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!