The Contemporvant Service – What Can We Learn?

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 Kngs 17:33). 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.

Update: North Point Media posted an explanation of the video on their site.

68 Responses to The Contemporvant Service – What Can We Learn?

  1. Ed M May 21, 2010 at 9:55 AM #

    Clever, edgy, sometimes all too true, but maybe it goes too far. The answer to slick, overproduced, overemotional worship is not shoddy, emotionless worship. I’m not convinced that this is as obvious as many might think. If it were, Bob would not have written and spoken about inspiration, planning, careful selection of music, and rehearsal as often as he has.

    The line is sometimes blurry between excellence and gimickry, and I know I’ve crossed it too many times. This video may help me to stay on the right side of the line. Now can we have the video for the other side?

  2. David Miller June 4, 2011 at 10:48 AM #

    This excellent video – which is clearly a timely satire on the dangers of formulaic worship whatever the style – doesn’t seem to be available at the link you mention, but has been reposted here:-

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Bob Kauflin on Contemporvant Service :: Straight to the Heart - May 20, 2010

    […] Bob Kauflin has some great words of wisdom for all of us concerning the Contemporvant service parody that I and many others posted on their blogs.  Be sure to take a couple of minutes and read it here. […]

  2. Weekly Hit List #19 | :: VFAM.COM :: - May 21, 2010

    […] We are People of the Second Chance. – Bob Kauflin offers up some balanced thoughts on the North Point “Contemporvant” video. – Loved reading this excellent post from […]

  3. Friday Smorgasbord – May 21, 2010 « Gripped by the Gospel - May 21, 2010

    […] week I posted a video that parodied some contemporary worship.  This week check out what we might learn from Bob Kauflin about Trinity’s worship.  Thoughtful and […]

  4. Some tasty links from the last month « - May 22, 2010

    […] Bob Kauflin thinks about the viral video about The Contemporvant Service and asks what can we learn? […]

  5. Saturday Links — DashHouse.com - May 22, 2010

    […] What we can learn from The Contemporvant Service spoof […]

  6. Flotsam & Jetsam (2/3) | the Ink Slinger - February 3, 2011

    […] Parody Time – ”Some call it ‘Contemporary’… others call it ‘Relevant’… we call it ‘Contemporvant’.” Watch the video, and then read Bob Kauflin’s insightful commentary. […]

  7. Church Culture Rules - Outsiders Podcast - October 17, 2014

    […] have seen these themes at work in our own church. Is it bad? No, it’s just funny. What’s bad is how upset so many Christians got because of this video (which was actually produced by a mega-church poking fun at itself). You see, […]

  8. “The Work of the People” – Sunday Recap – 2/22/15 | Rural Preacher - February 23, 2015

    […] themselves liturgical (aka “high church”) while other do not (“low church).  But all churches have a liturgy or structure to their assemblies for worship.  In those churches that consider themselves more […]

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes