Going Off-Roading With God--My Visit to NCCTK--CRITIQUE #1 Worship & Music

See Part One-The Worship Service Description HERE

It's important to state that my critique should not be viewed as an attack on NCCTK per se, but as a critique of what has become an accepted model (Saddleback) of worship that thousands of churches are trying to implement on some level in their own community.

My critique comes out of a genuine concern for the souls of those who I believe are being exposed to worship practices that are disobedient to the Word of God. I trust the reader will understand that such statements are birthed out of a genuine conviction of love for the church of Christ and the advancement of his truth.

Worship & Music :
Years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones warned about using music to manipulate people's emotions. He called this emotional rape, when music is used to bring people into a state of control to manipulate the outcome. The problem with this, simply stated, is that it is not honest; it creates an artificial atmosphere because it has not been grounded in the truth. It appeals to a certain, what RL Dabney called, animal instinct in the person, having the kind of effect that drug use imposes upon the body as it brings people into an elevated state. When you come down, nothing lasting has really occurred; in fact, the more one hits a low, the higher one seeks to go with the next dose. The same can be true with music as it very much panders to our emotions, and emotions are often extremely misleading.

One of the striking features of the song book that God gave us in the Bible is that it presents different kinds of Psalms for worship--lamentation, imprecatory, messianic, praise, etc. I tried to imagine what might have happened the other night if we opened with Psalm 22:1-2,
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning?
O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear;
And in the night season, and am not silent.
God's people used to sing these laments in worship. The Psalms are honest about life, giving perspective about hardship, trials, afflictions, sufferings, etc. These are real experiences of people expressed in the psalms to raise our afflictions to the forefront, then to be transformed by praise. As I sat in the service, I heard about a variety of ministries NCCTK offers--divorce ministries, Haiti opportunities, etc. These ministries deal with the hard realities of life. But I wondered if anyone thought through the inconsistency of what was actually happening in worship. Nothing about the service depicted that these hard realities belong to "us" when we gather for worship. In other words, the service was the greatest mask or cover-up to everything that people face as soon as they leave the service.

Worship in this scenario often becomes a sort of tonic to avoid the realities of sin and suffering that people face in life. The lights, the music, the drums, the worship center, the stage, expresso bar, and the message all provided a temporary escape not just from the consequences of living in a fallen world, but also from the realities of the wounds within.

Everything advertised about these services is that they are inspiring, uplifting, and life-giving. In what way? Making the claim of being "life-giving" as NCCTK does, is something only attributed to Christ himself (1 Cor. 15:45), and such a claim demands that we ask by what method NCCTK thinks this life comes. The entertainment style service makes an assumption that all we need for our life struggle is just a good amount of encouragement. The applications of worship assume that our greatest problem is that we have been derailed from being all God really wants us to be. In other words, worship (especially the music) is being used to manipulate what God actually says is our real problem and real need. Instead we end up pandering to what we think people want, and when we do this, we never give them what they actually need. But what is the balm that truly heals? Does all the pomp and glitter really give us life? I will unpack this more in a later post.

We see this cover-up even stronger in the way praise songs are implemented. Take the song I referenced above that we opened with. "I stand in awe, I stand in awe, I stand in awe of you..." Why do I stand in awe? The endless repetition of these praise songs not only ignores Jesus warning of trying to manipulate God to hear us by our many words, but they leave us without a basis for offering praise. Think about it. The Bible presents praise as a response to the reception of some mighty act of deliverance the Lord has accomplished for us. Take for instance Psalm 103:1-5,
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The basis for my praise comes, in this case, from God's wonderful forgiveness, healing, redemption, and provision. I don't work these realities up within me. It's never, "I just want to praise you, I just want to praise you", etc. The call to praise is always connected to an act of God's sovereign workings on behalf of his people at some point in redemptive history.

Thus, when a church begins worship with the first twenty minutes of praise music, all you have done is falsely elevate the people's emotions; there has been no place given to have the truth "as it is in Jesus" be our guiding light. Why do I say this? Because our singing is not a means of grace. Music is a response from us to the grace already given to us. This is so important, we are beginning with the wrong assumption that real uplifting worship elevates us to God first through music, instead of God graciously condescending to us in Word and Sacrament. This is wrong; this is backwards. Our praise is always in response to his nearness to us in the Word spoken.

