About two weeks ago I posted some thoughts and concerns about the evangelical worship culture after I attended the National Worship Leader Conference in Chantilly, Virginia in mid-May. Having been blogging here at Worthily Magnify for almost five years, I’m accustomed to my usual/average numbers of readers, and honestly (I mean this) it’s something I really don’t keep track of. Occasionally a post will spark a vigorous discussion – we’re talking a huge number of comments like six or seven – but my reason for writing isn’t to get a bunch of readers. It’s just to help whoever happens to read.
Well, it didn’t take long for me to get the sense that this post wasn’t going to be like any of my other posts. Within hours, comments started trickling, and then pouring in. I was hearing from people all over the world. I checked the stats and it was over 10,000 hits on the first day. Over the next two days it got over 100,000 views. And then another 100,000+ views since then. Over 450 comments so far. Some people were very supportive. Some people were very angry. Some people weren’t sure what I was trying to say. One person even pointed out that I misspelled “curmudgeony” when it should have been “curmudgeonly”. I misspelled it on purpose, since that’s how I say that word (not that I use it that often), but oh well. He noticed. I was impressed.
I wanted to wrap this little two-week focus on performancism, faces on big screens, new songs, wrong turns towards performancism, and performing a role versus performing a show with some final thoughts and reflections before, hopefully, I can just starting writing a normal blog again next week 🙂
Here’s what I want to say:
1. There are a lot of worship leaders, musicians, pastors, and congregants out there who are concerned. I heard from them in the comments, in emails to me, in Tweets, on Facebook, and even at my church last Sunday. They see a trend towards performancism in worship, which continues to shine a bright light on what’s happening on the stage, while lowering the light on the congregation, and sometimes, tragically, shining a murky light on Jesus. They want to see a change.
If a post written by an unknown worship leader at an Anglican church in Northern Virginia can reverberate on the Christian blogosphere like mine did, then I think God is up to something. We have to be willing, each of us in our local contexts, to look at our worship services, our worship leading approaches, and our worship theology, to make sure we’re pointing people to Jesus as clearly as we can.
2. A lot of those people are committed to being faithful in their local church. One person asked me “so what are we supposed to do?” I told him: be faithful to your local church, and be available to God for any way he wants to use you. That’s what we can do. That’s what I’m going to try to do.
Work to cultivate a culture of Christ-centered, congregational, vibrant worship in your congregation. Whether that’s using an organ and hymnals, or guitars and screens, do what you can to encourage your congregation to see and savor and exalt Jesus Christ above all things.
3. Modern worship leaders would be smart to re-focus on helping their congregations sing. I heard this refrain from all sorts of people, countries, denominations, and worship styles. People just want to sing. We’re robbing our people of a glorious experience: corporate singing. This is foolish.
I had one commenter write that his pastor specifically says that if everyone is singing every song on Sunday, it’s a sign of an unhealthy church. That’s insanity. A healthy church is a singing church, because a healthy church loves Jesus, and when you love Jesus, you want to sing. So let’s help people sing. Seriously.
4. You can never make everybody happy. This is lesson number one in ministry 101, and I’ve lived it as a preacher’s kid and someone in worship ministry for a while now. But lest we forget this unfortunate truism, let my posts over the last two weeks remind us that there will always be people who take offense when no offense was intended. No matter how often I said “new songs are great, but in moderation” there were always some who thought I meant “new songs are terrible!” And now matter how often I said “lights, loops, and creativity is great, but not at the expense of the clear proclamation of the gospel” there were always people who thought I meant “don’t use loops, don’t use lights, and don’t be creative, and while you’re at it, don’t use electricity either”. I had some very constructive conversations with some people who weren’t happy with something (or everything) I said, but my post certainly struck a nerve and I’m actually quite happy about that.
Many churches, worship leaders, and pastors have embraced whole-heartedly a model of worship leading that leans heavily towards performancism, which I define as “performing songs in front of a congregation in a way that leads them to focus on the performance and the performers.” I think this model is dangerous. I’ll keep calling it out when I can, and hopefully offering constructive suggestions.
