Stepford Worship

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No ImitatorsStepford is the name of the fictional idyllic community in Ira Levin’s 1972 novel, The Stepford Wives. This satirical thriller portrays the women of the community as animatronic robots. The word Stepford, therefore, has come to denote a person regarded as a bland robotic conformist, one who blindly imitates or mimics another or one who does not behave or think independently. Does that sound like the way you plan, prepare and lead worship?

It is often easier as worship leaders to imitate the worship habits, methods, styles, presentations and even attire of other artists or congregations. We mimic them without even considering our own gifts and calling or the calling and abilities of our players, singers and congregants. If the only version of worship songs you ever lead or your congregation ever expects must be exactly like that of the original artist (including: genre, key, tempo, instrumentation, vocal timbre, volume, attitude and even attire), then why do they need you?

If God has entrusted us with the position to which He has called us, then imitating or mimicking another actually marginalizes that calling. An imitation can never exceed the quality or ability of the imitated or it is no longer an imitation but instead a new creation. So an imitation will always be an inferior substitute for the original. Is that really what God intended for you and the best you have to offer Him and your church?

Obviously, not all congregations are gifted with musicians who create original songs and therefore must borrow songs from others. The difference between borrowing their songs and imitating their worship, however, is taking the time to interpret those songs while giving consideration to the uniqueness of your own congregation instead of just attempting to make those songs sound as close as possible to the original rendition.

Imitation is about style. Interpretation is about content. Imitation is based on replication. Interpretation is based on revelation. Imitation ignores God’s limitless creativity in multiple contexts. Interpretation acknowledges God’s limitless creativity in your own context. Imitation is an attempt to lead worship by mimicking what someone else has been called to do. Interpretation is an attempt to lead worship by expressing what God has called you to do.

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3 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Hollan on 02.02.14 at 3:47 pm

    Your observation challenges those who plan and lead worship to be in-tune enough with their congregation’s worship voice to discern when we are being authentic in our worship expression. Sadly, it is far too common these days for all kinds of church leaders make whimsical decisions to change worship style or to assign blame for church decline to the kinds of music we use in our worship, rather than to take an honest look at other variables that may be contributing to the issues at hand. Decisions about our worship should be rooted in the work of God in the life of a congregation or faith community, not as a means to try to “fix” other issues in the church.

  2. Posted by kurt kelley on 02.02.14 at 3:47 pm

    I have to wonder if you have ever read my posts on linked in, because I have said the exact same thing, about the common practice of some worship leaders feeling the need to create live versions of popular CCM hits that are CD perfect renditions. My suggestion was that the church save alot of money by just playing CDs of those songs, since the worship was just mechanically playing exactly what is on the CD.

    However, i disagree that worship leaders should focus on original songs. Isnt the purpose and intent of corporate worship to have EVERYONE singing praise to their God? Its not for promoting your personal compositions, in hopes of being discovered by the Nashville CCM Biz.

    I fall in between these two extremes. I feel its best to focus largely on familiar songs, that are singable by the average congregant. But that they should be played in a way that is more reflective of the individual church, local culture and demographic.

  3. Posted by Craig Collins on 02.02.14 at 3:47 pm

    David, awesome article, and in fact, awesome series of articles recently! Thanks for your being a prophetic voice to help keep us all on the straight and narrow, giving God our best, honoring both our calling and the gifts and graces with which God has blessed us, and then serving God to the best of our abilities through those gifts and graces.

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