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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Chuck Colson Shouts Down His Worship Leader

ColsonProvacative title... I know.  But it sounds like it really happened.

What would you do if you were leading worship and asked the congregation to repeat a song only to hear Chuck Colson yell 'NO'!  (Actually... I'd love to hear from the worship leader involved to see if this is really the way it went down or not; and how he/she responded.  Maybe someone reading goes to Chuck's church or knows his worship leader and can get the real story for us!)  Anyway, here's the story, in Chuck's own words from his PrisonFellowship website:

When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.” The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed.

[Insert Todd's comments here:  That's really kind of a low blow, Chuck, to call "Draw Me Close to You" a meaningless ditty.  It's simply a love song to our Savior (You're all I want; You're all I've ever needed; You're all I want; Help me know You are near).  Kind sounds like an OT Psalm to me in many ways.

And I must give two thumbs up to Mrs. Colson for cringing.  What your husband did was rude and disruptive to the worship service.  As I heard Mark Driscoll say yesterday in a message, "it's easier to be a music critic than a musician".  Hopefully other people were cringing as well.

Don't get me wrong... I like Chuck Colson.  He's done phenominal work for the Kingdom through his many writings and PF ministry.  But this seems pretty 'Basic Christianity 101' to me that this was not the right way to handle his dissatisfaction with a church service or the song selection.  Of course this comes from a former worship leader, so I may be a bit hyper-critical.  Maybe I'd feel better if he made some kind of statement that he shouldn't have done this.  Rather, he continues:

I admit I prefer more traditional hymns. But even given that, I am convinced that much of the music being written for the Church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. Evangelicals are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book.

You really won't get too much of an argument from me here; however using "Draw me Close" to prove your case, I think, was a wrong choice (Todd here, again).  That said, I can take any hymnal and show either lame songs or bad theology that goes back hundreds of years; including some hymns much more touchy-feely than "Draw me Close"!

The trend is also true of Christian radio, historically an important source of in-depth teaching. Many stations have recently dropped serious programming in favor of all-music formats. For example, a major Baltimore station dropped four talk shows to add music. A respected broadcaster recently dropped “Focus on the Family,” claiming it had become too focused on “moral issues.”

When a Cincinnati station replaced “BreakPoint” with music, I told the station manager that believers need to think Christianly about major worldview issues. Her reply? Younger women want “something to help them cope with life.”

Todd again:  I wonder if this station dropping his program was the catylist for his outburst in the service.  Seems like a leap here.  (Instead of kicking the cat; we'll kick the worship leader)  :)

This view was confirmed by a Christian homemaker during a TV special on evangelicalism. She is so busy, she explained, with her kids, Bible study, cooking, and all, that she does not even get to read the newspaper. Church for her is getting her spirits lifted. Now admittedly, modern life creates enormous stress, but can’t the Church offer comfort and help people confront the culture? Of course, music is important in the life of the Church. But it cannot replace solid teaching.

Absolutely (Todd again)... but maybe this same Christian homemaker needed the comfort of expressing these words to her Savior after that really busy, tough week:  "You're all I want; You're all I've ever needed; You're all I want; Help me know You are near."  (Just a thought).

The decision by Christian broadcasters to avoid moral controversies could result in the Church withdrawing from the culture as it tragically did a century ago. The great strength of radio, as with books, has been to present in-depth teaching that engages Christians cognitively. Unfortunately, thinking analytically is something Christians find increasingly difficult. According to a government study, the average college graduate’s proficient literacy in English has declined from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent ten years later. The study defines proficient literacy as the ability to read lengthy, complex texts and draw complicated inferences.

Todd:  Actually, I see the opposite happening.  I see many churches engaging the culture in ways they never have before; which, quite frankly ,is attacked by many.  I'm not sure about Christian radio.

This is horrifying. The Gospel above everything else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life. Sure, the Gospel is simple enough for a child to understand. But if you want to study doctrine and worldview, you need the capacity to engage ideas cognitively. Doctrine and biblical teaching does not consist of dry, abstract notions. It is the truth that must be carried to the heart and applied. And there is no escaping that it is truth that must be learned.

