Is our worship “cool” ?

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I have to admit . . . the question has stumped me and i dont know how to answer. Are the worship experiences of my life cool? Who calls them cool? Do they need to be cool? Was the wedding feast that Jesus attended cool? Did he make it cool by producing wine? Was Matthew’s party cool?

This is me, waking up at 4 in the morning, this morning, every morning since returning from Australia last week, with far too much thinking time on my hands.
This is you, reading my thinkings, even though they are quasimodo (half-formed) and potentially silly.
This is us, in blogland.

The question is raised by a recent article in Christian Century called “The Emergent matrix: A new kind of church?” by Scott Bader-Saye. It is a good article and very fair to what the author experienced at a recent Emergent Convention in Nashville.
QUOTE:
“Despite the undeniable power of these retrieved practices, one must wonder if the incense, candles, labyrinths and all the rest are being retrieved simply because they’ve become cool” Scott Bader-Saye
“I think the major problem is that you may be rediscovering the ancient as a new gimmick”, says Robert Webber in the same article

So are the forms of worship i choose simply cool for coolness sake? Are they gimmicky? But i still cant answer the question.

When God saw all he made he declared it “good”. But was it “cool”? Is it the same thing? Does it just depend who is watching?
Is a lettuce cool? Yes, in God’s eyes, but then He made it and pronounced it “good”.

Was Pentecost cool? Yes!!!! Pentecost must have been WAY cool. And scary. But its purpose was not coolness or scariness.

Was the Last Supper cool? There were probably candles, well, oil lamps at least. But that was not the point. People didn’t need to come back the next week, but they DID need to stay in relationship with each other and with Christ.
The Last Supper and Pentecost were failures as examples of how to grow a church by having a cool worship service. Despite a great event, both failed to capture the crowd for a repeat performance. No one came back the following week. But then we have to ask ourselves if God sees public worship experiences in the same way we do.

Perhaps there is a major difference between emerging church and seeker church in this matter. If a worship service is designed to be attractive to newcomers and potential subscribers/attenders, then being cool or relevant would be a necessary part of that process.
But for the house churches and organic emergent churches (and the ancient/traditional/celtic churches also) in which worship is infused into ordinary rituals, or in which there is sometimes no worship “service”, then the worship of the community does not have to be paraded on a stage in front of seekers, and doesn’t need to be cool or relevant to attract outsiders.
Of course the community itself needs to be relevant. and our message must be understood. Do we then, as a community, need to be “cool”. Or is it OK if we maintain lameness, if indeed we came into the Kingdom as lamers and not as cool people.

My blog site is not cool. I could make it cool if i wanted to. In an hour. But i would rather have it be integral than cool – i would rather it reflects me in the state i am in, not lagging behind and not further on, lest i become guilty of false advertising, of presenting myself as something other than i am. Sincerity and integrity overrule coolness in my internet personna.

Geeks are cool. But Geeks are uncool at the same time. And that makes them geeks. And that makes them cool.

I do not want to serve coolness (Bader-Saye) but neither do i want to serve the tradition of worship (Webber). My worship should be a response to the goodness of God, to His revelation of Himself in me, to me. If my worship is to be given in spirit and in truth, it will most likely come from the deepest part of me and be communicated with art forms that are mine, words that are my language. If i use the language and tools of another, then the gift of worship may be offered by me but may represent the gift of another. Doesnt God ask for my gift?
If i offer God my worship, in the artforms that i hope will carry the gift, there will be some who see the result as cool, and others who will see it as lame. This will always be the case. And even if my gift is called cool, the same gift will be not cool in 5 years time. Even lamer in 10 years. To attempt a “cool” worship offering is therefore an impossible task.

In the last month, I have experienced a number of transforming rituals. Call them worship services, if you like, or spiritual experiences. They were all quite profound, but i would not use the word “cool” to describe them.

1. The funerals of my brother and father in Australia.
Cool? How could one use that word to describe a funeral? No – they were exceedingly difficult. But the worship was deeply profound and we connected with God and each other.
My Aunty and I determined the funeral proceedings. I was the traditional one, suggesting flowers and wearing of black. She, although 72 years old, was the “emergent” “relevant” one, suggesting that we use elements that had meaning to us and were not trying to serve the church’s idea of what should happen at a funeral service. She wanted the song “Daniel My Brother” by Elton John to be played, since she called my dad “Daniel” when he was young. She also suggested the coffin have lotto tickets, whisky and a photo of my dad. I ended up wearing black, but not to be cool, and not to serve church tradition. It was just my way of entering the spiritual environment, of giving my gift, and readying myself for any gift that sought me out.
Cool? Only to some who were watching but not understanding the significance of each element of dress and article. To the rest of us, it wasn’t cool, it was just RIGHT. Appropriate.

2. A piercing ceremony in Scotland
Doug and I both endured the life-long fear of losing our fathers. We marked that rite of passage by getting our ears pierced.
Cool? Maybe it was cool, to pierce our ears in Scotland, but to us it was a meaningful, fun, significant, lasting.
Relevant? Who cares if it was relevant to others or not? We did it for ourselves.

But are there people who get pierced just because it might look cool? Probably. And maybe the same people define their worship in the way they choose their wardrobe – thoughtlessly and with servitude to fashion. But i would rather have these people in our midst, where they can learn a better way. A more thoughtful way. A more prophetic employment of fashion and symbol.

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3. A multi-media alt. worship in England. Gareth and Ian M of Moot blog led us in an alt. worship experience. There was video, music, and an invitation to slow down long enough to write something on paper and peg it on a make-shift clothes line.
Cool? Yes, but that was not the point.
Relevant? I suppose. I dont know. I wasnt asking myself that question. Should i have asked it?
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4. A spiritually infused communion meal in England.
Cool? Not really.
Relevant? i dont know
Significant? Absolutely – a very powerful worship experience. Life transforming. And yet devoid of coolness.

So . . . is my worship cool?

I am guessing by faith, that God thinks its cool when I worship him. Really cool. He might even bring in the angels to check it out .
Do others have to see it as relevant?

OK – heres a partial answer. Others have to see my worship as relevant to me, as does God, because that experience will challenge them to offer worship from themselves that is relevant to themselves. And that is what God wants.

Thats the best i can do this morning. Now if you’ll excuse me, i have to start the day.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

21 Comments

  • Hi Andrew – good comments about ‘cool’ worship. For me the issue as to whether worship is ‘cool’ is a rather sad one. I think that worship services that become – for whatever reason – boring are difficult a therefore a change, something new, stimulating, challenging, different, cool etc may drag us back to life. But, the comment you make – “If a worship service is designed to be attractive to newcomers and potential subscribers/attenders, then being cool or relevant would be a necessary part of that process” – I’m not convinced about. However, your reflection on the family funerals in Australia raise what seems to me is the real point of worship – “The funerals of my brother and father in Australia. Cool? How could one use that word to describe a funeral? No – they were exceedingly difficult. But the worship was deeply profound and we connected with God and each other.”
    Surely, that is the point of worship – a reconnection with God and with oneanother (and wiht creation.) Coolness is overplayed methinks, relevance can be overplayed also, but an act of worship with or without candles, songs, chants, labyrinths, music, powerpoint (or other more godly presentation), sermon, etc etc, but that connects to GOD is a winner for me. I can do without most of the above, but a connection with the Living God, that warms my heart, and stirs my soul, reminds me I am loved, motivates me to follow Jesus is what worship is about.

  • Depends what we mean as ‘cool’ I suppose. If it means finding significance by being part of the ‘choice space’ ..well
    But if it means things are way better than they even could be… well
    I look through history and its not always cool to be where God is. Suffering etc, so maybe cool is not a good indicator?