5. What is the role of a worship leader? The heart behind this answer is ultimately what this all comes back to. For those whose answer to this question is relatively simple (i.e. to help people see Jesus), then what I said in my post wasn’t all that offensive. But for those whose answer includes things like “create an emotional atmosphere” or “lead people through dark woods like a woodsman”, then my post ruffled their feathers. While our roles as worship leaders are surely more complex than I make it sound (we have administrative, musical, pastoral roles to name a few), I’m talking about the heart of our role. The heart of our role is simple. When we complicate the heart of our role, then we can start to justify a complicated rationale for leading in a way that’s not so simple for people to see past to Jesus.
Finally, let me say that I had a wonderful hour-long conversation with Chuck Fromm yesterday morning. Chuck is a legend in the evangelical worship world. And he’s also the publisher of Worship Leader Magazine, which hosts the National Worship Leader Conferences. He was gracious, encouraging, and kind enough to listen to me share my heart on some of this stuff. There’s no “beef” whatsoever, and we’re very much on the same team.
Thanks everyone for a fascinating conversation over the last two weeks.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
34 thoughts on “Final Thoughts On Performancism… For Now At Least”
Thank You Jamie…
I never expected any of this from… heaven forbid!!!!! An Anglican! 🙂
May God richly bless you, your family, your church and your ministries within all of those.
You wouldn’t happen to know any like minded worship leaders in the Albany, Ga area?
I do agree in general with what’s being said. I have seen this happening in big n small churches over the last 15 or so years where ever I’ve been in the country or city. I would rather sit down n listen as I find the music hard to follow. My dad can’t hear very well but can easily recognise the old hymns. I love to join in and sing praises to God ,lustily, and memories of Keswick worship leaders appealed to most of us if not all and has done for many years. I for one only do not go to church to be entertained but to fellowship with God and His church, learn and share. But I do think church as we know it has just about finished. We need to meet people’s needs not their feelings.
I appreciated your posts on this topic and how you presented it. I shared several of your posts on Facebook and found myself in an interesting discussion on the topic. Your closing thoughts on this are spot on (at least from my perspective)….we need to be faithful in our own local church. I appreciate your blog… even before it went viral.
I’ve read each of your posts about ‘performancism’ and read most of the comments, but haven’t commented yet. I get where you’re coming from but I don’t agree with you on most things. Not in a hateful “you’re wrong” kind of way, just a friendly “we can still get along” kind of disagreeing.
Are things changing in our churches, of all denominations? Yes. Is that something new? Nope. Are the changes happening today any different from the changes that have occurred within each of the last 10 generations? I don’t think so. The difference, in my opinion, is the mindset of the person forming the opinion and critique. For example, I remember my grandfather borrowing the headset from my walkman (that had a Van Halen cassette in it) and saying “Wow, and I thought your dad’s music was bad”. He thought my dad’s music (from the 50’s) was horrifying. My dad thought my music (from the 80’s) was trashy and full of filthy lyrics. And now I listen to my kids music and think, “Sweet fancy Moses… how does this even qualify as ‘music’?”. The cycle will continue with my grandkids, and on and on. The point is – what inspires and stirs the hearts of each generation is different. I can appreciate Chuck Berry but his music doesn’t do anything for me. At all. But it takes less than half the intro to ‘Johnny Be Good’ for my parents to jump up and start dancing with a huge smile on their face (which is hilarious and I love it!).
Similarly, my mom recently commented that it is ‘very depressing to see so few people carrying a Bible to church’. My wife spoke up and said, “most of them have their Bible on their phone or tablet”. In the next service, I watched my mom look around with a surprised but relieved look on her face when she realized 90% of the folks in the congregation did have a Bible with them, albeit an electronic copy. Do I prefer a paper copy? Sure. It just feels better in my hand. But I completely appreciate that my 14 year old prefers to have his Bible on his iPad, and I think it’s awesome that he has 20 version of the Bible on it! “I like to compare them, see if something from a different version speaks to me differently”. How cool is that?