Here I'll agree.  :)

When Postman published his book two decades ago, he feared television would impair our capacity to think. He was right. But can we learn from this—or are we destined to follow suit, with the Church blissfully amusing itself into irrelevance?

My final thought:  Wake up... the church has been blissfully amusing itself into irrelevance for over a decade now.  Most people don't even look to the church for their spiritual needs anymore.  You can't get much more irrelevant than that.

That's why so many of the discussions we have here at MMI are so important.  Relevance is key.  And the unchanging message of the gospel must reach our culture in a relevant way.  While we may differ on what that looks like, it must be done.

Any thoughts?


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March 21, 2006 in Worship | Permalink

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Tracked on Mar 21, 2006 11:24:30 AM


I've read a few Colson books and heard him speak once...

IMHO, he is clueless when it comes to art and culture. He displays this cluelessness in the otherwise excellent "How Should We Now Live" from a few years ago. It may stem from the fact that, IMO again, his brand of Christianity is totally agenda-driven. His comment "Of course, music is important in the life of the Church. But it cannot replace solid teaching." reminds me of the point-of-view I hear from so many that the musical worship of a service is just a set-up for the message. Why, then is the longest book in the Bible a songbook? I think they're equal. And I'm sorry, but I think using a song like "Draw Me Close To You" to express love to God is anything but shallow.

I love Colson, he has really inspired me over the years. But he should stop talking about music, I think he puts his worst foot forward whenever he does.

Posted by: Peter Hamm | Mar 21, 2006 7:22:57 AM

Chuck Colson has been an essential voice for our faith, but when he says "The Gospel above everything else is revealed propositional truth—truth that speaks to all of life." I react a bit, since the gospel is more about our relationship with Jesus. It is relational more than propositional. Truth is vital, non-negotiable, but it is the truth embodied in Jesus. Faith is in Christ, and it grounded in the truth, but it is in Christ. As Paul says, I no longer live but Christ lives in me.

Posted by: Kent | Mar 21, 2006 8:46:08 AM

Our pastor speaks of "Incarnational Truth vs. Propositional Truth." I'm in agreement here. Chuck Colson has done some great things through Point Break and Prison Fellowship, but he's striking a wrong "chord" here - (get it? chord... nevermind)

Posted by: Gene | Mar 21, 2006 9:44:45 AM

While he is worrying about "propositional truth" he should also be paying attention to "relational truth." Was this the correct way to communicate his music preference to his worship leader? Can you imagine the effect on any unbelievers in attendance that morning? It's no wonder many non-Christians run away when we speak only "propositional truth" to them and our behaviors don't represent the love of Christ.

Posted by: Bill | Mar 21, 2006 10:13:42 AM

Who is in charge of the church service - tthe worship leader or the Pastor? Albeit unorthodox for Pastor Colson to respond the way he did I believe he has clearly shared why he responded in the way he did and his actions are clearly justified. Anytime a worship leader challenges the authority of the Pastor they have violated the chain of command clearly defined for the church and as such, were church discipline followed, and it seems it is more often ignored than followed, a meeting should follow and the issue should be resolved in private if possible. The fact that it occurred before the congregation justifies his posting the explanation on his website to get the message out to stem the rumor mills.

In Christ,
Bill in KC

Posted by: Bill | Mar 21, 2006 10:33:23 AM

I'll side with Chuck on this one. IMHO it sounds like the straw that broke the camel's back. It had less to do with the specific song as with a trend in touchy feely worship music. While many songs are good in a specific context, many more are just plain fluff.

BTW, I am a worship leader. I use contemporary and traditional songs in worship leading. I have been tempted to go with the song that gets the response but try very hard to opt for the one that teaches something substantial about the Lord.

Posted by: pjlr | Mar 21, 2006 10:35:02 AM


Not sure where you read anywhere that the worship leader violated the authority of the pastor. What did the worship leader to to make you say this? I'm sorry, but I missed that part.

