Churches Called to Lay Down Youth Culture Idolatry in Worship

Many churches today have become too obsessed with youth culture, idolizing whatever is new, fresh, and cutting edge, particularly in the area of worship.

Concerned that a kind of "celebrity culture" was permeating into worship, detracting from Christ and his vision for the church, three experienced worship leaders came together on The Gospel Coalition to talk about the implications of the growing phenomenon and address ways that the church could challenge those idolatries.

"I see congregations where there is such an attachment to all of the entrapments of youth in America and this fundamental belief that we're not going to get old or that we can be both old and young at the same time," Isaac Wardell, the worship director of Trinity Presbyterian Church, shared.

Churches are stuck in a mentality that worship had to constantly be newer, fresher, and the next best thing, oftentimes losing focus on the message of the Gospel as a result.

The idolatries with youth culture, which has led to the selection of young, hip and extremely talented worship leaders, inevitably cause many congregants to feel inadequate as well, discouraging them from using their gifts because they do not feel they "looked, dressed, or sounded the part."

"It has nothing to do with a local congregation," Mike Cosper, the pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church, noted. "It has everything to do with this machine that's being driven in there."

Illustrating a practical example of the "machine" in question, Wardell explained how when he first came to his own church in Virginia, he found that their whole worship volunteer team was between the ages of 25 to 36, even though the congregation was made up of many different age groups.

"One of the things we said right away within the first year of our church's worship ministry was to say we're going to actively start recruiting people to be involved with our worship program that are not in that (25-36 years old)demographic," the Bifrost Arts director shared.

During their recruiting process, they would also clearly explain what being a worship leader was and was not.

"[We tried] to encourage our church musicians to get outside of that onstage experience, of being in front of everybody with microphones and actually saying part of being a worship leader is ... [working] with the children ... [going] to nursing homes and [leading] worship there," and so forth, he explained.

The fundamental problem for worship leaders today is that many of them do not see themselves as servants of the church, bringing their gifts to serve the congregation, but as artists instead.

"I think as long as the artist mentality is not tempered by the servant mentality that we're going to continue to have this spiraling celebrity culture in worship," Wardell observed.

A tension between performance and worship exists, which could only be solved by adopting the mind of a servant, Cosper added.

"If being a servant is a priority, it kind of pulls together those two tensions because being a servant calls for excellence [and] great performances ... [executing] your task well as a worship leader or church musician so that the church is brought together, so that the affections are stirred, so that the text is presented properly."

Quoting Michael Card's Scribbling in the Sand, a book written to artists, the Sojourn pastor said, "Artists should think of themselves as using their gifts to wash people's feet."

"This is not about us. This is about the cross, this is about the Gospel, this is about Jesus' blood being shed for the sake of his church and I just think when you're pounding that table, hitting that note week after week it's kind of hard to be walking out on that platform going 'well how's my hair?'"

Unfortunately, those dots often do not get connected, Kevin Twit, founder of Indelible Grace Music and campus minister of Reformed University Fellowship at Belmont University, responded.

"It's possible to preach a Gospel-centered message, and yet undermine it with the songs you sing and even with the things you do in the church," he revealed.

"I think it's one of those difficulties we face in working in this sort of postmodern context is dots don't connect like they use to."

The problem could arise from not having a paradigm for what worship should look like, Wardell commented, where churches are often confused between choosing a concert hall versus lecture hall model of worship.

Looking to the Scriptures, he pointed out a far greater model of worship.

"The Bible gives us this richer picture of the worship service actually being a banquet hall where we come together around this table, with many different kinds of people and share a meal with one another," the Covenant College graduate shared.

Worship leaders are meant to be servants who come alongside the church community and help them share the banquet meal together.

"When you start to have that imagery, this language of church musicians as servants starts to make a lot more sense."

Kevin Twit, Isaac Wardell and Mike Cosper previously discussed the idolatry of youth culture and its effects on church worship in two previous videos featured on The Gospel Coalition. View them here.


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