What They Really Mean When They Say Worship Is a Show

The worship ministry of the modern church has been called the “war department.”

It’s the place that requires a myriad of talented people to pull off in order to essentially please no one, save the Lord himself.

We’ve tackled a few instances on this blog concerning what people really mean when they use certain phrases, but this week, we hit the motherload. What do people really mean when they say that worship at your church is a “show?”

I’m sure everyone has a theory and I may not cover them all, but I first want to say that I’ve been a worship leader and have a deep respect and love for what people in that position do. They have to have the thickest skin while remaining incredibly sensitive to the Spirit. It’s not easy at all to do and if you haven’t thanked your worship leader recently, you should make a point to do that this week.

That being said, let’s look at what people might really mean when they describe your worship time as a “show.”

It’s a Show When You Leave the Crowd Behind

There are so many issues under this heading to cover. Basically, when you do something on the stage that makes the crowd stop engaging because they can’t follow you easily, you’ve turned them into spectators.

Guitar solos, vocal runs, and unexpected melody changes can really throw off the “I can only play the radio” crowd. Also to consider is the key. If your songs are in a key that really allow your vocalists to blast it out and are perfect for you, that’s great! Just watch the crowd though.

Most people don’t have the vocal range your team does, so if it’s too high, we’re out. If it’s too low, we’re out. If you sing Lord I Lift Your Name On High, I’m out.

If the role of the worship leader is to lead people in worship, don’t be the unfollowable leader. They will accuse you of being a show because you force them to become spectators, and they are right to say so.

It’s a Show When Performance Trumps Discipleship

I get it. Quality musicians are important to providing an environment free of distractions for worship. However, there is a balance to be struck. Worship leaders must take care not to neglect the fact that you are called to disciple others too. That means there should be those on the worship team that aren’t professionals, that you are teaching to do what you do.

You must be careful not to convey a message to your people that says “get good and then you can lead.” Who then can join your merry band? Only those you pay. There are probably musicians in your church who are not quite as good but may never get the chance to play because of the high demand for excellence.

Excellence is good; discipleship is better.

It’s a Show When the Band Doesn’t Look Like the Crowd

If you have an older crowd, yet everyone on stage is a young, trendy person, you could be conveying the message that “We’re cool; you’re not.” This can lead to a disconnect between your stage and your crowd that hinders worship.

It also adds fuel to the fire that you’re more interested in performance than leading because you’ve hired such different looking people. It may seem like no one here was worthy to be in my rock ban—er, worship band.

Conversely, if your crowd is young and trendy and your band is older and a little stuffy, then that can create an equally upsetting problem. People will follow you when they know you care about them. I think it was Zig Zigler who said “No one cares what you know until they know that you care.”

It’s a Show When the Worship Team Doesn’t Stay for the Message

Worship leaders, if your band isn’t paying attention and leading by example for the pastor’s message, then there’s no reason you should expect them to follow you during the music, nor act surprised when they interpret this as only caring about the “show.”

All that does is communicate, “We are just here to play, not actually be part of this. We’re just here to perform.” Whether a hired musician or not, leaders should require their band to walk off that stage and sit in the crowd. Not the coffee shop. Not the green room. In the crowd.

If your band doesn’t want to stay because they aren’t believers, then that’s a whole other blog that might lose me some followers. So I’ll just leave it at this question: How can those who don’t believe in God lead others to worship Him?

It’s a Show Because it Looks Like One

I’m all for using lighting, stage set, and other technologies to create an environment conducive to worship. I think there are many churches, large and small, who understand the function of these technologies and use them appropriately.

Sometimes these enhance the experience; sometimes they are the experience. That’s never good.

Let’s be honest, though. The only other place we see things like intelligent lights, haze machines, and bumping sound systems are at concerts. So we need to forgive our people a little if they make the connection. Of course it looks like a concert! Where else do you see this sort of thing?

The problem arises when too much focus is put on the use of tech such as this and it can begin to take away from the actual meeting with God that was to take place.

Remember that? That thing we’re supposed to lead people to do?

I’ve always said that the role of the worship leader is to create an environment that works to remove external barriers to hearing the Holy Spirit speak.

If we’re not doing that, then what are we doing?

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Showing 7 comments
  • Kenny

    I do believe that there is a connecting thread in the contemporary music experience at church and how many churches are in effect sinply producing spectators and consumers, versus all-in community members desiring a discipleship experience in their faith walk.

    Spectators are stripped of sanctification with shows of sound.

    • Seth Muse

      Absolutely. The problem hasn’t ever really been about style, but (as always) leadership. Great insights, Kenny.

  • Paul Steinbrueck

    Good post Seth. I agree that worship leader is one of the most difficult roles in the church. IMO, it’s a show when performance trumps participation. A worship leader’s goal should be to lead people to worship Jesus. If he/she is leading people to listen and watch what’s going on in front of them rather than focus on Christ, then its a show.

    • Seth Muse

      Agreed, Paul. My hope is that pastors and worship pastors will begin to understand this distinction and start training worship leaders with this in mind. Thanks!

  • Paul Turner

    I can remember a former youth band member that said I was ridiculous for putting someone on the team that was not as good as them. He quite that day and never talked to me again. Sad.

    • Seth Muse

      Wow, that IS sad!

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