And what about the violating the authority of the worship leader? I never said the worship leader was over the senior pastor; but I would say that the worship leader and his position deserves Chuck's respect as well (and he clearly violated that respect with his public loud comment DURING worship).

Again, Bill... you have a right to disagree; but you have to at least make sense and not pull things out of the air. And, I'd ask that you find something positive to comment on from time to time as well.



Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 21, 2006 10:44:26 AM

Bill in KC:

I didn't understand from the article that Chuck is the Pastor of this church. If he is, he and his worship leader should have an understanding in advance about expectations for the music portion of the service. If he is not the pastor, he should take his concerns to the worship leader in private. Based on what I read in Todd's post, I don't see any justification for a public outburst.

Bill in TX

Posted by: Bill | Mar 21, 2006 10:52:27 AM

Blah. I mean what's the the negativity Chuck? I guess he'd have no response for the simple query, "Is church all about what you as a leader want?" Who is he to decide how others desire to worship the Father? Shouldn't he be glad that anyone would want to worship? I dunno, these comments make me sad.

Posted by: adam | Mar 21, 2006 10:54:28 AM

Bill in TX:

Yes, maybe this is what Bill in KC understood. No, Chuck is NOT the pastor of this church... he was sitting in the pew with his wife. I didn't think anywhere in the article that it was inferred that Chuck was the pastor. I probably should have clarified better for some.

That would make sense as to Bill in KC's response; although even if he was the pastor, I think it would've been rude to do as he did during the service. As pastor, he could've cut the 'meaningless ditty' from the service before it was ever sung; thus making the problem disappear before it ever happened.

See... I'm not as 'anti-senior pastor' as you think I am, Bill in KC.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 21, 2006 10:57:50 AM

I couldn't believe what I was reading. I've admired Chuck Colson for many, many years for his defense of absolute truth and for perpuating a biblical worldview but his actions were out of line. A disruption of a worship service is never acceptable. Colson seems to be confusing relevance with preference. He is showing a bias towards worship through teaching over worship through music. Both are offerings to God and if offered with excellence and purity of heart neither should not be questioned as "unauthorized fire".

Posted by: Sound Doctrine | Mar 21, 2006 11:02:17 AM

I caught the double negative too late. Sorry.

Posted by: Sound Doctrine | Mar 21, 2006 11:04:29 AM

Todd maybe before you brought this in to your forum to challenge what Chuck did you might have done some research to find out how the issue was resolved or what the thoughts of the worship leader were in response to what Chuck did.

You see I get the impression that you would have felt slighted, that Peter would have felt slighted as well were either of you the worship leader. The fact is, if the Pastor of the church decides to stop the worship service midway through the first song, the worship leader should submit to his authority and I, personally, have no problem with that as a worship leader, I also have the willingness to accept the explanation Pastor Colson has given, no theological content in Draw Me Close, to which you seem to take objection. Like pjlr said it could have simply been the straw that broke the camels back with Pastor Colson when he (the worship leader) decided to repeat what he (Colson) saw as a shallow song which lends itself to getting the congregation into a transical state as opposed to, in Colsons opinion, a worshipful state based on some foundational truths from scripture.

In Christ,
Bill in KC

Posted by: Bill | Mar 21, 2006 11:05:05 AM

Hmm...I say let's not end up making Chuck's mistake of over-analyzing things here. He was rude. Period. He actions embody the selfishness that is so predominant in our culture today in that he showed no concern for how his outburst effected his pastor, his fellow "worshippers" and his own stinkin' wife! He sounds just like my 20 month old daughter when she doesn't want to eat her dinner ("NO!"). Chuck needs a good, stiff drink!

Posted by: Mark | Mar 21, 2006 11:09:13 AM

Bill (in KC),

Chuck is not the pastor at this church.

I have over 16 years as a worship leader. And I've seen some strange things happen. Whenever a person in the congregation disrupts the worship service, it is wrong.