  • I get concerned about this “cool” stuff too. Especially in the form of “creating a mood”. I don’t think Jesus ever did that. It can lead to false pseudo-spiritual experience. I guess when the Spirit really is there, there’s no doubt about it.
    And as for the cool gift, that is lame 5 years later, and worse yet in 10 years. Don’t worry, it’ll be cool again in 15 years! Ha! 🙂

  • yes, like sideburns.
    and i agree about the mood – i always get suspicious when music starts up and i am required to somehow respond in a certain way – emerging churches can be guilty of this (initial music to set the tone) but of course seeker churches are just as guilty (music during offering) and so are traditional churches (music during altar call)
    when i lead people in prayer, i usually tell the musicians to stop playing, in case there is the potential for manipulation.
    thanks cheryl

  • I think, hip and cool always have to do with fads and fashions that will eventually live out their day. As we know, fads and fashions have to do with marketing and appeal. It’s too bad we often mistake relevance for being superficially hip and cool. Relevance has to do with an indigenous (natural) relationship to people, to our culture, to society, so on. Hip and cool has to do with a fabricated, foreign assumption of a particular demographic of people (a market). Suppose then, there are two forms of “relevancy” among us… a superficial one and an indigenous one. Just my thoughts.

  • But isn’t “manipulation” the whole point of music, or the arts, or lighting, or sermons or dialogs, or anything else we do? Modernist-types put down “emotional manipulation” all while aiming for mental manipulation via the sermon.
    Much of this is semantic, of course, but not all. When you say “manipulation” (in a bad sense), what do you mean? Do you mean something that touches people only on the surface without really bringing their spirits into contact with God’s Spirit? (But then how do we ever do that?)
    Or do you mean “manipulation” in the sense of a preplanned process that the people are required to go through, much like a PowerPoint presentation? (But don’t most emerging-types offer people a smorgasbord of experiences which they can enter as they choose?)

  • Andrew, all of the situations that you described involved you meeting with God in some significant way or hearing Him speak to you in a way that was personal and perhaps transcendant at the same time. Worship on becomes “cool” when we meet with God. It becomes terribly “uncool” when we are just going for an experience that we are trying to impress other people with. I think that corporate worship has to consider other people – that is what makes it corporate. But, hopefully our focus is toward God and toward hosting and environment where people can really meet with Him and hear His voice. Thanks for the thoughts. They really challenged me to think through our own community’s worship gatherings.

  • I think one of the points of the Webber-ite “Ancient-Future” thing (something he said in class over and over ad nauseam) is that we look to ancient stuff because it has staying power and will trump the fads. Now, of course, “Ancient-Future”‘s become a fad (in some circles). Hmmm…
    I think if we’re doing what’s real then “cool” is incidental. Ancient-Future’s supposed to open up new avenues for spirituality for those of us who grew up in environments too narrow to handle that. [I am one of those!]
    On the other hand, I wonder how long our “pick-and-choose” mentality will hold up…

  • Andrew,
    Cool is in the eye of the beholder. I’m sure people participate in many types of “worship” because they perceive it as cool. At a planning meeting this past Sunday, we were discussing the use of traditions (esp. those other than our own) and why they can be/are valuable. The concensus was basically that the value lies in the significance of the tradition or practice to the individual. Something may seem cool, but cool is not worship. God didn’t judge the Israelites for ritual, he judged them for the state of their hearts. I’d rather Worship in lameness than gather for the sake of cool.

  • Isn’t “cool,” by its very nature, a by-product? The instant you aim to achive “cool,” you’re killing it.
    “Cool” has a certain self-unconsciousness to it. Much life worship that is in spirit and truth: you’re not focused on yourself, you’re focused on God. Will that be “cool?” Instant you focus on that, you’ve stopped focusing on God, AND killed the cool. Definitely uncool.

  • How cool is a father ignoring a really important business contact to catch up his tiny daughter in his arms, sit her on his knee, and ‘snoodle’ with her?
    I think it’s REALLY cool of him, but the bairn -she’s just warm in Daddy’s arms.

  • essential missiology

    I’m busy marking student assignments. This is a complex task, that reflects both on me and my abilities as a lecturer, and students, and there abilities as students. The Gospel and post-Christian assignments have, to date, been underpinned by missiolog…

  • Thanks for that … helped me in my thinking about some of the newer (or older resurrected) forms of worship that sometimes seem to only be there to stop people getting bored. Sometimes its difficult being both artistic and evangelical! 😉 Really like your blog, Andrew. It is helping me in my journey.
    From a not so tall, definitely not so skinny Kiwi.

