Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?


puppetIf we agree that worship is not just what we do on Sunday but also who we are in the world then why do we continue to spend all of our focus, dialogue, study, creativity, and rehearsal time getting ready for what occurs on Sunday?

If all available resources are depleted preparing for what we can control here, then we rarely have anything left for what we should deploy there.  Worship control is easier and cleaner but is limiting in its ability to deploy worshipers to fulfill Jesus’ final commission to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18-20).

Control is exercising authoritative or dominating influence over.  It is directing, requiring, regulating, containing, moderating, and restraining.  Control holds in check, reduces or prevents from spreading, and retains the power to make decisions in order to influence results. Deploy is to strategically arrange in a position of readiness those trained for a specific responsibility.  It is to move into a location for a definite action.  Deploy spreads out, utilizes, and arranges for a defined purpose.

  • Control holds worshipers captive to style, tradition, form, and structure.  Deploy sets worshipers free with the understanding that worship cannot be contained in one artistic expression, vehicle of communication, style, culture, or context.
  • Controllers are gatekeepers who identify, count, monitor, and supervise ingress to or egress from.  Deployers are liberators who set people free to initiate what they have been called and trained to do.
  • Control prepares us to worship one hour a week.  Deploy prepares us to worship 168 hours a week.
  • Control points everything and everyone to the sermon.  Deploy points everyone and everything to the Word and as a result, the world.
  • Controllers are managers.  Deployers are leaders.
  • Control identifies worship relevance according to style.  Deploy identifies worship relevance according to lifestyle.
  • Controllers justify ministry positions.  Deployers fulfill ministry callings.
  • Control is what I want, need, deserve, earned, like, and prefer.  Deploy is where I sacrifice, send, give, and go.
  • Control focuses on the institution.  Deploy focuses on the mission.

Alan and Eleanor Kreider wrote, “Our worship services have integrity when they attune us to God’s project and when they align us with God’s mission, so that our lives as individual Christians and as Christian communities are invested in who God is and what God is doing.  Further, our acts of worship ascribe worth to God when we allow the God we worship to transform our allegiances, behavior, and priorities in light of God’s character and mission.”[1]    


[1] Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom (Scottdale: Herald, 2011), 59.


9 Responses to “Is Controlled Worship Keeping Churches from Fulfilling the Great Commission?”

  • David Manner Says:

    Michelle, I would welcome your comments about how that discussion goes, especially if your team comes up with some ideas that could help us all.

  • Michelle Riley Jones Says:

    I am going to use this as a discussion topic for my next ministry team meeting.

  • David Manner Says:

    Alexander, thanks for the encouraging comments from the UK. It is difficult to keep up appearances and manage our preferences when we have deployed worshipers to be liturgy in the world and not just do liturgy when we gather at church. It may be messy but it must be encouraged and empowered or we will never fulfill the Great Commission. Abdicating control is never easy. Blessings as you continue your own work, ministry, and writing. I will look forward to following your blog.

  • Alexander Says:

    Frankly, I would have loved to have written this post; I can offer no higher praise. I am so inspired by it that it has effectively served as a ‘shot in the arm’ for me to press on with my own work.

    The evangelism cycle begins with the local church, and worship is the paradigm that isnsuppoed to unite us in God. So when a seeker comes to a church service, they are not looking for ‘religion’ – they are looking for God, even if they have no idea that they are looking!

    However, ‘liturgy’ appears to have become about us and our needs and our own aesthetic preferences, which are in turn underpinned by our cultural constructions. These form the collective basis for what then purports to be a theology of worship (corporate and otherwise) in which God is only being worshipped when we get the emotive drivers that we frequently assume is the Holy Spirit at work. Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes it may not be the case (especially when the true spiritual posture of some of those leading in the service is not acceptable to God and they are effectively offering ‘strange fire’ before the Lord). We may well never know that this is the case, as God may not choose to allow it to come out – so we judge people as we see and think that God uses the same criteria.

    And this is what we are teaching prospective new followers of Jesus?!

    Another tragic consequence of controlled worship is that over time, people manage to somehow conflate the idea of worshipping in spirit and in truth with the idea of ensuring that we do everything to keep up appearances, which mean that we stop actually being real before each other – and then somehow expect to be real before God?

    Father, help us!

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  • David Manner Says:

    Alden, great response. We have created the model and have become comfortable as controllers. Many church members are also comfortable with us in that role. It will stretch us all to shift to a deploying model but it is something we must do if we hope to fulfill the Great Commission. If God called us to be worship leaders we must lead them to worship not only when they gather but also when they disperse.

  • David Manner Says:

    Mike, Thanks for the response. I love your poke the bear illustration. Hopefully the poking is to rouse to action; urge; or goad…not to ridicule in a mischievous manner. My goal is to stir the thinking, not irritate. I always appreciate your responses.

  • Alden Schoeneberg (@alden_t910) Says:

    Somewhere along the way, church leaders have convinced themselves that in order to draw a crowd, you must use the worship control strategy. For many, worship is what you see and hear or at best, “experience.” If our churches would be lead by deployers, then this “entertainment definition” for worship would shrivel up and blow away, to be replaced by “spirit and truth” worshipers – 168 hr/wk worshipers – the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

  • Mike Reber Says:

    Brother David, I am sooo much in appreciation of this blog. Yet I do fear somewhat that you are risking your own job with it. This controlled worship topic strikes at the very heart of corrupt covetousness in church leadership. I really think it is the reason we plant so few Churches because once we have them under our roof we want to keep them for ourselves. A friend last week introduced me to the phrase he has coined, (poking the bear). Your bear is an Alaskan Brown Bear they don’t come any bigger or more dangerous. I smile every time you poke it.


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