I tend to agree with Andy Stanley and his point of view in his book, “Deep & Wide”. Someone that was very upset with the way the service is managed at Northpoint Church said to him, “seems like you’ll do just about anything to get people through the door”. Andy’s response – “Yep! Anything!”. Getting them in the door is our job. God takes over once they’re in the pew (although our church doesn’t have pews, but you get the point). If the teenagers and 20-somethings are more inclined to come to a church where they are entertained and it seems more like a rock concert, OK. I’m fine with that, because they are in church! What’s the alternative? Us “old folks” being sticklers about ‘performance’ and losing an entire generation of “I would go to church if…” thinkers? My kids wouldn’t consistently attend our church if the service was like what I grew up with – a handful of hymns (from a hymnal), a choir and 1 piano and 1 organ. Much like me with Chuck Berry, it wouldn’t do a thing for them. I love the hymns, but I’m not even sure that type of service would do much for me these days. My parents would love it though.
I’m less concerned with the type/style of the music and how it is presented at a particular church than I am with who is attending that church. If it’s full of 30 & 40-somethings and up (and the kids of the 30-somethings who were drug into the building), that church is heading in the wrong direction (in my opinion). The service may be exactly what they want, but no one else wants to join them. I would much rather be in a church where I see a lot of willingly attending teenagers and 20-somethings where they are surrounded by fellow believers, being stirred by music they enjoy and appreciate, and maybe, just maybe, occasionally singing along. A church where the younger generation rushes the stage, jumping up and down with the rhythm of the music. Does it look like the concerts I went to in 1986? Yes! Which is why my wife said, “the only thing we’re missing is the hoses spewing foam on them”. It may seem odd to us, but that’s a church environment where hearts grow tender, the bonds of fellowship deepen relationships, and folks are simply more inclined to hear (and listen to) a calling from God because they are comfortable. My kids are excited to go to church. Most of the time, they’re up before we are on Sunday mornings, texting their friends, asking whose going to get their first and get a good seat. I never thought about church that way. It sure is exciting, and quite humbling, to see my kids jacked up for Jesus. Especially when I overhear one of them tell a new friend, “You HAVE to visit our church. It totally rocks!” And I always laugh when I hear the follow-up line… “yea, sure, bring your parents.”
I don’t know… maybe it’s just me. Are things different? Sure. I don’t see that as a bad thing though. Sorry for the long post… thanks for stimulating thought and a lot of great discussion.
Thank you, Damon. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts.
You’re right – a negative/fearful reaction to change, just because it’s different, is a weak argument, like your Grandpa not liking your Dad’s music, and so forth.
My concerns aren’t stemming from a reaction to something that’s just plain out different. Frankly, I’ve been in a position for the last decade where I’ve been face of “different” for half of my congregation, and dealing with that very reaction every day. My concerns stem from a simple question: what is being accomplished by this?
I’m all for contextualizing the gospel. Jesus certainly did. I’m just not in favor in celebritizing our worship. Jesus should be the celebrity. That’s what I’m trying to get at. Contextualization = good. Celebritization = not good.
I agree with Jamie, again. Contextualization is critical, but it always starts with learning peoples’ language, culture, and preferences – and then using what you’ve learned to build real community. It starts with treating others with respect and caring more about what draws everyone together, as opposed to worrying about making a difference yourself.
You like to use big words a lot. 🙂 That’s fine, but it’s kind of confusing for us simple folk.
My wife and I are huge college football fans (Roll Tide!). I recall countless rhetorical questions over the years of, “why can’t people get as excited about Jesus as they do about a stupid football game”. Good question, and a fair one. I don’t have an answer. All I know is that my kids are excited about Jesus. They will scream and yell about a song (even a sermon) just like I do about a football game. If you want to call it ‘celebritization’ of worship. Ok. I don’t even know what that means though (is it even a word?).
