Category Archives: Church Music

The seemingly endless and divisive issue of Worship music

Performance vs. Worship (Part 3/3) – What can we do? And how?

In worship we must consciously strive to bringing God joy through congregational, not just leadership, participation. The intent must be that the assembly worship en mass, and that any leadership encourage that before other priorities.

Scripture is the thought of God, as communicated to us in a way and at a level that we can think it ourselves. When we think scripturally, whether it be in music or words, we think like God, as He wishes. Irrespective of the style of music, worship in which the congregation is brought into actively glorifying Him through a form of His thoughts will help avoid the problem and accomplish the desired goal. The emphasis of this thought is on God, not on the worship itself. Expressed in another way, the intent of the congregation is wholly vertical, not horizontal.

Lastly, this problem is much easier to avoid than to correct. Once festering, the nature of the problem means that the egos of participants are in play. This never makes for a tidy situation or an easy correction in direction.

Worship teams with correct doctrinal and biblical mentoring from pastoral staff, who are encouraged in related devotional activities, as opposed to being simply turned loose to provide good music, are less likely to see this problem develop. Ongoing, proactive leadership, as with many other areas, is a key foundation.

Let us truly worship our God together, with gentle leadership, gazing up congregationally at the glory and wonder of our God. Truly, as David said of the wonder of the knowledge of God “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6). Let us express that wonder together, bringing joy to our Lord and change in ourselves!


Performance vs. Worship (Part 2/3)- Now to the problem..

Have you ever been in a service where the worship music becomes a performance first and foremost, with actual worship a close or even distant second? I would guess that you have.

The most frequent observable symptom in this scenario is that some or even all of the congregation stop singing and simply watch. This is especially blatant when a ‘star’ worshiper on the platform carries the songs completely, as the congregation falls back, often drawing out chorus after chorus that only he or she is singing or playing, caught up in the seeming rapture in their performance. It may be more subtle than this. It all centers upon attitude as opposed to specific action. The participation of the congregational worshipers is stifled rather than facilitated. In the extreme, people will actually sit down after a time.

Folks, God is not honoured in this. His people are not brought closer to Him in the way Scripture proscribes. I would even presume say it does not bring Him joy though the congregation. After all, all of His sheep are commanded to worship. It is an anathema to biblical worship.

One might assume that this would most often be a problem in large congregational settings, with correspondingly large numbers of talented platform participants. Though that is possible, I have not observed this to be the case. In large settings there is often strong pastoral leadership and worship oversight. Assuming that the worship leadership understands the biblical principles, the problem does not develop. Also, there is usually pastoral mentoring of participants, sensitizing them to these potential problems. As such, they are unlikely to develop.

I have also not observed this problem in very small assemblies (eg. house churches and those of similar scale). They simply do not have the numbers and equipment involved to spawn the problem. The participation of everyone is clear due to the size. Problems of this sort are obvious and unlikely to flourish.

The traditional small to medium church setting is most likely the one to suffer in this regard. Though not the norm, this is an unfortunate by-product of some current attitudes. In this setting, one or two overly head strong, influential members can dominate the worship. Additionally, there may be weak accountability, or it may be over-ridden by the false (though common today) hope that this will generate growth. In this situation, a performance oriented theme can evolve, severely stifling real worship in the congregation as they are converted into spectators. As the paradigm plays out, more and more resources are dedicated to the performance and staging, and the congregation is ever more distant in terms of participatory, Christ-centered worship. In this setting, people often simply drift away for what may seem no apparent reason. The reason, of course, is that they are subtly disenfranchised from real worship, left empty, and must seek the opportunity to glorify their Lord elsewhere.


Performance vs. Worship (Part 1/3)- Ripples in the pond

I suspect that just posting this title will stir some people up. Few issues in the current church seem to elicit strong opinions and reactions more that the use, configuration and presentation of music in worship services.

For the moment, let us ignore the usual divisive issues of style, drums, etc. I would like to address what I consider a much more serious issue – the slide of worship into performance, and its alienating effect on the congregation. There are many aspects to this issue, from both sides of the platform, but that should not sidetrack the discussion. In the end all that matters is glorifying worship before God.

To quote a well know chorus “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God”. Or more traditionally “Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,”.

Let’s start with theology, looking at God, where everything always starts and ends. The infinite God, who created this world from nothing at all, needed us not before creation. He was totally and completely self-sufficient in the fellowship of His triune nature. Yet He created us, for His own purposes, in such a way that we can bring him joy (Grudem, Systematic Theology, Ch 11). I agree. Scripture states repeatedly that to worship and glorify God is one of our primary, if not our most primary, purpose. Simply put, it pleases God. We, as His creatures, are commanded and exhorted to worship.

In worshiping in music in our formal Sunday services, we are bringing glory and joy to God, raising His name up. This has nothing whatsoever to do with any hint at all of the glorification or building up of ourselves through the act of worship. Any building up of the worshiper is solely as a result of the Lord’s work in him or her, not through the worshiper’s work in the task. This must be the approach if we are to be appropriately humble before almighty God. Any other stance leads directly to pride.


Worship Music – The Apparent Great Divide

What a flash point worship music has become! On the other hand, it has apparently always been thus.

In writing about church focus, concerning theology and doctrine, I considered worship music to be a side issue simply involving preferences. However, the comments on “What is the cure, Doctor?” indicate it merits a separate thread. It is clearly both a dividing line and a divisive issue for many congregations. Congregation do, and have, split based solely on animosity over this issue.

Anecdotal evidence would indicate that one major dividing line is drums, as in a modern drum set. The appearance of this instrument actually results in the summary exit of some people from not only the service but the congregation. Worse, I heard a Pastor remark on this topic that the congregation was being held back by such people and they should just go quietly if they couldn’t embrace the changes (hard to believe but that is actually what was informally said).

Thinking about it, the implications appear to extend well beyond my original thoughts of simple preference. What I preseumed could be solved by simply blending styles and alternate presentation seems to indicate issues beyond that.

One suggestion might be that this scenario is a demonstrable symptom of the movement of the church into functioning as an entertainment medium. In that scenario, the assumption that would follow (as with any service provider) would be that the church has a responsibility to service each attendee’s need for a joyous and uplifting experience. The existence of any discomfort would be counter-productive. Notice that one of the undergirding assumptions here is that the responsibility for the experience is placed solely on the church, not on the congregant. This reflects the societal issues appearing today in many other forums with the emergence of entitlement rights. This could be taken to illustrate the church and expectations of its responsibilities mirroring societal change, and therefor completely separate from any Biblical expectation. Many would say this is good and that entitlement is driving positive developments. In most respects, I would not be among them.

A related area of exploration could be around the function of the church in supporting and providing comfort for the member or adherent. Is the worship service for us or for the Lord? Without doubt most Evangelicals would say that it is for Him, but is  that the reality? Isn’t the reality that the church is often views as if it is for us? In all of this, where does simple individual preference come in, and to what degree?

Lastly for now, let us move to the Pastoral comment on naysayers. Now, I do not doubt that the comment was serious, and in context am also quite sure that the person it was said directly to (not me) agreed in principle (evidenced by their comments in other venues). But however true it might be for them, it was pretty appalling to hear it stated out loud. It would appear that those who left were likely better justified then they realized. It could could also be legitimately projected that there were likely other people and other issues that would eventually fall to the same solution eventually. So the question needs to be asked, is ‘my way or the highway’ a legitimate response in any of these situations?

There – that’s a start. Again, for me this seems peripheral to the foundational issues, but I could be missing something. I have my preferences and some things appeal to them and others don’t. But we will see what shakes out in comments…