A Curmudgeon Weighs in on Evangelical Worship, Part 3

Disney-World Worship (Part 1)

Most of us are familiar with the words: “There is a place where dreams come true, where wishes big and small lead to happily ever after.” Such is the promise of Disney World. That it is Disney World is significant. Disney World is no mere amusement park; it is a place for a family to enter another “world” for a period of time. There one can leave this world behind for a few days, and enjoy the pleasures of another world, one of magic and fantasies, wonder and imagination.

There are some things to be learned by reflecting on Christian worship in relation to Disney World. There is one sense in which Christian worship should be like Disney World. When the faithful gather in worshiping assemblies there is the promise of another world, one beyond our dreams and wishes, a world with the happiest of endings. In the rhythm of Christian worship, as the church gathers (at least) on a weekly basis each Lord’s Day, we enjoy a respite from this world and anticipate the world to come. At least Christian worship should point us toward the world to come, since the assembly of believers is a gathering of people who worship in this age, anticipating the age to come. Sometimes, though, evangelical worship services point us not to another world, rather they point us back to the world in which we live, and too often point back to the least meaningful aspects of it.

Sitting in a worship service some time ago I observed some rather troubling similarities between the worshiping church and Disney World. That Sunday the music was led by an ensemble of singers accompanied by a group of instrumentalists. These days many call these groups “praise teams” and “praise bands,” but I can’t bring myself to refer to them in such fashion. In fact, I would be happy if I never heard the term “team” again except with reference to a group of athletes who play a sport together. But I digress – in curmudgeonly fashion, nonetheless.

The instrumentalists and singers were skillful folk, and it was obvious that they had rehearsed with care. Each member of the group held a microphone, and their presentation was polished. The musical selections were a mix of mediocre tunes unimaginatively arranged, and the texts (save one old hymn) were mundane and, well, “cheesy.” All of this taken together, along with the varied movements and gyrations of the singers and instrumentalists and their general deportment, reminded me of the kinds of groups that put on shows at amusement parks – it was “Disney World Worship.” (For those worried that this is the beginning of a screed against “contemporary Christian music”, fear not. I will rail against other kinds of music too before we’re done, not to mention other aspects of evangelical worship that bother me!).

I’ll admit this isn’t a flattering analysis, but it is one from which I hope we have the wisdom to learn better what it is to worship the living God. As I have thought through this, I recognize at least three ways in which such an approach to worship moves us away from, rather than toward, the development of a healthy worship life in the local congregation. We’ll look at these aspects of “Disney World Worship” in the next few posts.

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