09 Feb 2013

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If you’ve spent any length of time on a worship team, at some point you’ve probably heard someone discuss the tension between “worship” and “performance”. For those of you that are unsure of what I’m talking about, here’s a brief synopsis…

Being artists on a platform, we have a responsibility to lead others in worship, therefore we should be genuinely worshipping as well. We point others towards God, not ourselves. Therefore, any conduct on stage that draws attention toward ourselves and away from God is a bad thing. Typically, this is labeled as performance. It’s not the easiest of debates to find resolution to, because how can one argue against the above logic? But, I think we’re labeling “performance” as a negative too quickly.

How many sermons, lectures, or presentations have we all sat through in our time in which the content was good, but the presentation was boring, disengaging, and lifeless? If you’re able to look past a horrible delivery and focus on the content, you’re a better person than I am! In the church, we tend to focus on the content that we’re delivering without giving equal attention to the way that we’re presenting it. At GCC, what we want from our artists is for the presentation to reflect the content. So, if we’re singing about the grandeur of the glory of God, our visual presentation should be consistent with the magnitude of that idea. Why is this? Well, it’s primarily because the vast majority of people who are experiencing our services aren’t musical, and therefore don’t understand musical things. Sure, they might sense that something is awry when the keyboard player misses some notes, but they likely can’t pinpoint the issue. But, every single person in our services is an expert on human behavior. They can tell if that vocalist is on autopilot, or the guitarist is unsure of where he’s at in the song. So, delivering an engaging presentation is just as vital as the words we’re singing or the notes we’re playing, because often times it speaks louder than anything else.

So, here at GCC, we’ve come up with some guidelines that help us accomplish this goal. We’re a volunteer driven arts ministry, so we can’t expect our team to be experts in this sort of thing; it’s our responsibility to help equip them so that they can fulfill any expectations we have of them. We call it STEP. This is how we want our volunteers to prepare for, execute, and evaluate what they do in our worship experiences.

  1. Storytelling – Every story has an arc. It has rises, falls, subtleties and climaxes. If we begin to look at our songs as stories, as scripts, we’ll begin to deliver them in a dynamic way. The first verse should feel and look different than the last chorus of the song. The delivery should be consistent with the content both audibly and visually as the story progresses. View the song as a script. Deliver the song like a story.
  2. Transitions – What do you do in the moments when you’re not doing anything? If you’re a vocalist who’s enduring a 20 second guitar solo, keep worshiping! Stay engaged in the moment. Keep telling the “story” through your actions. Keep your attention focused on God and the people you’re leading. Create engaging transitions between your songs. Don’t create “periods” in your experience, only “comma’s”.
  3. Expression – Deliver an outward expression of an inward posture. There are different forms of expression that work for different people; we want our leaders to be the best versions of themselves on our stage, so what good and dynamic expression looks like differs depending on the person. But, we do have some “moves” that we’ve put on our blacklist: (1) No hip pats. (2) No forearm clapping. (3) No hip swaying. (4) No “oscillating fan”. (5) No wimpy praise hands; commit! (6) No autopilot, always be intentional. All of these “moves” are unnatural and can therefore be distracting to the congregations experience.
  4. Preparation – Memorization and internalization are vital to what we do. I’m a big NBA fan, and I recently heard Kyrie Irving (reigning Rookie Of The Year) say something that I thought was brilliant and applicable to this point. He said, “You master the fundamentals so you can forget them, so you can improvise, and concentrate on what really matters.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Mastering the fundamentals of our worship experiences (lyrics, chords, transitions, etc…) are vital if we want to focus on what really matters, and that’s helping to deliver an engaging moment that allows others to connect with Jesus. Lack of preparation is, frankly, a disservice to that end. We must always give our best!

There are a thousand different ways to deliver an engaging worship experience, because there are a thousand different contexts and cultures that it happens in. But, regardless of culture or context, we must always bring our best to the table. Performance isn’t a dirty word in the context of worship if we’re speaking to the excellence of our delivery so that it elevates the excellence of our content. And the content of the Church is second to none; therefore our delivery should be as well.

2 comments on “Worship vs. Performance
  1. Geoff

    This is a great topic. I see how there can be a struggle between performance and worship as everyone wants to perform to the best of their abilities but also that they need to balance in order to worship at the same time. Everyone will worship in a little bit different ways but the key is to continue to worship throughout the performance. In some ways performance can create a higher level of worship if it is done correctly. The main focus should be to worship God and to encourage other of His greatness.

  2. Patti

    I LOVE this article. I think a good solid prayer that people will be moved toward God by your gift puts you in the right place mentally and spiritually to have a meaningful moment for Him. Whether you pat your hip or raise the roof….if God put you there, and you ask for His guidance…he’ll put your hands and feet where they belong 🙂

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