A kid goes to church, has a great experience and gets excited. They want to come back. Then they invite other kids who get excited, and they bring their parents who get excited, and the parents invite their friends… the cycle goes on and on. How that could ever be viewed as “not good” baffles me. Again, I don’t care what caused them to walk through the door. My concern and goal is to make sure they are comfortable, feel welcome, enjoy themselves and want to come back. That is our job – getting people in the building, preferably voluntarily and repeatedly. Sometimes God works quickly and sometimes it takes awhile for a person to hear Him. That is out of our control and not part of our job – get them in the door; God will take care of the rest.
People did not flock to Jesus because He was a great speaker and inspired them. They flocked to Him because He fed them, healed them, did miracles. They came for the food and the show. Maybe I read the Gospels and Paul’s letters differently, but exposure was the goal. That’s all. It may sound bad, but I don’t care how someone worships or even what they are worshiping. That is between them and God. They are in the building, hearing the word of God in music and sermon. That’s all I care about. They may not even realize what the exposure is doing and that’s OK. Get them enough exposure and it WILL make an impact. Their heart will soften, they will begin to not only hear, but possibly even make an attempt to listen for the voice of God speaking to them.
Again, maybe it’s just me…
Hi again Damon,
My two big words in my reply to you earlier were (1) contextualization and (2) celebritization (which, granted, I think I made up).
Contextualization is a good thing. It means preaching the gospel in your church’s context. Context means setting, culture, place, people, etc. It doesn’t mean changing the message. It just means preaching it in a way that’s clear to your context.
And celebritization means the making of celebrities. This is not a good thing. People don’t need to come to church to see celebrities. They need to see Jesus. And so we need to get out of the way.
Hope that helps,
I haven’t seen that anything Jamie has talked about has anything to do with musical style at all… I’ve disagreed with a lot of the conclusions, I think a lot of them have a ton to do with local context, but this most definitely hasn’t been an musical style in worship discussion. Its been a discussion, in my mind, on focus. And a good one.
I’m not talking about musical style either, Anthony. That was simply an analogy. What I’ve gotten from this ‘performance’ series is a concern that too many churches/leaders are focused on putting on a show rather than encouraging worship. My only point is that sometimes a good show is the only thing that will get people in the door. For that reason, I have no problem with a good show. A lot of folks have never even been in a church and have no clue what to expect. If they’re comfortable and enjoy themselves (perhaps because of the good show) they are more inclined to come back. That’s all I’m looking for… repeat business!
When Jamie says “celebratization” he’s meaning “the making of celebrities” – you know, like making the worship leader himself/herself into a kind of hero of worship, someone with super powers that we can look up to and say, “Wow, isn’t he/she something!” This is always unfortunate – and it should never be the goal.
You might have thought Jamie was talking down a spirit of celebration – not so. When we gather in worship it *should* feel like a celebration, at least much of the time Some of the time, of course, our worship will be repenting, sometimes confessing, sometimes mournful for the lost, sometimes almost laser focused on some complex teaching. But overall, as the redeemed of the Lord, our worship should always include rejoicing, celebrating the finished work of Christ Jesus for the cancelling of sins, and celebrating the glory we can see now, and celebrating the glory to come. The good news makes us glad!
I have no problem with a good show, either. My wife and I LOVED seeing Cirque du Soleil in Orlando a few years ago.
But Sunday mornings aren’t the time or place for a show. Sunday mornings are a time to proclaim, celebrate, remember, sing, and hear the good news of the gospel. I don’t remember who said this, but “what you win people WITH, you win people TO”. If you win them with a show, you win them to a show. If you win them with Jesus, you win them to Jesus. Maybe this can be done in a way that’s comfortable and enjoyable for them, or maybe not. But our job isn’t to put on a show. Our job is to exalt Jesus. He will do the winning, and he will bring the repeat business.
