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?