When Worship Is a Concert

Me and my Fender Stratacoustic
Me and my Fender Stratacoustic

Over the years I have seen a significant change in my understanding and also my response to modes and types of Christian worship. I surprise myself even as I write this seeing what attitudes I now have as opposed to even a year ago. I want to take some time and share my feelings and what I understand to be good and bad worship as it relates to music.

First I need to define worship, well praise and worship, and what it is I mean with what I am saying here. Worship is the part where we give our hearts and our sacrifices to God. Praise is a part of the where we are offering acknowledgment as to who God is and how great He is to us usually through music and dance.

Where I had issues was when I saw services where it looked like the musicians and singers were putting on a concert to glorify themselves. In other words, as the event was going on there was no doubt that the audience was celebrating and paying homage to the performers themselves rather than the One to whom the service is devoted to. It was a performance to show off. You left the service really not giving God anything but enjoying an entertaining service done in God’s name. This literally disgusts me. So, I immediately categorized any ‘service’ that was done with volume, pomp, and props as a false worship. I still believe for the most part that is true. But, let’s look a bit further at these three items: volume, pomp, and props.

Volume- By far the thing I hear about more than anything else is volume. Complaints swing the entire spectrum from being too quite to being too loud. So, just what is the appropriate volume? As loud as necessary! I am going to beat this into everyone’s head until the people get it and deal with it or they run me out of the church. Corporate worship needs to be rousing and loud! Show me anywhere in the Bible when the children of Israel were called for silent worship. You can’t! There was horns, trumpets, shouts for joy, dancing… like a concert. But Jim, we are not the children of Israel, you may be saying. OK, is God the same then as He is now? If so, then why would worship standards be that much different? But Jim, those people were outside in the courts when this occurred! Really? All of them? You know that for a fact? No, you do not. So, what does being inside or outside have to do with it anyway? Are we not supposed to be excited inside? Naysayer- you go back and rebuild your case and come back later.

Anyway, the very people who have these ‘issues’ with the loud and rowdy, excited worship have absolutely no problem at all going home after the church and turning on the game and completely losing themselves in excitement with cheers, praise and adoration of men- MEN! So, you are telling me that giving that kind of sacrifice to a team is better than giving it to the very God of the universe, the One who created all things, the One that saved you from Hell? See, the absurdity of this leaves me where there is no longer a reason to discuss this further. So, we get back to the question of volume. What is the right volume? The answer I give is this: loud enough to feel it but quiet enough that there is no distortion in the sound and that no injury occurs to the participants of worship.

Narrowing down the most popular complaint that church goers have of me is the style of guitar music I play. Mostly I play with a bluesy sound with a touch of delay and chorus effects. On some songs I really turn out the saturation and sustain and will even drop tune the guitar to get a driving bassy sound. I do this because I feel I am being lead to play a particular song that way. It adds a feel to the song that seems to pronounce the message or grab the listener and help them focus on the message or the Lord Himself. Believe me, nobody is getting the glory from my playing except God! Satan and evilness is not even a subject entering the mind when I am playing. It is all about the One who gave the ability to play.

Pomp- Now this is a sensitive fine-line topic. Pomp is the show the performers put on and the reason they put it on. Once we had a ‘praise team’ at our church that was made up of some members of the church. There was some pretty good talent but what turned me off the first time they performed was the attitude they displayed. They acted like they were completely full of themselves. They made some reference to God but the way they sang, talked up the ‘show’, and looked into the audience, it was quite apparent that they wanted the praise and worship more than they wanted you to give it to God. So, what? Do we allow these people to steal the show from God?

Props- Costumes, make-up, smoke, lights, lasers, flames, fireworks- there is no limit as to the kinds of things you will see in a concert. The purpose of these things is to make the show unique, exciting and memorable. Bands often create and identity using these things. Where is the line drawn in worship? I think the answer to that question is very simple. As long as these things are used to glorify God to point the attention to God and to tell God’s story, they are OK. The pageantry displayed to honor the Lord is a sacrifice and the more we do it for Him, the more hard work and the effort accounts for a stronger worship for the participants. Again, it goes to back to the question of where the heart is. If the performers are doing anything to get glory for themselves then they have completely missed the whole point.