steve ball

personal thoughts on family, faith and work

is worship a performance?

This is a subject that has been discussed for years, and I’ve heard many opposing views on the subject.  In my view, worship should be open, free and lead by the Holy Spirit with the whole church actively being involved.  It should not be a well rehearsed song set which can’t be deviated from.  That said, the question is not nearly as simple as it may seem.
‘Performance’ has become a dirty word in many churches – and not so long ago, I would have taken a pretty strong view against worship being a performance – however, I’ve observed that all worship leaders will have an element of performance when they lead.  The better question is, what does performance mean.

Whenever someone presents or leads something there will nearly always be an element of performance.  When a speaker preaches, they will present in the most engaging way to get the message across.  Just reading, in a monosyllabic, expressionless voice would not change the message, but would impact on how the listener receives it – in this sense, the presenter ‘performs’ their message.  With leading worship, this can be more exaggerated (especially as we work as a group of musicians) as in order to make it easy for corporate worship to flow, there has to be an element of practice, competence and a clear focus on where you’re heading as a worship team in any particular service.  Performance, in this sense, I don’t think I have any problem with.

If we are leading worship, by definition we should know where we want to be going.  Therefore, when leading corporate worship, we should be showing an example of where we want to be – and that includes all of the worship team, not just the leader.  This may not always match up to our own individual preference.  For example – I am comfortable being quiet and reflective, but if we want a more free and exuberant expression of worship at church, I should be setting that example – even if I do find it hard sometimes!  I have plenty of time for private worship during the week when I can be more comfortable in my own ‘style’.

So, for me, if performance means a very slick, well rehearsed song set which is difficult to deviate from; your moving into the area of a concert – performance in the most commonly used sense.  This I struggle with.  If performance means being open to where the Holy Spirit is leading you and being flexible to adapt, but still striving to do that in the best way possible in order to lead a congregation closer to Gods presence – this is a more diluted definition of performance, and one that I can subscribe to.

In the end, I guess it comes down to our focus.  If our main focus is on what our worship sounds and looks like, I want to avoid that like the plague.  If our main focus is on worshipping God, and being good at how we deliver that is important, but secondary – this I where I am (I hope!).

Points to ponder...

  • What does worship look like in our church?
  • If there was a power cut and the PA, staging and lighting went, would our church be able to carry on worshipping – or can we not worship without this?
  • How much is our worship weighted to performance?

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7 thoughts on “is worship a performance?

  1. Hi Steve,

    I agree with what you’re saying. I think the context is important for performance vs. worship as well. I come from a background of churches where the denomination has been doing the same things for a long time and musical excellence in contemporary music has fallen by the wayside in the midst of that. Because of that fact, our churches have become smaller and smaller and the congregation getting older and older. So when we (Haven Place) go out and minister to the churches in our denomination, we take extra time to put in musical excellence in our worship so that congregations can see how it not only alleviates distractions in worship, but also can be evangelistic for people visiting the church for the first time. And of course, we always train ministers to “plan room for the Holy Spirit” in their worship sets so we try and do the same. So in our case, our denomination has spent so much time on the non-performance that I believe we’re in a time where the musical excellence needs some TLC.

    In 1 Chronicles 25, David gives a list a musicians their task: “to praise the LORD by playing cymbals, harps and other stringed instruments.” It goes on to say that there were a total of 288 of these men and that they were all skilled musicians. I believe that when we craft the gifts given to us, we honor the Giver by playing skillfully and to the best of our ability. Look at Lincoln Brewster, no one’s ever bat an eye at him 😉

    Great post! Always a great topic to discuss.

    Dustin Ginn
    Haven Place

  2. Hi Nik! Agreed – there is an important distinction to be made between a performance and developing our skills and aspiring to do what we do in the best possible way.

    Thanks for your post – another interesting read.

  3. Nice post Steve, I think there’s a good distinction to make between aspiring for excellence and giving a performance. For me, a worship team does it’s job perfectly when they are invisible – not to mean they aren’t excellent, rather that they are providing the platform for people to focus on their actual worship.

    I wrote some thoughts a while ago about this sort of thing… take a look

  4. Interesting thoughts Malcolm. I agree with your comments which, I think, come back to the question of our focus. Just as relevant for the ‘partaker’ as the ‘deliverer’.

  5. Malcolm Bennett on said:

    I think The ‘Performance’ question is one for the beholder to decide and judge. That is, ‘one has to decide:- ‘am I a spectator or partaker’

    If you shine light in a dark room on a group of people, some with closed eyes and others open eyes.Then the beholders would have to say if they can see, surely you don’t ask the question ‘are we using the right light?. The light source may vary from candles to LEDs, but the group would still have their own opinion as to wether they could see or not.

    Therefore current techniques for delivering music, sound, lighting & environment surely come under the heading of ‘technical quality’. However the beholder is the one who has the control to make it ‘worship’ or ‘performance’.

    Therefore I would say, worship is not a performance if you are a ‘partaker’.


  6. Jackie Tripp on said:

    Great blogs, very thought provoking, keep it up.

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