Contemporary Worship is a Performance

at the women's retreat“Redeemed Performance”

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and swims like a duck….

“Contemporary worship” – you know, the drums and guitars and keyboard, the lights and the production team – is a performance.

There. I said it.

In the churches where we have this style of music, we cringe at the term “performance.” We insist, loudly and at length, that it’s not a performance. Performance is what One Republic does at the arena, or what a local band does at the local tavern. Performance is done by piano students, bands and choirs, ballet companies, symphonies, theater troupes, performing artists of all stripes. Hence the term “performing” artists.

We don’t like that term in church, though. We’re not standing on this stage playing or singing to draw attention to ourselves, get our 15 minutes of fame in for the week, revel in the glory. We’re here to lead others in worship, to draw ourselves and those listening (maybe even participating) into the presence of Jesus, where we seek to corporately praise him, thank him, state our surrender to him, pledge our best and our all to him.

We’re not here for us. We’re here for Jesus. So don’t call it a performance.

But here’s the thing: any time you play an instrument or sing into a microphone, any time others are listening to you or watching you – you’re performing. That’s the definition of performing, hello.

And at a lot of our churches, it is a serious performance. There are production teams – and we don’t even pretend to call them anything else. There are bands – we call them worship teams. (Don’t even get me started on what a sadly limited view we have of worship; in this culture, “worship” equals “music.” WHAT??) There’s a rehearsal. There’s a lead singer and some harmonies. There are lights, speakers, big hairy screens, sound systems (some worthy of rock star status).

There’s a stage, for Pete’s sake.

What exactly is it, if not a performance?

(As an aside – this did not arrive with the “contemporary” scene. Church choirs have been performing for years. It just wasn’t a major discussion.)

The difference between One Direction or One Republic or One Beyonce, and, say, the band I occasionally play with at my church, lies in motivation. The big-time kids are in it for the dinero and adulation; we’re in it to worship a mighty and worthy and beautiful Jesus, and hopefully bring others along with us.

I call this “redeemed performance.”

The word “performance” has gotten a bum rap among church people. We’re so concerned we’ll be – or be seen as – self-focused musicians, we run from the word like it carries a disease.

But “performance” is okay. It’s a neutral term, in fact. All it means is you have an audience.

When your heart is in the right place – and isn’t worship all about getting our hearts in line? – performance becomes, at a minimum, positive, and at best, holy.

I’m not the only one to have experienced this at bono fide performances. Have you ever been to a symphony – where there’s no intent to glorify God – and been transported into his presence simply because the music was amazing and your heart was in the right place? Have you ever been to a choral concert and felt yourself drawn into the presence of the Almighty, even though the singers could care less? Come to think of it, how many movies have you watched – and we know they were performance – and known you were suddenly in the presence of the Holy?

Worship through music is always about the heart. It’s the direction of the heart that determines whether or not a performance is an experience of worship. Jesus told the Samaritan woman worship was not a matter of location but of heart (John 4:23-24). I submit this is equally true in our context: worship is not a matter of “performance” or not, but of the heart.

I can have an audience and draw glory to myself, or I can have an audience and draw glory to Jesus. Isn’t that nice? Isn’t it great how the Spirit can take something neutral – a performance – and, through working in hearts, turn it into something redeemed and holy and edifying?

It’s a band. It’s a performance. Praise Jesus, when he gets hold of the hearts of the musicians, it’s a redeemed one.

What on earth is wrong with that?

Published in: on May 13, 2014 at 2:02 am  Leave a Comment  

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