Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

The Mystery Worshipper

December 20, 2007

Yesterday the BBC carried items on how mystery worshippers are being recruited to visit congregations in the Church of England. These ‘worshippers’ are normally employed on a commercial basis to visit shops and restaurants and to score them for the service they provide. It was unclear yesterday whether they were being employed by the CofE or the Christian Research Exhibition group or some combination of both. The idea of the mystery worshipper is not a new having run for some time under the auspices of the Ship of Fools website. However the very idea of the mystery worshipper has several drawbacks.

  1. In the first instance the term ‘worshipper’ is misnomer. These people have not come along to worship God but to evaluate the church service. There is a considerable gulf between these two things.
  2. Then these people are also being disingenuous. They are coming to the church expecting the church to engage with them at an honest level whilst they are themselves being wholly dishonest about their reasons for being there.
  3. The concept of the mystery worshipper buys into the consumer mentality that governs many British churches. churches are not there to provide a service in the same way as a commercial operation. Certainly what churches do cannot be scored by outsiders. Ultimately churches are accountable to God and not ‘Joe Public.’
  4. It is another example of how Christianity is being turned on its head. Once we were keen to communicate to people what God thought about them. Now it seems we are more concerned what people think about the church.
  5. The Christian message is not always one that appeals to people. Indeed many people find it offensive as they are brought face to face with their sin. So we cannot rely upon the unbeliever to tell us whether or not we are doing a good job. Paul as I recall didn’t set much store on approval ratings.
  6. The church must seek to be ordered by the word of God. To order church by consensus whilst it may be appealing and even get people into the pews it is ultimately a recipe for disaster.

Two concluding comments-

  1. It is interesting that this idea of the mystery worshipper came from an organisation, CRE, committed to promoting commercial resources for churches. Such an organisation should not be there to direct the church but to serve it.
  2. The general feedback amongst the visitors was positive. As such it bears out other research about the impact and effective of congregational life on visitors. It is subject that we ought to think about much more often as we consider how we reach our present generation.

When Worship Evangelism Doesn’t Worship- Or Evangelise

August 29, 2007

I came across a link to an article written by Sally Morganthaler on Justin Taylor’s Between Two World’s blog. It is I think a must read for every Evangelical. Morganthaler wrote a book in the 90’s called ‘Worship Evangelism’. The title is self-explanatory and in the article Morganthaler accepts that her book helped to create ‘a worship driven sub-culture.’ The worship driven church she now freely admits was not, as she had hoped, a means to reach the unchurched but ‘unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, “It’s all about us” so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour.’ As this church culture flourished so the unchurched stayed away. Yes, mega churches grew, they almost doubled their numbers in a decade. At the same time the numbers of those staying away from church doubled as well. Mega churches were growing as a result it seems not of evangelism but ecclesiastical musical chairs. Morgenthaler’s article is a painful one both for her and any concerned Evangelical reader.

A number of observations-

  • Morgenthaler’s article raises key questions for the mega church movement and the emergent church movement. It demonstrates to us the problems that are created whenever the church is driven by the surrounding culture. The observation of the Bishop who observed that whoever is wedded to the spirit of the age will become a widow in the next.
  • It also raises issues about the understanding of worship in contemporary evangelicalism. It has seemed to me for some time we are being driven by an understanding of worship that equates with praise. The idea that worship is a matter in which we engage in with our whole self as we give ourselves to God as living sacrifices and where the pinnacle of that obedience is our submission to His word has largely been lost. It is sad that in Morgenthaler’s article she is only now acknowledging worship as defined by Paul in Romans 12:2.
  • I also hope that Morgenthaler’s reflections are heard on this side of the pond where churches are in such a rush to ape mega churches believing that they have the golden key. We too run the risk of being obsessed by numbers. We used to be driven by a concern for the lost. Now it seems we are driven too often simply by a desire to be big.
  • The issue of the unchurched is one of concern. It has concerned me for some time the disconnection that there is between the church- which seems increasingly middle class and at ease with itself- and the unchurched, who are often very ordinary people who are increasingly disconnected from the church. I grew up in a very ordinary home where money was often tight and it grieves me that the church has lost its connection with such ordinary people. The self-absorbed church will never impact the lost world.

Morgenthaler’s article ends on a sad personal note. She writes,I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship.’ It is a comment which reflects the very narcissism that Morgenthaler claims is afflicting the contemporary church.

Pilgrimage, Spirit and Truth

June 25, 2007

An article in today’s Washington Post considers how religious pilgrimage is one of the growing trends of our age. A trend accomodated by cheaper travel and internet information. The piece focuses upon a pilgrimage to Medjugorje in Bosnia where there was supposedly an appearance by the Virgin Mary.

The trend is problematic for Christians for a number of reasons. Leaving aside reservations about Mariolatry, of which I have many, this article exposed to contemporary trend which are problematic. The first is how one person saw the idea of physical pilgrimage as reflecting spiritual pilgrimage where a person discovers the pilgrimage within. The object of the pilgrimage is not to discover God who is there but to uncover something within ourselves. Contrary to orthodox Christian teaching, and reflecting wider spiritual trends, the answer to our needs is discovered within ourselves rather than looking beyond ourselves to a right relationship with God.

The second problematic area is that the worship of God is being allied to a particular place. This is clearly contrary to Jesus own teaching that God is not to be worshipped in a particular place but ‘in spirit and in truth.’ This idea reflects not only a faulty understanding of true worship but is, we are told in the article, part of wider trend where people want to discover God in new ways. That brings to mind the old adage ‘you worship God in your way, and I’ll worship him in his way.’

The new trend towards pilgrimage reflects the spiritual confusion of our age- the smorgasbord effect as Os Guinness once called it. It calls us to once recognise the need to present the Christian message with biblical clarity and not to be conformed to the spiritual values of our age.

You can read the article at-


May 27, 2007

The latest trend in some churches it seems is to have a service arranged around the music of U2. One Anglican church has called it U2-charist. I like the music of U2 and find them a significant musical voice in a world of pap music. But I do have a problems with church services arranged around their music.

1. Whilst their music may have a moral, indeed ‘spiritual’ quality, it is not designed for worship. Bono may argue that the psalms are the blues of the OT but the Psalms are designed for worship- ‘Still haven’t found what I’m Looking for’ isn’t.

2. Why arrange a service around the music of U2? It seems another feeble attempt in the contemporary church’s search for relevance. Scripture is God’s living word- it doesn’t need U2 to make it relevant.

3. Part of the reason that U2’s music is chosen is because of Bono’s work on behalf of issues of poverty. Whilst his work is to be commended especially when we see the behaviour of other stars I do question it. Is Bono really going to make poverty history? Or was Jesus right when He said the poor will always be with you? Churches that are buying into Bono’s vision are not earthing themselves in the Bible’s vision of our world.

Bono is a commendable man. He appears to be doing a lot of good. But we have missed the mark if we let his music and agenda shape our worship and mission as churches.