In a special event on March 10, various musical groups of ENC came together to form one worship team called “ENC UNITED.”
Members of A Cappella, Gospel Choir, Chapel Teams, Summer Ministries, Jazz Band and Symphonic Winds participated in this event, amplified by a booming sound system as they played popular contemporary worship and gospel songs for Festival of Life and a Friday chapel service for students, faculty, and staff.
This event remained a conversation point concerning worship at ENC. To some, this was a powerful time of worshipping God; to others, it was another example of ENC putting on something distracting instead of focusing on worshipping God.
These conflicting perspectives extend beyond the boundaries of ENC UNITED and into worship on the campus holistically. The campus has seen a rise of concern for its worship culture. The main question is no longer about the ratio of modern songs to hymns that are sung during chapel; students and faculty are now seeking to define what musical worship means as a whole.
Senior Christian Ministry major Zaine Brotzman believes worship music in chapel no longer has true meaning. Brotzman fears that this decoration of worship music harms the Church, removing a sense of thankfulness and replacing it with empty habit.
“What we do in chapel does not engage people in a way that is fruitful, I think, because it just seems like it’s about the show and not about what the experience is meant to be,” Brotzman shared.
He calls into question the nature of songs commonly played in chapel. Popular songs like “I Am a Warrior” and “Beautiful Things” are often included in sets, but, to Brotzman, these misrepresent worship.
“I feel like all worship music has become is just emotionality… there’s no theology, really, behind half the stuff,” Brotzman expressed. “… Some of these songs are just made to make you feel something in yourself, not to feel what God is speaking of for that moment.”
This issue causes the focus of the worship to shift to the individual rather than God. Brotzman sees this negatively influencing the congregation, and some musicians on stage that will inherently attempt to outdo each other.
This competitive spirit, Brotzman believes, is due to worship becoming a self-centered practice. To remove this tendency, he proposes that the Church could begin to put more emphasis on outreach.
“[We could] supplement some of that time we spend inside the walls with going outside the walls… by ministering to our community around us,” Brotzman suggested.
Senior Music Composition major Daniel Cantrell raises other concerns about worship at ENC.
“I don’t think anyone’s heart is in the wrong place, [nor] anyone involved with the music in chapel,” Cantrell noted. “With that being said, there are some issues that I’ve been wrestling with personally for the past few years.”
Cantrell notices thematic similarities that worship songs share with modern day pop songs.
“[For] a lot of these songs, you can just switch the word ‘Jesus’ for ‘baby,’ and then it becomes just a pop song you could hear on the radio. And I think if you can do that to a song, then you’re not really saying anything about God,” explained Cantrell.
Cantrell questions the parallel between chapel worship sets and concerts, wary of the influences a concert-like worship setup can have on the congregation. He worries that the hype of a concertized worship experience can hinder worshipers’ ability to discern the line between a true spiritual encounter and an emotional reaction to music.
Cantrell also raises speculation about how certain musicians seem to be chosen to play on special days, citing events like Festival of Life. His concern centers on a possible intention of maintaining an image for those visiting the college.
“If you’re doing that, what does that say about your philosophy about what musical worship means? I think these are… things that cause some controversy,” shared Cantrell.
ENC’s Chapel Teams and Summer Ministries Music Director Reverend JD Brenke is a major influence behind many of the decisions made for worship music in chapel. He works part time under the Spiritual Development Office to develop the culture of worship music on campus.
Brenke understands the effects that an entertainment-based worship mentality can have on him personally.
“I’m not up there to put on a show,” Brenke shared. “I’ve played in front of thousands of people. Like, I’ve had that life.”
During his college years, Brenke was part of a popular worship group that toured in the US and Korea. The group released a hit single in Korea and garnered a massive following.
“We had a fan club. We toured, I signed girls’ forearms, they were begging for my sweaty handkerchiefs, and they would give me gifts at every single stop we went to,” Brenke remembered. “I’ve been there, and I know what that’s like, and I know what it’s like to be fake in it, as well. But right now… that’s not where I’m at.”
This matter is particularly prevalent in Brenke’s work, as he explains encountering situations, some recently, where students and churchgoers question his intentions as a worship leader.
“It’s hurtful because here I am, trying to pour out my heart genuinely before God… and the last thing I want to hear is people say ‘You’re so fake.’” expressed Brenke. “… At the end of the day, I have to understand that God knows the intentions of my heart; He knows that I’m not fake.”
Simultaneously, Brenke accepts this criticism as part of his job and as a reminder to check his heart. To him, it reveals a deeper issue of division and misunderstanding on both sides.
“… Ultimately, what it shows is that there’s a disconnect of communication, of relationship. And I would…absolutely love to just get into a room with them and talk to them,” said Brenke. “… Because I think at the heart, there’s a root issue there, and I’m not sure what it is… I personally would love to clear that up.”
Senior Psychology major Bethany Mohnkern is a member of a Chapel Team and third-time participant in ENC’s Summer Ministries program. On the topic of honest worship, she believes the responsibility spreads not only to the leaders, but also the congregation.
“I think they need to evaluate their own hearts… and whether they’re being genuine,” Monhkern expressed. “Because the worshiper in the congregation has to be as genuine as the worship leader on stage.”
Mohnkern has seen some fellow worship leaders on campus fear receiving attention from leading worship. She perceives this not as a hindrance, but as the true sign of their authenticity.
“They should be leading the worship if they can bring themselves to that point of saying ‘This is not about me, and I don’t want it to look like me,’” shared Mohnkern. “It’s cool to see that as a worship leader… I’m not the only one feeling like I’m not adequate for this… because I don’t want the focus to be lost.”
Whether ENC UNITED was a sign of progress or regression, it stirred a conversation on a campus that cares deeply for their worship culture. It seems that many students indicate a common goal to keep the ENC community accountable for practicing honest worship. What honest worship looks like, though, differs amongst the members of the community.