(pic credit: ©2015 Loribaj. Used with permission)
Hello, Adore The Lord blog-readers. The previous bit really opened up a number of hot-button issues, so we sat down with the chief Blog author Crisbaj and asked a few follow-up questions:
Q: The issue of churches having a ‘praise and worship’ slot that relies heavily on a great music performance seems to be rather big issue. Is it an ‘either-or’ thing: a great church performance OR the Presence of the Lord?
A: Thanks for this dialogue, because this is a complicated issue. Those two distinctions, ‘great performance’ and ‘His Presence’ really, in my thinking are on two ends of a spectrum.
In a rush to have a contemporary, up-beat, attractive public gathering, the modern church severely lacks a perception of the psychological and sociological dynamics of the thing we’ve come to know as a ‘performance’ or a ‘performer’. Nearly a century into amplified and enhanced stage presentations, with our culture having experienced literally millions of performances that involve performers on stage that were being watched by on-lookers called an audience, there is a significant portion of the Church that has not questioned the meaning or potency of this set-up.
Q: …and this ‘set-up’ means…?
A: It means the stage-audience dynamic, where the performer performs and the audience passively experiences. It means an absence of community, meaning all of us in the room are not playing on the same level and working the same relationship. It means the ‘have and the have-nots’. The act of performance will always shout out, ‘look at me, I’m special!’ It means two zones set up in an opposing manner, one for the super-gifted performers on stage, facing the common people who are gazing at them, passively watching. Most theatres and concert halls are set up for performance, and the stage is physically elevated above the audience. It’s also on TV, cable and in the recording arts, especially music. ‘Hey, watch me do this!’ ‘Hey, I can sing notes you can never hit!’ Back a few years, there was this absurd bit on a Christian record, ‘hey, they’ll praise God because of my blazing and amazing guitar solo!” Being in Church does not immunize musicians and artists from moving into performance.
Interestingly, Gallop just published (2017) that only 38% of people find church music, praise bands or choirs as important to what happens to them in church. The biggest importance was 76% who wanted to hear the preaching. My take is that IF we were desiring non-performance in Church and a focus on finding the manifest Presence of God, then the Gallop stats would swing in a different direction entirely.
Q: Are you saying that, when a ‘praise-and-worship’ group moves to performance, the Presence of the Lord will be absent?
A: Maybe not ‘will be’ absent, but His manifest Presence in that room, with that group of people, will be hampered. People in this decade are pretty well trained to drop into a passive, watch-the-expert performer when things move towards performance. The focus of performance is not clearly God-ward. The performance can stand between the Lord and His people, demanding attention.
I also think it can become a matter of ‘who the Glory is directed to’. Just because a talented person gets up in front of the Church and launches into a ‘hey, watch this!’ performance, but started the song with “we’re giving You all the Glory, Lord”… well, strong chance that start-up line was just wishful thinking.
Q: Are you edging towards the verse in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols.”…?
A: Yeah, that’s important. It’s also in a few other spots, like Joshua 24 and Exodus 20, where He makes it clear that the ‘stage’ of our lives, individually and corporately has room for only one, and it must be Yahweh God.
Since performance inherently leaks ego in our human condition, this becomes a huge, major, red-flag area in ‘praise and worship’ ministry.
Q: Wow. What are the take-aways? What’s the balance?
A: First, stage-and-audience set-up is never… never! value-neutral, even if you call the theatre a Church and the stage a Sanctuary. It sends a number of messages about values and focus. Church history recognized that, especially during the Byzantine ‘revolt’, physical set-up in corporate gatherings was a power-dynamic.
Second, corporate times of ‘praise and worship’ should build community, not display special talent. Every Pastor and Worship Arts leader need to wrestle with this issue for their people. There will be a coming AdoreTheLord dot Blog series about worship in the early, ancient Church and how it built community as well as carved a means for the manifest Presence of God.
Lastly… and I’ve gotta thank Matt Redman, one of my mentors in all this… when a musician or singer or band get in front of the Church for ‘praise and worship’, then their success should be totally measured by how well the People of God are led into Presence of God, and how transparent and ‘of no regard’ that musician or singer or band becomes. Really, how much John the Baptist’s ‘He must increase and I must decrease’ (John 3:30) happens in that moment, in that time, so that God’s precious people were not distracted and really able to move into His Holy Presence, in that moment and in that place… well, that’s the metric. If the buzz during after-service coffee is how fantastic so-and-so’s vocal solo was during the song service, but no mention of how amazing the encounter with the Lord was… well, that gathering probably missed an opportunity to experience The Father up close.
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