Like I said in my original post, we can have a friendly disagreement. You have a different opinion and perspective of how we should be exposing people to the Gospel than I do. I don’t think either of us is right or wrong – we just have differing opinions. 5 years ago, I probably would have agreed with you. But when I’ve seen so many people come to Christ through an approach most “Christians” say is bad thing, I have to step back and wonder why it is bad. I’ve heard the testimony of so many people that had never (and would never) dawned the doors of a church full of what they called “fake people”. But they were invited to a church that is unlike anything they’ve seen/heard before and gave it a shot. They were surprised that they enjoyed the service. So much so, that they decided to come back. Eventually, a hard heart wasn’t so hard and they heard the call of Christ. If it took a “good show” to get them to that point, OK. Not only will a good show be what we will continue to produce, but we’ll do our best to make it a great show! If people are coming to Christ, why wouldn’t we? Especially people that adamantly state they would never have even tried most churches.
A few months ago, I asked someone to define the “fake people” they mentioned in their testimony. He said, “You know, the people that are all into the worship experience – raising their hands, singing along, maybe even a few tears – but 10 minutes after the service you see them in the parking lot yelling at their kids and arguing with their spouse. It’s the people that only seem to find or care about Jesus inside this building.” Unfortunately, I know what he’s talking about. We have a lot of fake people at our church, and I would guess that you do as well. I doubt any church/denomination is immune to fake people. That’s why I don’t see a point in creating rules about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to a worship service. Some people prefer a reverent, near silent experience, some prefer powerful lyrics and heartfelt musicians, and some just prefer a good show. If a life is changed, truly changed, and brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, why does it matter how they got there?
Great series of posts, Jamie. You’ve been consistently level-headed AND passionate, in ways I hope to emulate myself.
You know, lots of blogs have turned into books. This may be a next step that you are uniquely qualified to take, for the glory of God in the return of God’s glory in the church. Take that to prayer, wouldja please?
Maybe also look into the thoughts and writings/teachings of others, too. Partly in response to this blog, I’m re-reading Tozer’s “Knowledge of the Holy” – in 1961, he saw the same crash on the horizon back then, and connected it to a low view of God. Considering how many modern tunes refer to God Almighty as someone we’re really glad to know, really glad to have on our side, really committed to loving powerfully, whose sacrifice for us we really appreciate – see how these songs tend to hail God as existing for our benefit? The deeper problem is the main battle to be fought, but corporate worship is one of the fronts on which we must fight the battle.
Next, find and use John Piper’s DVD study “Gravity and Gladness.” Very comprehensive treatment of this issue. Why not learn all we can from the preacher who beat exemplifies worshipful preaching?
Thanks again, Jamie. Can’t wait to buy your book! 🙂
“I had one commenter write that his pastor specifically says that if everyone is singing every song on Sunday, it’s a sign of an unhealthy church. That’s insanity. A healthy church is a singing church, because a healthy church loves Jesus, and when you love Jesus, you want to sing. So let’s help people sing. Seriously.”
I actually agree with that pastor because I see it in this perspective. If every person sings every song that means that they know the songs. If they know the songs then they have been to church and the church is not reaching outside of its bubble. Not everyone is going to be comfortable singing in church, but especially in the context of just going to church for the first time. If everyone knows the songs then we aren’t reaching the lost. If a church does not reach the lost then it is unhealthy. I think that’s what that pastor is trying to say.
Granted I see your perspective as well and I’m in total agreement about all of your current blog posts about performancism. I’m just thinking that this quote may have been taken out of context.
I totally see where you’re coming from. Good thoughts. And I saw where the commenter was coming from. Your point about reaching the lost is helpful and right on.
Here’s why I said the idea that a church where everyone sings along is an unhealthy church is unhealthy is “insanity”…
Because I think worship leaders can use that as a cop-out to allow them to choose songs that are over the map, tough to sing along to, have no consistent thread running through them, and have the wrong audience in mind. One of the things all the feedback in recent days has exposed to me is some “worship leader role confusion”. Our principal role is to help the redeemed praise their Redeemer. Therefore, we should aim to have them sing along.
What will reach the lost when they come into our services? The worship team leading a Coldplay song? No.
