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.)