Yes, we’re all performers.
The stay-at-home Mom performs her duties as well as she can on as little sleep as she gets. The mechanic performs his duties with the tools and training he’s gained through the years.
And the worship leader performs his or her Sunday duties on a platform of some kind, with musicians and vocalists of some kind, with training and (hopefully) practice of some kind. So, yes, worship leaders and their teams are performers, in one sense of the word.
But the word “perform” can mean two things: First, do a job. Second, put on a show. It’s the second meaning of the word that worship leaders have to avoid. We have to perform a role (which has both musical and pastoral components) focusing a congregation on Christ, without performing a show, focusing a congregation on us. It’s a fine line. And it’s a crucial distinction to make.
DISTINCTION ONE: Our role is to serve our congregation by performing our role of helping them see and savor (and sing to) Jesus Christ.
– This requires pastoral gifts and sensitivities (i.e. knowing, loving, and serving our people).
– It requires musical skill (i.e. choosing songs, directing musicians, running rehearsals, and leading music).
– It requires leadership gifts (i.e. working with volunteers, arranging a team, interacting with different kinds of people, and leading a congregation in singing).
– And finally, it requires a certain comfort level with being up front, being seen, and being heard, in order to ensure the congregation’s confidence in singing to Jesus.
– All of these pastoral, musical, leadership, and up-front gifts go into us performing our Sunday morning role as a worship leader, facilitating the corporate exaltation of Jesus Christ.
DISTINCTION TWO: Our role is not to entertain our congregation by performing a show (that they are welcome to follow along to if they can, or just observe).
– This diminishes the pastoral component of our role, since entertaining a crowd allows us to be more removed from the people.
– This disproportionately elevates musical skill to being the primary ingredient in the mix, since the demand is not so much on facilitating congregational singing, but more on keeping them entertained.
– This de-emphasizes pastoral/musical leadership, and instead demands a certain degree of star-power necessary to carry a musical performance from week to week.
– And this exalts the up-front persona, or stage presence, as being less about facilitating congregational singing, and more about performing the songs well.
– This is not the description of a worship leader performing his role. It’s the description of someone performing a show.
(1) Performing the different aspects of our role with humility, excellence, and skill, for the sake of building up of a congregation into Christ and helping them sing TO Christ, is effective worship leading. The fruit is that people focus on Jesus.
(2) Performing a sequence of songs in front of a congregation in a way that leads them to focus on the performance and the performers, is effectively performancism. The fruit is that people focus on the performers.
Of course we can’t help if someone, or let’s say a whole congregation, just happens to want to focus on us, even though our heart is absolutely in the place of performing a worship leading role. Every worship leader experiences leading a group of people who just aren’t responsive, no matter how hard they try or how much they pray.
But we can help what kind of fruit we’re planting.
If you want to grow apples, plant an apple tree. And take care of that apple tree. It might not grow apples for a long time. But eventually, if you planted it right, it will grow the right kind, and right flavor, of fruit.
Same goes for worship leaders. If we want people to look at Jesus, then plant that fruit. If we want people to look at us, then plant that fruit. We decide what kind of fruit to plant.
But God will only water one kind of fruit. The other kind will shrivel up and die.