Why “Performance” is Okay in Worship

Recently I have read a couple of articles stating that worship music is “dying” because of an attitude of “performance.”  I would like to challenge that idea. 

I think what the authors of such articles are trying to say is that worship music loses its purpose when the focus is on human beings and not on our Lord and Savior, the only one who is deserving of our worship.  This is true.  However, this does not mean that worship leaders cannot create music and a service with excellence and even a degree of showmanship.  We must strive to maintain a correct focus, but in order to “avoid” this dreaded “performance” mentality, Christian musicians and worship leaders too often will oversimplify their melodies, their music, and their lyrics.  While there is nothing wrong with simplicity – in fact, it can be quite beautiful – I sense an imbalance and a lack of excellence.

In Romans 12:1, Paul urges his readers to offer their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.”  Why does he urge this?  Because, “this is your true and proper worship.”  The Greek word for “bodies” here is soma.  According to The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible by James Strong, this word, when translated, means “the body (as a sound whole), used in a very wide application, literal or figurative.”  I think that the following verse can help us come to a conclusion regarding what this usage of “bodies” means.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  ~Romans 12:2a (emphasis added).

From Paul’s subsequent, and grammatically connected, discussion of the mind, we can infer that the word “bodies” in verse one to include not only the physical body, but also the soul and spirit.  So when Paul says to offer our bodies, he means the whole of our being, our very essence, and everything that springs from it.  We should worship God with our actions, speech, and art; and our worship should be excellent.

In the Old Testament, God sets various requirements for sacrifice.  While we no longer operate under this covenant, many of the principles are the same.  One main requirement for sacrifice was that the animal needed to be spotless, blameless, and excellent among its kind.  If we are instructed to offer our lives and what we produce as sacrifices, they should be excellent and worthy of being a sacrifice.

See also in John 4 when Jesus is talking with a Samaritan woman: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth” (23-24).

Truth isn’t a concept; it is God himself (John 14:6).  God created all things, so his truth can be found in everything in the world.  This does not mean that God literally inhabits every physical thing that we see, as the false theology of pantheism states.  But because God is truth, he has imbued truth into all he has created.  Speech, song, service – all can be vessels of God’s truth.

If we want to worship God in the way that he desires, we have to abandon the notion that there is only one correct way to write our music, pen our lyrics, and produce our worship.  Because God’s truth is so expansive that it includes all styles of music and lyrics and production.  If we offer our whole selves in spirit and truth, we can be just as fruitful and worshipful with full stadium show with smoke and lights and loud speakers as three people and a guitar in a living room.

Now we must be careful that our hearts are correct and we’re not doing a performance for our own personal glory and acknowledgement.  However, this does not mean that fine music and performance should be excluded.  The worship leader and worshippers should prayerfully consider what is best for their personal situations.  Some congregations would stumble because of a high-tech show, advanced melodies, and highly educated lyrics.  This is not wrong.  There is no “worship panacea;” and every situation will be different.  But we as Christians need to widen our perspectives and make sure that our worship comes from our spirit, that it springs from truth, and is focused on glorifying God not our ego.

So performance can actually be good for worship music.  It can help the worshippers glorify God in a more truthful way by focusing on an excellence pleasing to God.  If we offer our very best – our “sound wholes” – to our Savior, we will begin to see a shift in our respective spiritual atmospheres.

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