Worship or Concert?

By | January 16, 2012

I recently overhead a friend of mine commenting about the worship band at church. Basically, he felt that it was too showy. He mentioned how one of the guitarist “struts around stage”. This quickly got me thinking. Being a committed Christian who has attended a lot of church services and being a musician who has played in praise bands and led worship, the topic of worship is one which I’ve certainly encountered. I understand what my friend was expressing. However, as I pondered it, I wondered if we aren’t trying to draw distinctions where they don’t really exist. Do we try to separate things which are really inseparable?

People might criticize contemporary worship for being like a concert. But traditional music is, of course, very much related to classical music. A traditional service and classical concert can at times be indistinguishable. Similarly, often the best known contemporary worship leaders and composers tour, playing concerts around the country. Does the fact that they are not playing their music in a church service mean that it isn’t praise? Does the fact that it is a concert, which people likely paid for, mean that they aren’t and can’t praise God through the music?

My friend may be distracted by a guitarist on stage moving around. But as I pointed out, I like to move around when I’m playing. My moving around doesn’t mean I’m trying to get attention. And I don’t think it would be any more right to criticize the musicians on stage for this than someone in the congregation for raising their hands in worship.

Again here we run into a matter of potentially attempting to separate the inseparable. The idea that there can be some kind of 100-percent pure motive is off I think. At least what I am thinking of is the idea that one is participating in worship purely for it’s own sake doesn’t make sense. I don’t believe you have to hate singing praise in order to be truly worshiping. That’s kind of ridiculous. People play and sing praise songs because they enjoy music in addition to wanting to worship God. And that’s great! Many churches now have contemporary music because that’s what a majority of church goers seem to like most.

Beyond this, if you are a musician leading worship, it doesn’t mean you are suddenly perfect and that you cease to be human. The people who might claim this are in dangerous denial I would think. We all want people to like us and we generally like positive attention, compliments, etc. Now someone shouldn’t be leading worship solely for these reasons, but just because you’re not doing it for those reasons doesn’t mean they evaporate and you completely don’t care. You still have to deal with them.

I think about King David setting up worship in ancient Israel. I imagine he got the best musicians from around the country. Wouldn’t they want to have the best music to praise God? Might not people have been impressed and in awe at the music? Wasn’t that part of the point? Of course the idea is that they wouldn’t be left focusing on the music, but that impressive music would communicate the greatness and worthiness of God.

Sometimes we may have personal preferences about something. That’s fine, but we’ve got to be careful about spiritualizing them. If my friend doesn’t find contemporary music personally conducive to worship, that’s fine. The problem comes when we try to understand why we have these preferences, and come up with a spiritualized answer. This is a problem because it allows us, even unintentionally, to think that we’re better than others, and we can judge them as being somehow less spiritual than we are. (There is balance necessary; there are things which are good and bad, not simply a matter of preference.) (For the record, I talked to directly to my friend about my thoughts on this subject.)

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  • laura adams

    Doug – I totally understand where you’re coming from, especially being one of the musicians on a stage praising the Lord with their talents. I appreciate your comments and I agree with ’em. Just because sometimes worship can come across as a concert – doesn’t make it any less heartfelt from the musicians on the stage than if there were no lights or sound and hardly any musicians on the stage at all. Just like that song, The Heart of Worship”, it all comes down to Jesus/God. Not everyone will want to worship the same way – that will always be changing. But God/Jesus will not change. Good thoughts. Thanks for that!

  • Chris R.

    As the cause of this article, I feel I didn’t do a good job at explaining why I felt the way I did. So here’s a bit of an elaboration. I enjoy concerts and I enjoy worship time in church. However, I believe each of these generally has a different goal (at least they do for me). The goal of a concert is to enjoy the music that is played. The goal of worship in the common sense is to enjoy God through the medium of music. When rock artists are energetic on stage I think it only adds to the experience. I enjoy them having fun on stage however the see fit. This adds to my enjoyment of the music being played. But when the goal is to experience God, I personally want to try to shed the vi near of this world and be transported to a realm where I can contemplate God, his glory and my sinfulness. When worship artists act as rock artists, I find I am interrupted in my efforts to do this. My goal is not simply to enjoy worship music, my goal is to use the music as a bridge to draw nearer to God in my thoughts. For these reasons I would prefer worship artists to be relatively still, to be empty vessels on my way to God, not entertaining me. I realize worship artists themselves may be in a dilemma at my request because how they best enjoy God might be opposed to it. I would challenge them to think about whether their actions on stage at church are helping people draw nearer to God or are encouraging them to simply enjoy the performance…

    • I understand what you are saying and I’m trying to fit it in with the rest of my thoughts. In a way it seems like you are wanting to use music for non-musical purposes. In another way of putting it, it sounds like you aren’t seeking in these circumstances to praise God through music so much as use music to worship God in another way. Or, you are desiring meditative/contemplative music rather than praise music. I maybe be wrong but it’s my attempt to understand it.

      • Chris R.

        I would hope that worship music would always inspire some meditation/contemplation in the moment, although it could not be sustained as a long, continuous stream of thought because songs only last a few minutes. I want to use the power of music to focus my attention on my spiritual reality and on speaking to God (<--prayer). I do enjoy the music in moment, but ideally that enjoyment would be a launching pad into God's presence mentally speaking. For me, that state of mind can be disrupted when artists begin doing things that they might do for fun or entertainment. Worship music isn't an end for me ideally, it is a means to a closer experience of God in my mind's eye. Hopefully I've added some clarity to my perspective with these words 🙂

        • Yes. Thanks for sharing. I’m reminded how I was starting a alternative rock worship band a decade ago. I thought about the idea of putting the band in the back or behind a curtain or something, in order to try and keep the focus off the musicians. However it would be impractical in most worship spaces. In any case, most of what we refer to as worship is praise music, though worship of course actually includes much more than that. I personally don’t connect with most worship music, whether the style is traditional hymns, adult contemporary, or even pop rock. I don’t know if that’s in part because those are genres which I’m not particularly fond of. So I think you have a point. At the same time, I’m not sure that’s it’s wrong to have the music play a bigger role than what you seem to suggest. I don’t know, but apparently many people do connect through worship the way it is done. I know for me, I can spend more time thinking about the animated background behind the lyrics than I do about the song. But I think that’s my problem. Since I don’t connect well with praise music, I have a bit of a difficult time saying what it should and shouldn’t be done. My original post was my attempt to take some aspects of it into consideration.