Worship v. Performance


Watch the video first (keep your eye on the drummer!), then read the blog below.

This video is doing the rounds at the moment. A friend sent it to me on Facebook and jokingly asked if we could have the drummer come and play at our church. I said that I would have to write a blog in response to that question - so here it is!

Ok - so the video above was not recorded in a church. Neither is it a recording of a worship song. However I do think as well as appreciating the humour it contains, we (as people involved in worship music in churches) can still ask some important questions about worship and performance.

  • Is worship performance?
Worship itself - being an expression of living our entire lives for Jesus - is not performance. We live our lives set appart for Jesus. Our reward is His pleasure, not trying to prove we are 'better' than others around us. Within this broad definition of 'worship' as a lifestyle it is easier to separate our acts of worship from performance. However, when looking at a definition of 'worship' as a musical genre, as that element of sung worship during a church service, this separation is more difficult to identify.

In fact, the very nature of having musicians or a 'band' playing in church means there will be some element of performance involved in what they do. The very nature of being 'up-front' or 'on-the-platform' at church, means people will be looking and watching. Bands practise songs so they play them with excellence and hopefully without making mistakes to aid the sung worship experience rather than to hinder it. Choirs sometimes have a dress code. If video recording is used, sometimes live footage of the band is displayed on the big screens behind the words to the songs. Performance is inescapable.

But, what we do with it is what matters!

  • How should we deal with performance when playing in a worship band?
So, how do we as members of a band or a choir deal with the problem of performance? We don't want to be a distraction during a time of sung worship (like the drummer in the video would be if he was playing in your church!). The whole point of sung worship is to create a musical atmosphere in which people's focus turns to Jesus and create a safe place where they can encounter Him. Not to show off our musical talents; to let the whole church hear our latest effects pedal; to see how well we can spin a drumstick in out hand; to hear my instrument louder then the rest; to convince people that our voice should be featured on the X-Factor or American Idols.

There are a variety of things we can do to help us minimise the impact of performance during times of sung worship at church.

  1. Educate - We should not ignore the impact of performance. It is much easier to bury our heads in the sand and try to ignore the problems. They often start small, but grow into bigger issues. Acknowledge that performance is unavoidable and make everyone in the band conscious of the fact. Maybe have a discussion about how individuals try to minimise performance in how they behave when playing  at church on Sunday. Share ideas. This will help to get the issue into the open without being confrontational with certain individuals. It will also help get everyone in the group on the same page and help to form the culture or atmoshpere of your group.
  2. Ground Rules - You may need to think of a few rules that you expect members of your band or choir to follow. Some practical and helpful rules around how to avoid performance could be included. This may be useful to add to a job description to be used when new people join the band at a later date.
  3. Physical Position - Re-thinking how the musicians, vocalists and choir are positioned during teh service may help to lessen the impact of performance during a worship service. Moving the musicians to the side; putting a visual image (eg. the cross) in the central position for people to focus on instead; move the band off the platform?; try setting out the service 'in the round' so that the musicians become part of the congregation? I know some suggestions will not be practical or possible as it will very much depend upon your specific church.
  4. Re-think subconscious emphasis - Think about how other elements of the service highlight performance or do they draw people's focus closer to God? Elements such as sound, lighting, use of video and visuals all play a very strong part within a worship service and can either emphasise the performance or can draw and lead people closer to God. Why not try using less special lighting effects to avoid reprodicing a rock concert - rather select a couple of standard settings and change between them less frequently (or do away with fancy lighting completely?); Use visuals that pick out an element of the lyrics of the song to display behind the words - this will add and enhance the meaning of what is being sung - rather than watching members of the band play their instruments on the screen; Watch your words - are you using words that emphasise the perfrmance of the band or particular musicians? Should you be saying those things in the public arena? How will what you say or refer to influence the thinking and the culture within your church?
  5. Correction - there may be a time and place when you as a leader will need to speak to certain people directly. Come to them in love, not from a stance of anger or frustration. Suggest ways of how you could work through the problem together. Are there any books you could buy for them that will help them to understand where you are coming from? Is there a worship training course they could go on to engourage and develop them? 
  6. Model the behaviour yourself - Most importantly, as a leader you will need to live out what you are asking everyone else to do. You will need to fully embrace the concepts you are trying to teach. You will need to set the example, set the standard so the others can practically see that you mean business as well as showing them how to carry out the theory.

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