I'm not sure why you're bringing the issue of pastoral authority into this issue. I think you're confused. Chuck Colson is not the pastor of this church, he is a parishoner. If the pastor wanted to step in during worship; that's his perogative; and something that I, as worship leader, would be open to.

But people in the congregation shouting NO to the worship leader during the service is not acceptable. (as is people who shout 'it's too loud' or publically put both hands over their ears. It's called rudeness.

As for the worship at Chuck's church... I don't know know where he goes to church, or what the style of worship is. But Chuck confesses that he often, rather than worshipping, stands stoically with his teeth clenched. That tells me much of his heart and attitude toward his church and their worship.

I wonder how God feels when He looks down and sees someone singing "You're all I want, You're all I've even needed" and then sees someone standing stoically with their teech clenched thinking "this song has no theological value". I know who I'd rather be.

Perhaps it would be better for Chuck to find a church that better fits his worship philosophy rather than waiting for something to 'break the camel's back' and for him to lose it publically in a worship service.

Just my 2 cents.

And Mark, I couldn't have said it better myself. (No really, I didn't say it better myself! :) )


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 21, 2006 11:13:34 AM


"Anytime a worship leader challenges the authority of the Pastor they have violated the chain of command clearly defined for the church..."

Are you kidding me?

A "chain of command?" Please advise us all of where such is found in the New Testament.

Posted by: Ricky | Mar 21, 2006 11:18:12 AM


For the sake of clarification here:

"Whenever a person in the congregation disrupts the worship service, it is wrong."

Say a person on one side of the sanctuary is moved to go to another person on the OTHER side to ask for forgiveness? This gets the fire going so-to-speak.

This is NOT what you referring to as wrong, right?

I'm just askin'

Posted by: Camey | Mar 21, 2006 11:40:34 AM


Possibly an overstatement on my part. By disruptive, I mean 'disruptive' negative. I've seen some strange things happen over the years. I'm not talking about not allowing the Holy Spirit to move. I doubt that Chuck's outburst was prompted by the Holy Spirit; but rather by Chuck.



Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 21, 2006 11:50:29 AM

Chuck said:
"But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, “Draw Me Close to You.” The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, “Let’s sing that again, shall we?” “No!” I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed."

Makes me wonder if Chuck has a loving and personal relationship with God.

His statement about this could be sung in a nightclub must be hyperbole... or is he seriously that far off?

I would challenge Chuck to examine his personal relationship with Christ. It's like a marriage relationship.

Ephesians 5:31-33
31"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.


Posted by: Bernie of FreeGoodNews.com | Mar 21, 2006 11:58:27 AM

Might I try to bring some balance here? Chuck's not the pastor, so I don't think this is a question of pastoral authority, chain of command in the church, or even getting the lead/senior pastor and the worship pastor on the same page. Nor do I really believe it's about orderly worship, which Paul clearly wrote about in 1 Corinthians.

So what we can we learn? What's the take home from this? I think we've beaten the "disruption" angle to death - it certainly wasn't appropriate. But is there a lesson for the worship leader, as well? Some of the "ancient hymns" had 18 verses filled with wonderful imagery of God, our need of him, his awesomeness, and so on. Probably none of us has ever sung all 18 verses. Contrast that to many (the majority?) of the praise choruses of the 80s and 90s - usually 2 verses and a chorus, if that. In the "worship music movement" of the past 6-10 years or so, I've noticed a move back toward more expression in the lyrics; i.e., more words/verses.

Why do I say this? Because I think we can do the congregation an injustice when we simply repeat the same few words over and over and over - regardless of how "theological" those words may be. "Our God is an awesome God" - how true! But to sing only the chorus of SCC's song can become little more than mindless repetition, which God has said is not pleasing to him.

I am NOT saying that we should never repeat songs or choruses. Repetition can not only aid learning, it can help to move our thoughts toward a real, heartfelt agreement with the words we are repeating. What I AM saying is let's use some imagination in our efforts as worship leaders to lead people into an encounter with God. When our "worship times" become too predictable (e.g., 2 songs, pray, 1 song), we can actually hinder worship.