For this reason, Protestants always believed worship is to be a dialogue between us and God. Our response flows from what he has declared through his servant in the written Word. We are called to separate these as two distinct aspects of worship. Notice the dialogical principle demonstrated below in a standard Protestant liturgy (what we do in worship):

Call to Worship (Scripture text)
God's Greeting (Scripture text)

Song of Praise
God's Will For Us in His Law (Scripture text)
Confession of Sin
(prayer / song)
Assurance of Pardon
(Scripture text)
Response of Gratitude:
Prayer (first part)
Tithes / Offerings
Song of Gratitude
The Word of God spoken (Preaching)

The Word of God displayed (Sacraments)
Song of Response
Doxology of Praise
Benediction (Scripture text)

God speaks in calling us to worship, we respond with prayer; he speaks in greeting us with a word of blessing, we respond with song; he speaks by instructing us in his will for us, we respond in confession and repentance; he speaks by assuring us of forgiveness, we respond in prayer and by giving our offerings; he speaks to us in Word and Sacrament, we respond with gratitude in song and he sends us out, not with a mere dismissal, but with his benediction as his pilgrims. Through and through, there is dialogue, and our responses are only appropriate to what the LORD has already conveyed to us in his Word through his appointed messenger. This is why the Lord constantly instructed his prophets to speak, "only what the Lord has commanded" (Ex. 7:2), as worship begins and ends with Word of God. The same is true for the pastor today.

Now consider the model of Saddleback, NCCTK et al:


Ready to Worship?
Praise Music -20-30 Minutes
Welcome by Praise Leader
Video #1--Men's Retreat
Video #2--Love Comedy on Valentines Day
Lots of Man-Made stories
Pastor has Imaginary Conversation with God
Word of God briefly read--topically driven message --->

Video#3--Love Story
Praise Music

Now who is absent here? Even the one element on the God-side was manipulated by the pastor as he imposed his topic on the text (will address this in the next critique). The Saddleback model claims to have a real worship experience in which we actually meet God. Does the above order of worship show this? An honest assessment of the service shows that Word and Sacrament, the primary means of grace, are not central. The Man-side is full with practices more appropriate to the theater than for what is appropriate before a Holy God. I had no sense that God's Word was the central driving motivation for worship. Their own liturgy excluded him!

As Calvin said, our hearts are idol factories, and because of this, as we create new idols to worship in place of the true God, we incessantly forget the basic principle that must accompany all true worship:"By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified (Lev. 10:3)." Nadab and Abihu were incinerated for profaning God's holiness. Does God change?

As I looked up on the stage, there was a Suzuki Samurai 4X4, awesome lights, cool camping equipment, with a bulletin calling us to go "Off-Roading with God". People came in and out from the coffee bar forming a care-free environment, people even refusing to remove their hats. If God is truly unchanging, and remains a consuming fire, there is no way I could agree that Suzuki Samurais, Going Off-Roading with God, Valentines Day Videos, Love Videos, Imaginary conversations with God, were honoring the command to worship God "acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Heb. 12:28). Much of these things profaned his holiness. If anything, we were doing things that had an "appearance of wisdom in self-imposed (will) worship" (Col. 2:23).

More to come on Worship and Preaching



  1. Hey Pastor Chris, I get what you are saying. I don't like milky churches either. But, if its not heretical, what is the matter if there service is different then yours. This makes me think about Luke 9:49-50:
    49 John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.”
    50 But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”

    I know were not talking about casting out demons, but what John says kind of sounds like what you are talking about. They are doing things different than we are, they don't belong to the same group as us. But what does Jesus say. "Do not hinder". So I would say if its not heretical then he who is not with you is for you.

    Just a thought...

  2. James, as Chris has pointed out here, one of the problems with this particular order of worship is that God Himself has almost no voice in the service. The only time when the Word of God is heard is during the sermon (and even then, it appears as if the Scripture has been used to serve the needs of man). One of the beautiful things about our historic Reformed liturgy (order of worship) is that God takes the initiative. God speaks...we respond. God speaks...we respond, which is what Chris has already mentioned here.

    One thing that struck me was the lyrics to the song. Now I don't know if there were more words to the song, but if not, "I stand in awe, I stand in awe, I stand in awe of You"? Is that worship that is modeled after the worship of the Bible? Now I'll be the first to admit that the tunes to some of the psalms and hymns in the songbook of my particular federation of churches are quite wretched. They are either virtually unsingable or they make you feel like you should be in a barn listening to Charles Finney call you forward during the altar call. New, reverent, singable tunes need to be written. But aside from that, content is so important. And to repeat "I stand in awe" over and over...I'm not sure that's really modeled after biblical worship.

  3. Amen Chris! Great posts.

    The biggest eye-opener that I had concerning what happens in church on Sunday is that it really is God coming down to us. What you described is a church trying to get all those present up to God (contrary to Rom 10:6-8; cf. Deut 30:12-14). I love the Reformational terminology of "The Divine Service" in the place of "worship." God comes to serve us (in Word and Sacrament)!! That is exactly what I need for the coming 6 days of the week otherwise I would never make it.

