Accessible Worship - Performance

Accessible Worship

Words Matter - PERFORMANCE

“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” Revelation 5:14

“The difference between performance and worship is involvement.”


One of the criticisms that often comes against contemporary worship settings is that it seems to be a performance rather than worship.  The negative connotation comes often because the musicians are at the front of church, visible to the entire church body.  As we talked about before, 55% of communication is what people see and therefore the fact that they are visible often gives the feeling of a performance.  Our experiences with people up front are usually tied to concert environments and orchestral experiences, experiences that we often refer to as a “performance” where we sit and watch or listen to what is happening from the front.  Add to that the notion of worship leading is often foreign to most people in a congregation and the often times the musicians do not understand that they are in fact helping to “lead” worship.  Therefore if they get too energetic or they talk a little too much they come off as performers to some people.  On the other hand if they stand there and don’t move or don’t engage (entertain), there is a disconnect with the rest of the people they are there to lead.

But this is not limited to just contemporary bands and worship settings.  When the choir gets up to sing for the congregation, we tend to think more highly of it because it is “sacred” music, but if the choir does something a little more upbeat, the criticism is that it’s a performance.  Or if there is a Pastor who chants the liturgy for the people, if he is too enthusiastic, it seems to border on the performance side of things.  Or even the organist, if they are too ornate and long in their interludes between verses or if they are too loud in their playing… yep you bet – performance!

In all my experiences in WELS worship settings, the difference between performance and worship is involvement.  Some of this involvement is directly tied to the way that the contemporary band or the choir or even the organist leads.  If they lead with a clear expectation that the people have a voice, and then work to create space for that voice to be heard, then we move from performance to involvement.  For some people, simply listening is enough because they are deeply connected to the words and the music.  Because what they are hearing leaves them connected to the song and the message it is conveying, they are not simply taking in a performance, but the song/music is part of their worship because they are involved though they don’t show an outward expression.

For the organist, for the choir, for the soloist and for the praise team, it is very important for us to remember that if what we are doing is to be part of the worship of our church, the way we move from performance to worship is to give the people a song to sing.  For some people it will be a vocal song to sing, for other songs we might ask their hearts to sing as we tell the story through music.  Our songs give voice to a prayer and then encourage their voice to join in.  It is true that a soloist has a different role, sometimes the choir is set to sing for the people because the music is beautiful, but complex.  Sometimes the band chooses a song that has an edge, is difficult to sing or is creating tension that the message is meant to deal with.

My hope is that before we throw around that word and start accusing various groups of being a performance based entity uninterested in worship, let’s really think about what that means and let’s admit too, that our own biases, likes and dislikes go a long way in making that statement.  In other words, our judgment of others in the realm of performance may be as petty as not liking a person in a choir and therefore not liking any of it.  If a group is over the edge on performance, let’s use kind words to build them up and help them move from performance to worship – giving the people a voice, verbally or internally, to join in with the praise of God’s people.

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