  • Hehe…I have an uncle named Scott Baeder.
    I think this post is a prime example of the answers depending on whether the right questions are being asked. Of course cool was a goal for seeker churches. Cool feels contrived in my living room, though, and it feels silly when I have to tell my own best friends about how cool something will be, so we don’t even bother.
    Authentic is the new cool. Is holistic the new authentic? Who knows?

  • Maybe we worry to much about all of it: manipulation, cool/uncool, modern, post-modern, emergent. Maybe the leaders just need to do the best they can and leave the rest up to God. If I remember right, He said that if we looked for Him, we’d find Him. And that’s what worship is about–connecting with Him.
    All these terms, these semantic debates, leave me feeling like we’re shoving things into boxes. I don’t know if you can “set a mood” to meet God–but I do know that you can prepare yourself to meet with Him, by being open to the experience. Without that openness, all the “mood setting” in the world won’t matter.

  • yes keep your gaze fixed on Jesus. so no matter what the setting is which is always shifting we can just focus on Him. and if we do this others will join in as well. and if we fix our eyes on Him then we will become more like Him because there will be more of Him in us. a quickening occurs. on another note. those of us that remember the 80’s still use those fun words like cool, awesome,sweet, rad way too much. or at least i do. i have recently begun just saying that’s good. some habits die hard though…. must …keep…focused…

  • Andrew, your worship is way cool. I’ll tell you why. Myself and my band, Rivertribe, stumbled into you in Portugal at a pastor’s conference and i subsequently stayed with you at your place the week before you moved to the Orkneys. Our performance at that conference came at the end of a seven month tour/faith journey through 15 countries with our familes in tow. To hear you speak and lead us in an alternative worship experience-come-meditation was a revelation to us. In every place we had been we met many people trying to live out their faith in a more authentic and meaningful way. Many had rejected their restrictive traditional churchy paradigms and were desperately seeking a new way, from ex-muslims in India attempting to reconnect with a culture that the church had forbade them to engage with, to Native American believers being evicted from their tribal lands by the Southern Baptist Convention, to brothers and sisters in Belfast trying to walk the razor-wire infested peace-line in bringing the reconciling nature of God to the hard-liners of Falls Road, the heart-cry we heard was the same- “Enough! We just want to throw out the bull!@$#@ and seek Jesus in a real way!” As a band, also, having been consistently rejected or criticised by our brethren for being too “new age” or wierd, we arrived in Portugal with the baggage of frustration, gathered in our travels.
    To discover that there was a network out there of brothers and sisters who were seeking a new path, a fresh expression, was very cool. a revelation. There is a whole generation of us out there who feel trapped and not just a little bit isolated in our frustration and desire to engage with our heavenly Dad in their own, gifted and creative ways, who have never heard the word “emergent” and who don’t know such a network exists. As we traveled and made new friends, we found ourselves saying, in every place, as brothers and sisters poured out their longings: “I hear what you’re saying. You know- we are hearing the same heart and the same frustrations every where we go”
    The question of cool, to me, is a vital one. To see a sister in Chennai return to previously forbidden traditional dance as an act of worship is very cool. To receive a traditional smoke-blessing as a call to prayer to Jesus and to beat the drum in worship in Colorado is way cool, to hear the tabla and the sarangi, the djembe and the darabukka, the duduk and the didgeridu used in powerful worship to our Father is too cool. I watched as the young guitarist of a Jesus-focussed thrash-punk band from Lisbon cried his heart out for over an hour as he realised while you spoke, Andrew, that there was a support network of believers who understood his pain, would allow him to speak it out and were there to walk him past the judgement and rejection of his local body into a validation of his calling in God. What could be cooler than that?
    The tallskinnykiwi blog has been living water to me, jonny baker is the coolest guy in the room and all of you who make this network happen are the coolest of the cool. Keep texting, debating and encouraging. Don’t stop, cos i’ve got a number of new friends around this globe who will receive this gift of cool like a revelation. Personally I feel energised and re-motivated to live my adventure as far out on the edge as i can, now that i have plugged into this emerging culture and I will be seeing that my friends drop in on this amazing culture of cool. Thankyou Jesus, for this wonderful gift.

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