  4. Thank you for these posts. All of your observations completely support the observations I have had. I do want to add something though: I want to let you know that they do have the sacraments at NCCTK. They usually have a large swimming pool in the parking lot during the summer with bleachers set up around it. And then they baptize lots of people. I don't know if this happens all the time, but a couple of years ago, after all of the scheduled baptisms were done, they invited all those who "want to feel closer to Jesus" to join them in the pool to be baptized too. I am not stating this critically - just stating the facts and letting your readers draw their own conclusions. The person who told me about this was very pleased with such an amazing, moving experience.


  5. Pastor Gordon,
    Wow!! What a powerful visual your diagrams showed in your critique of the local church service that you visited.
    I also will not be judgemental in my statements. I have however attended for a time the services of similar Churches.
    It is a sad day when we witness the struggles of the Church that stays true to the preaching of Gods word. Its not popular preaching. Gods law, repentance and the necessity of a true turning from our sin in obediance to Christ, salvation by faith because of Gods grace and love for His own people, etc.
    "Easy beliveism"! Interesting how the tickeling of the ears fills Churches today.
    My brief thoughts...

  6. Just a quick question to Pastor Gordon on judgment.

    I remember somwhere in the Bible where it says to judge righteous judgment and that we should judge ourselves alongside God's word. My Pastor in Dallas Tx once said, Christians often think we should not judge others, judge not that ye be not judged, then went on to show how Christ immediately instructed his people, in four ways, how to properly judge - right after making that statement.

    However, when I was in a church many many years ago, somewhat like NCCTK, the Pastor there said we should not judge others lest we be judged.... and left it at that. Therefore, leaving the worship issue to a matter of personal spiritual preference, some people prefer a contemporary modern services and others a traditional.

    What are your thoughts?

  7. Hi James,
    Sorry for the late response, been quite busy.
    Your question is a good one, because this verse is loosely thrown around to the point of suggesting that we should never speak against or expose any error in the church. In this case, Jesus himself would have been wrong to overturn tables! Let’s break down the verse. The disciples tried to “prevent” this strange exorcist because he did not follow them (i.e. he did not follow Jesus as the disciples did). Jesus replies with calling the disciples not to “hinder” giving the idea of “prevent”. Putting this together with the Matthew 12:30 passage, "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad”—we notice that they are said in two different ways implying that there is no neutrality, no middle ground; in other words, there are those who are expressly against him in what they do, and there are those who are for him in what they do.

    This verse should not be interpreted abstractly. Jesus is saying this man has taken a stand in doing something that is clearly “for him”, albeit misguided. THIS WAS A HARD STAND TO TAKE as he was confronting demons. Jesus is saying that though he is misguided, he is clearly for him. don't stop him from doing what he is doing. This is similar to the example of Apollos, who was a mighty teacher of the Bible, but needed instruction in the way more clearly from Aquilla and Priscilla (see Acts 18). Priscilla and Aquilla would have been wrong to try to stop Apollos from teaching, even though he fully didn’t "get" things, he still was “for” Jesus.

    In Luke 9, we are dealing with those who are “for” Jesus. So this verse cannot be used as support to try and stop those who are doing things “against” Jesus. Now let’s apply this. If we believe that practices are being done directly "against" the Word of God, if Christ and him crucified is absent from the message, if worship is built on entertainment “against” the command to worship with reverence and awe, we are dealing with something different than someone who is simply misguided. The division comes down to whether one honors the Word of God. Therefore we have to make judgments as to what is Biblical and what isn't. These things, therefore, are not just misguided stands for the truth. We are confronted with people making willing choices to do things against the Word of God. In these cases, Luke 9 would not applicable, and we are required to be good Bereans and see if what is being said is true, “testing the spirits to see whether they be of God”.

  8. Hi Mark, yes, gracious condescension to us in Word and Sacrament, this too is what we all need!

  9. Thanks Anonymous for the comments. Glad the charts helped.

  10. Hi Mr. Catechist, yes, this is a common conception, as if "judge not lest ye be judged" means we can never make a judgment as to whether someone is leading a sinful life (see 1 Cor. 6). In that case, what is truth? Interesting, that Jesus also said, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24)." Jesus condemned a certain kind of hypocritical judging as the Pharisees did as they "strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel." We should always look at the plank in our own eye before pointing out sin in others. Trust me, we all have lots of sin to deal with in our own life, but that doesn't remove the responsibility to speak the truth in love. After all, a repentant life is one that seeks to be obedient. So we have to make judgments; in fact we are told to, a little leaven can leaven the whole lump. We should never forget the warning of Corinthians 6:9-10, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God." Thanks for your question.

