future post, but I would guess that if you asked the worship leader at many churches why they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, you would not get a very good answer.

4. Worship songs as the primary way that theological content is delivered and personal theology is formed for individual believers. What do new Christians remember about the content of the Christian faith? How do they learn theological truth? My observation is that a great deal of this comes from the words of the worship songs they sing. This is not a new thing. The church has used hymns and spiritual songs to teach theology since the first century. But we should be aware that influential teachers of theology and doctrine in our churches are outsiders from the Christian music industry. I will say more about this, too, in a future post.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College

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