The "Contemporvant Service" Parody Video - What Can We Learn?
- 2010 22 May
If you read my blog, you've probably already seen this video put out by North Point Media. It's racked up thousands of views in the past couple weeks for obvious reasons and sparked some lively debate over at Vimeo.com.
Like most viral videos seeking to make a point, this one has its supporters and detractors. Some call it a brilliant parody while others are deeply offended by its supposed slap in the face at churches targeting unbelievers. I tend to side with the first group, and I think there are a few things we can learn from it.
1. It's a good practice, and even humble, to poke fun at ourselves.
If we think that everything we do in our meetings is as sacred an inviolable as Scripture, we're living in unreality. Elements of our meetings that are meaningful to us might seem predictable, insincere, or formulaic to others. If we think about it long enough, we may even start to agree. I appreciate the fact that that folks at North Point are exposing temptations common to many churches today, probably including their own.
2. Every church has a liturgy.
Liturgy refers to the form our public worship takes. Whether that form involves creeds, organs, and bulletins, on the one hand, or extemporaneous prayers, electric guitars, and videos on the other, we lean towards practices that are familiar. The question is not whether or not we have a liturgy, but whether we have a biblical one that includes Scriptural elements, rehearses the gospel (see christ-centered worship by Bryan Chapell), builds up the church, and glorifies God (Acts 2:42; 2 Tim. 4:1-2; Col. 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 14:12; 1 Cor. 12:4-7; Rom. 15:5-7; 1 Cor. 10:31).
3. We Christians can be quick to express strong opinions about things we don't fully understand.
I and most of the commenters at Vimeo were unsure of the background or purpose of this video. Some said it was used to introduce a Sunday sermon series at Andy Stanley's church and was also shown at a leaders' conference. But being uncertain of the origin didn't keep some commenters from completely dissing it. Knowing we have incomplete information should surely give us pause before we lash out it against it as another example of Christians bashing each other (see Prov. 18:2). On the other hand, the Internet being what it is, some kind of explanation would have been helpful.
4. Idolatry is alive and well in our church services.
"Contemporvant" worship (and its relatives, near and far) can come dangerously close to bowing down at the altars of coolness, fame, material success, cutting edge technology, and emotional experience. We can appear to be worshiping God while serving our idols (2 Kings 2:33). The video appropriately makes fun of those idols, but where they exist in our churches and our hearts, it's anything but funny. And just to be clear, many of these idols find their way into traditional church services as well. (I posted some thoughts on this topic in a previous series, idolatry on sunday mornings.)
5. We have to work hard to speak with integrity.
One of the reasons this video makes us laugh is because commentary replaces actual content. We're shown the "hidden" meaning behind different segments of a "contemporvant" meeting. So singing God's praise becomes a means of making people feel at home, motivating them to pick up our album, and move them to tears. Welcoming guests is an opportunity to connect with cool. Videos and prayers are used for stage changes, and sermons aim at the emotions rather than the whole person: mind, heart, and will. If prayer, singing, and preaching have more important secondary purposes than the obvious ones, our meetings are causing more harm than good (1 Cor. 11:17).
6. In our desire to be relevant, we mustn't forget how "unflashy" Christianity can be.
This is a thought about two things we don't see in this video - communion and baptism (Mt. 28:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-26). In his excellent book, The Good News We Almost Forgot, Kevin DeYoung writes, "Many evangelicals see more movie clips in church during the year than they see sacraments." I'm not assuming that the churches this video parodies don't practice the sacraments. I am asking if in the midst of making our meetings creative, relevant, fresh, and inspiring we think we have better ideas than the Lord himself of the best ways to remember his death and resurrection.
7. Excellent production, seamless transitions, and well-planned meetings are no substitute for the power of the gospel.
While it's possible to use all the elements in this video and still proclaim a crucified Messiah clearly and boldly, inherent tensions can make it more difficult. In a book I highly recommend, The Cross and Christian Ministry, D.A. Carson wrote:
If the church is being built with large portions of charm, personality, easy oratory, positive thinking, managerial skills, powerful and emotional experiences, and people smarts, but without the repeated, passionate, Spirit-anointed proclamation of "Jesus Christ and him crucified," we may be winning more adherents than converts…Do not think that you can adopt the philosophies and values of the world as if such choices do not have a profoundly detrimental impact on the church. Do not think you can get away with it. Do not kid yourself that you are with it, and avant-garde Christian, when in fact you are leaving the gospel behind and doing damage to God's church. (p. 80, 84)
I thank God for folks like the North Point Media team who help me think more clearly about what I'm doing on a Sunday morning, and how it might help or hinder the clear proclamation of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
I'd be interested in knowing if you gained any insights about your own church from watching this video. Add your comments below.
Update: North Point Media posted an explanation of the video on their site.
bob kauflin travelled with the Christian group GLAD for eight years as a songwriter and arranger before becoming a pastor with Sovereign Grace Ministries in 1985. He is now the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace, overseeing its music projects and teaching on congregational worship. He blogs at worshipmatters.com and hosts the biennial WorshipGod Conference. He and his wife, Julie, have six children and an ever-growing number of grandchildren.