  11. Hi Jeannine, thanks for the inclusion. It's interesting, that even in OT Israel, sacraments were to be "inside" the house see Ex. 12:46. The reason for this was to teach that what is holy belongs to God's separate nation, and was not to be profaned by making it common to the world. Much of our witness is hurt b/c we have lost our separate identity. When the gospel was going out in Acts, after God struck down Annanias and Saphira, it's interesting that great fear came upon everyone, and no one dared to join the Christians (see Acts 5:13). How's that for church growth! They understood that Christ's church is no club, if you are going to be a part of it, you had to leave what was common and join that which is holy. Only Christ can bring us to him with wooing grace!

  12. Hi Pastor Gordon,
    Great comments, seems to me that the "saddle back" churches have lost all reverence for God in the worship service. I wonder if in their song "I stand in awe" they know what they stand in awe of. If they truly realize who their God is and what He has done for His children, they would be more reverent in their worship. With all the calls to Christians that Jesus loves you and just wants to be our friend kinda makes you feel on the same level as Christ. He is first God The Father,Creator,Savior,All Powerful, Omnipotent. If we don't begin to try to fathom all that God is, how can we respect him in a proper way. We are called to do our best for Him in gratitude for what Christ has done for us, but always to His honor and glory, not ours. Worship services for God should not include man centered entertainment or imaginary dialogs with God. We have the complete written Word from which all instruction must originate. I agree with the heritage our founding fathers gave us that dialog with God in worship begins and ends with GOD. We must all strive to do our best for God, honor Him in work, in play, in loving each other, and yes, even in how we dress.

  13. We all have this psychological construct bred from rationalism ( and our depraved natures ) that all that stands between truth and a lie is ones opinion - some of the comments have been based on "well this church is just different - they have their opinion and you have yours - that's all that needs to be said and by the way stop being so unloving " but that's not what our historic Protestant faith has taught throughout this present age where the church was built on the blood of the martyrs - yes my brethren it is heretical to worship what feels good rather than the Creator - to worship at the alter of Me sidles the church closer and closer to Ichabod ism- One of the key statements the pastor recently made is that things that are commanded by the Lord to be holy have been made common - as for judgment - roughly pulling your wayward child from the path of an oncoming bus is some the deepest love there is - Praise our Risen Lord

  14. You have a point. I just have a few questions for clarification and points to make.

    To me it sounded like the only songs we should be singing are ones from the book of Psalms. Also You made it sound like having worship, as in singing, before a message is bad. I agree that NCCTK along with other churches are wrong in the ways they worship but does that really make singing before a message bad or wrong? In my old church we used to sing a number of songs worshiping God and then we would have an in-depth message. I don’t see anything wrong with worshiping in song before a message as long as the message isn’t what I like to call ‘hit and run’ where they basically say a scripture and then say one or two sentences on the subject then move on.

    I recently attended this weekend worship with multiple churches in attendance. They worshiped in a way that I call ‘Feel Good Worship’ where in their songs the people have their hands up in the air, they are jumping up and down, down on their knees; all of this made me feel uncomfortable and I realized that they weren’t truly worshiping God. They just had a feel good moment. Some people even looked like they were in pain while ‘worshiping.’ What I am trying to say is I know where you are coming from. Just I don’t think you took into thought that maybe there is a medium between the two. Which I believe there is.

  15. Monte, thanks for the interaction, good stuff--you're right, a denial of ourselves starts in worship, right?

  16. Mike, yes, there is little sanctified or different about us anymore. The church looks so much like the world today, we have fallen in!

  17. Hi Mr. Anonymous, these are good questions and I appreciate the interaction. I do not believe singing before the message is wrong, I was addressing a terrible in balance that manipulates people's emotions. This is not honest, and it's very clear what is happening with the stage, the band, the drums, the flashy lights, et al.--it's sheer manipulation. My point is that music is not a means of grace, but a means of our gratitude. And this should always be communicated in whatever place we give it as the LORD holds the primary place in the dialogue through his gracious condescension of the Word. And, yes, I do believe we are protected when God's Word is given the primary place in all elements of our worship. How can you ever go wrong this way? Your certainly can go wrong with a mantra of, "I just stand in awe, I just stand in awe, I just stand in awe of you", right? Thanks! CJG

  18. The dialogic principle is evident throughout the psalms - but isn't always present in a flat linear ordering.

    When it's done badly in church services, it can become very disjointed in a way that makes it very difficult to concentrate.