Posted by: Randy Ehle | Mar 21, 2006 12:18:57 PM

If you're talking about someone and they are not present to defend their actions, isn't it called GOSSIP?

I understand the issue - people in the congregation not engaging in worship and therefore not understanding why you would repeat the verses - and acting selfish. I too have seen the hands over the ears!

However, please - let's not bash Chuck. As one who serves in prison ministry, I appreciate his heart for the incarcerated. God bless him!

Oh, and by the way, I sang that song at a wedding.

Posted by: Rev. Diane | Mar 21, 2006 12:30:13 PM

I think that Colsen was wrong to blurt out "no". I also believe his assesment of that particular song was wrong and I do understand his statement about it being sung in a nightclub based on words alone but I don't think it would get much play.

With that I believe taking music out of the equation for a moment and focusing on his point is a good idea. Overall I see that what Chuck wants to say is he wants to see Christians be more intellectually involved in talking about worldview issues. He wants balance. I think that he just brought in this song unjustifiably. And probably the whole "Younger women want 'something to help them cope with life'" got his cooker burning. But let us not go personal and say he needs a drink or question his relationship with Christ.

Posted by: Wil | Mar 21, 2006 1:11:17 PM

With egg on my face I apologize for the misconception. I made a faulty assumption and will admit that it was wrong for Chuck to do such a thing, but that being said I understand his urge to do so. Anyone unwilling to recognize the process that led to Chuck responding like he did may not have the willingness to recognize the increasing shallowness of many a contemporary praise and/or worship. It is very easy to "lead" in worship a song like Draw Me Close but have you ever thought about the words you are singing and how many people really mean what they are saying in the song? I mean to say "You're all I want" and then to live it out takes total surrender of your will and your desires. It brings to mind one very telling scripture, Jesus sayings in Matt 15:7-9 and specifically verse 8 where He says "These people draw near to Me with their mouth,And honor Me with their lips,But their heart is far from Me."

Ironic that He uses the word "draw" in this passage?

A few closing thoughts on this topic. Again my apology for the mistake in positional authority, but nonetheless what if a pastor did this to any worship leaders here, how would you respond? Would you accept the open rebuke or would you challenge the ranks?

In Christ,
Bill in KC

Posted by: Bill | Mar 21, 2006 1:13:08 PM


Not really trying to pick a fight here, but choose your side. :)

On one hand you say songs like "Draw me Close" are shallow and then you say that most church people can't sing songs like this because they can't live it out.

You said, "I mean to say "You're all I want" and then to live it out takes total surrender of your will and your desires." Absolutely... isn't this what worship is all about?! Challenging someone to live it out doesn't seem shallow (to me) at all.


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | Mar 21, 2006 1:25:07 PM

My dad actually sent this article in an e-mail to me. I definitely had a lot to say about it, but considering he's my dad and doesn't like me saying anything bad about anyone in ministry (You should be ASHAMED of yourself for not liking Jerry Fallwell, etc), I quietly just disagreed in my mind.

I don't think that God is limited by "fluffy" songs or songs void of deep theological content. One of my favorite worship songs in the world has a chorus that says "I fall at Your feet, You are all that I need".

Now I'm not saying there's not a place for songs solid on good "meat". Another all-time favorites of mine is "Be Thou my Vision".

Is simplicity (or repetion) synonomous with "uninspired by the Holy Spirit"? I think that in limiting the kind of music that we think God can use to speak to someone, we're limiting God.

We had a song that our church sang every sunday to open up the service for about 3 months. And it only had a chorus. It got old after about the 4th Sunday. But I know people who God continued to speak to through that song even after 3 months of doing it.

I may not be a worship leader. I'm not even a pastor (yet). But I do know worship music. And God is big enough to use any song at any time to tell us something, if we just are open enough to let him.

Posted by: Sarah | Mar 21, 2006 1:29:02 PM

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