The lost will be reached when they come into our services and see Jesus highly exalted. That is what Sunday mornings are for. Jesus proclaimed clearly, bodily, and sweetly. When the redeemed praise their Redeemer, and the lost observe this, they will see one of the most powerful things on earth. Much more powerful than a radio hit that the worship leader is singing to try to pander to them…
Totally agree with you there Jamie. Oftentimes there is not enough sheparding among worship leaders. And this is not to say that I have been guilt free in that regard. There have been many times where my congregation could use more guidance and actual leadership when it comes to leading them in song. Like you have said in your posts, worship leaders/directors wear many more hats than singing. And it is our duty to lead the congregation and have them join in song, rather than just spectate. Even something simple as saying, “How about we sing this verse again?” helps me so much. One thing I’ve always tried to emphasize with the worship team is that they aren’t the band. The whole congregation is the band. We only help guide them.
We currently live in a culture that’s very “me” centered. We also live in a culture where everyone wants to document things for some reason or another, be it in photos, video, recordings, etc. I remember thinking to myself while seeing other people’s instagram videos of a Hillsong concert, “Are you really worshiping in song if you have time to take video?”
Later at a Digital Age show guess what I was doing? I was recording a song on my phone. Needless to say I felt humbled and ashamed. While I was singing, I decided to stop and take video. I wanted to share this with other people, rather than focusing my attention on Jesus.
I struggled a lot in your first post with the idea that ‘you tuned out ‘ so you texted, tweeted and gave up. There is as much responsibility on the worshippers as the worship leader. Whether you like songs, know songs etc it is God we are worshipping. Tuning out means saying you’ve had enough – not only of music but worshipping God.
I see where hank and Christopher are coming from, but… Its important to consider the context. I seem to be using that’s word a lot. Jamie was at a multi day worship conference. He was there to learn as well as worship, so he had a learning. Cap on during some of the worship sessions… Good. And he had some criticisms. Good. That’s what he was there for.
Also, regarding video taping a hillsong concert. Context again. Taking two minutes out of a two hour long worship concert to share it with your friends is not disengaging from God. I have trouble focusing on ANYTHING for longer then 20 minutes.
“If a post written by an unknown worship leader at an Anglican church in Northern Virginia can reverberate on the Christian blogosphere like mine did, then I think God is up to something.” You hit the nail on the head right here Jamie and explains why this disillusioned-becoming-undisillusioned Jesus-lover from down under was so excited to stumble upon your post and join in the conversation. Well done and thank you. Let’s see what happens…
Reblogged this on Beautiful Things and commented:
Jamie Brown over at “Worthily Magnify” wraps up a wonderful and fascinating discussion on what he calls Performancisim in current evangelical worship (Are We Headed for a Crash? Reflections on the Current State of Evenaglical Worship). My reason for reblogging this particular post, his conclusion to the matter is because “If a post written by an unknown worship leader at an Anglican church in Northern Virginia can reverberate on the Christian blogosphere like mine did, then I think God is up to something. We have to be willing, each of us in our local contexts, to look at our worship services, our worship leading approaches, and our worship theology, to make sure we’re pointing people to Jesus as clearly as we can.” In a previous post Jamie also makes the point that it is not enough to assume a congregation knows the gospel. He says that “the gospel assumed is the gospel ommitted.” It’s our purpose to PROCLAIM the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ-centred worship must be our reality.
I could be disillusioned because I sought to glorify Jesus as a one-time worship leader and I was unpopular for it. I was never asked to lead again and I was eventually told I had no place on the team.
BUT, I am not disillusioned precisely because this topic raised by a fairly anonymous blogger has struck such a nerve in the global church. I am not the only one to have seen things go so far off track in the kingdom-building and celebrity culture in churches these days. I am not the only one who thinks something needs to change. And, most importantly, I am not the only who thinks that YES, indeed, God IS up to something.
Praise the Lord for that!
Thank you, Susan. God bless you! I appreciate your encouragement.
No problem at all…my reblogging was a bit of a disaster actually. For some reason I thought I would be able to reblog onto my Blogspot blog. The one I created on WordPress never really eventuated. But this topic is so close to my heart and you dealt with it so well, I plan to write something similar to what I wrote above in the next couple of days and will link it back to your blog. Hope that’s okay.
