The Stigma Of “Performance” In Worship

hillsong_001There is a fine line between a worship performance and a worship experience. Where do we draw that line? A worship performance carries with it a stigma. There’s lots of talk about “not being a performance-driven worship program.” I also hear things like “we strive for authentic worship.” That sure sounds nice, but what does it actually mean? Performance-driven? Authentic worship? Before we dive in together, let me clarify that worship is not limited to music alone. The every-day stuff you do during the week when you aren’t at church is worship too. How you live your life is itself an act of worship and we should all strive to be a great witness for Christ! But here, we are focusing on the music in a church service- you with me? Let’s get to it.

What Is Worship?

Church worship is a diverse experience. Banging on a drum along with a chant works well for some. Others may only use their voices. Some like it quiet and calm. There are still others who like it loud and colorful with a rock band, fog and lights. I’m not focusing on styles or genres. I’m referring to every variation of worship in church. No matter the setting, there is always at least a small element of performance involved with the experience. Obviously, singing on a stage is a performance, but the intention is to lead the congregation in a time of worship. Why is it, then, that the word “performance” has taken on such a stigma in the church world- especially amongst worship leaders and pastors? Surely there’s a way to have instruments and singing without it becoming a performance, right? Here’s my take on the issue: worship becomes a performance when there is no connection to the congregation.

What do I mean, exactly? The whole point of gathering in a church to worship is to do it together. If you’re just standing on a stage and singing a song, then that’s not worship. It’s a concert. If you look like you don’t want to be there and don’t care about the congregation, it will absolutely show through your body language. Worship is interactive. Worship is also an act of sacrifice (time, effort, resources). Worship starts with the heart and is an overflow of what God is doing in your private and personal quiet time throughout the week. Being “authentic” is being true to who you are are as a singer and musician and being true to who your congregation is. Perhaps one person singing with an acoustic guitar is what fits the culture of where you are. It could be an organ with a choir singing out of a hymnal. Maybe it’s a rock band singing simple praise songs. In every case- when you lose the sense of connection, you lose the worship experience.

Cultural Relevance & Excellence: Good or Bad?

Adding culturally relevant elements like lights, video, and contemporary music style does not automatically equal a performance. High levels of excellence do not translate directly to making it a performance either. Both cultural relevance and excellence can lead you down the path of performance-driven music, however, they can (and should) be leveraged to heighten the level of engagement with your congregation. As for lights and video, you should only implement things that fit within your church budget with the intent to improve the worship experience. With regard to excellence, the apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 3:22-25 to give our best and that being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up doing bad work. Wow- I think his point is pretty clear.

Here’s What You Can Do

  1. Encourage the congregation to sing along.
  2. Use familiar songs and hymns.
  3. Act like you want to be there.
  4. Look out into the congregation and…
  5. Smile!

A Word Of Encouragement

Remember, we can’t take the congregation where we’ve never been spiritually. If your spiritual experience is shallow, then so will be your worship leading. Focus on building your spirit-man in your private quiet time and pursue holiness in everything you do as a Christian. These small steps will translate to the stage when you lead the congregation in worship. It’s a wonderful privilege to lead worship! Never take it for granted and sing it like you mean it! Have an opinion to share? Leave a comment to get the discussion going. -Adam

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Adam Layne Fisher

Adam is a worship leader, producer, and songwriter with a passion for bringing hymns to today’s church. He serves full-time as the Non-Traditional Worship Leader at Buncombe Street United Methodist Church. You can support his ministry by purchasing his full-length worship album on iTunesSpotifyAmazon and other online retailers.

If you’d like to learn more about Adam, check out his personal blog:

Adam Layne Fisher