Hi Jamie, here’s a link to my post, as promised. I hope you find I gave you due credit. I came from a slightly different (ie, church and church leadership).
“A healthy church is a singing church, because a healthy church loves Jesus, and when you love Jesus, you want to sing. So let’s help people sing. Seriously.”
If we were to write a sentence about what a healthy church consists of, and leave that one thing blank like this: “A healthy church is a ____________________ church, and asked the early church or the Apostles to fill in the blank, the word would not be “singing”. I think we can all agree on that one.
The truth is, there are scores of people for whom singing is not a big deal. They might not mind listening to other’s sing, but they will always have a hard time with it. Sometimes, those people end up belonging to congregations that don’t put such a strong emphasis on worship as a song.
If that church brings in a new worship person to lead the congregation into a more modern style of worship, the worship leader will be begin to think that the people just don’t want to worship. I think this is a huge, colossal misunderstanding on his or her part, and is what leads to a lot of the worship wars.
Yes, a healthy church is a lot of things. That’s why my sentence didn’t say “A healthy church is ONLY a singing church”. If I had said that, you’d be right to correct me. But as it stands, I think Paul would indeed fill in the blank “singing”, among other things. I would hope we can all agree on that one, if we read the Psalms (Psalm 47:6 comes to mind: “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!”), the New Testament (Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19 come to mind), and consider the centuries-long heritage of the Church.
I do agree with one thing you said: “…there are scores of people for whom singing is not a big deal”. I hope and pray that worship leaders and pastors take that as a challenge to re-engage people in singing praise to God, along with the saints, angels, and even the Apostles too.
What I meant by the fill in the blank idea was that singing, if it even made the list, would be very far down the list. It wouldn’t hold the first, second, third, fourth or even fifth place in terms of priority characteristics of what made a congregation healthy in their eyes.
However, when we thing about worship, singing really is at the top of the list for us. Whenever I discuss modern worship and simply raise the question about what worship is, I invariably get an answer like this: “Well, of course worship is more than singing……”
I think that looking at worship as PRIMARILY a song, is what is hindering the church and holding her people back.
I just found your blog, and I really like it. I don’t think you believe that singing is the primary definition of a healthy church, but I do believe many worship leaders unquestionably believe that singing is the highest form or worship known to man.
I’m with you — I would add that the reason I’m focusing on the singing angle is because I do see it as a primary evidence of a healthy church. Cultivating a healthy church takes a lot of ingredients. And a healthy church expresses worship in a multitude of ways. I agree that “singing” isn’t highest form of worship. But I do tend to think that when a church is healthy, it sings. So, when I see a church that doesn’t sing, I tend to think that some more cultivating needs to happen…
Thank you for your well written article. As a music director and worship leader, I choose to project songs WITH notes rather than lyrics only. It has been a great way to introduce new music as, contrary to what some may say, MANY people can read music if only to know that the notes go up and down. And participation in singing is much greater than when only lyrics are projected. Although as mentioned in many posts, not everyone WANTS to sing, for those that do, with the notes they can and do the first time the song is introduced. Our worshipers would have it no other way and we sing the old hymns in 4 part harmony as well as the most current praise songs.
Jamie, I think it’s worth noting that the trend away from congregational singing is part of a larger cultural trend away from public singing (see Atlantic article linked below). It’s an area where the church can actually lead the culture. Bravo for commending congregational singing, defending it, and cautioning against selling out in order to get people in the doors and entertain them. That’s what movie theaters do. The Church is supposed to be forming people into the image of Christ. And Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we do that by singing the Gospel together, not by watching someone perform.
I personally resonate with you, which is also why we exist to serve the church, not the performer.
Let’s chat sometime.
Jamie, i know this is an older post but the thought of the “dangers of pragmatism” would be a good post for the future. It seems Seeker friendly types of church let “what works” be their guiding light instead of scripture.
That would be an excellent post! Its important to make sure “what works” becomes a consideration only after considering whether a course of action violates scripture or otherwise compromises a church’s ability to reflect and share the gospel.