Has church worship become a spectator sport? by Rev Stephen Brooks

Rev Stephen Brooks looks at the rise of worship teams in church services, and calls for a re-examination of the purpose and practise of worship in a congregational setting

This year, I have visited many churches of numerous denominations both large and small, and in many, the only voices I heard were those of the worship team, while the congregation stood spectating. In times past, there used to be congregational singing overflowing with harmonising voices from the pews, singing out with a passion that could be heard down the street.

Sadly, in an attempt to make the church service look more professional, the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event, where the audience (congregation) are quiet, and watch the spotlighted worship team deliver their well-rehearsed performance. More frequently than not, the songs are unfamiliar to the majority of the congregation, and the musicians’ volume is cranked up so high that the congregation can’t hear their own voices.

When we join together in one accord to worship the Lord, as the singers and musicians did in II Chronicles 5:13-14, I believe that the tangible presence of Almighty God will fill the church sanctuary, resulting in changed, transformed and renewed lives. Does our worship rejoice the heart of God, or are we concerned only with rejoicing our own hearts?

Worship leaders are of great importance in the worship experience of any church. They do not simply sing songs and choruses, but they help set the stage for celebration, contemplation and provide an atmosphere for worship in services.  Worship leaders worship God and draw others into worship, so it is imperative that they know God for themselves. If we do not know who God is, we cannot worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) or lead others to. Our worship should be a natural extension of the relationship that we have with God on our own and in corporate worship.

The worship ministry should comprise of people who believe that God inhabits the praises of His people through music and other expressions of worship.”

We must learn to discern the difference between talent and anointing, and place only those who are anointed and chosen, by God, in the influential position of worship leader. Musicians and worship leaders are especially subject to the desire for fame, which is a way that a musician’s talent is usually measured. Is this not the trap that satan, Heaven’s worship leader (Isaiah 14:12-15), fell into?

In contrast, in these days of self-absorption, self-promotion and self-interest, being a member of a choir offers a striking contrast to being a member of a worship team. Historically, being part of a choir is about being part of something larger than yourself. Within a choir, if one person stands out, something is wrong.

Those who sing represent the angels who stand around God’s throne, offering Him hymns of praise. Paul, writing to the Corinthians in his first letter, suggests that being a choir member is a sacred responsibility: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the mind also. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the mind also” (1 Corinthians 14:15).

From my own experiences, let me offer church leaders a few suggestions:

The worship ministry should comprise of people who believe that God inhabits the praises of His people through music and other expressions of worship. The offering of praise instrumentally and vocally should be focused vertically to the Lord, and not horizontally to the people.

To encourage congregational singing, and to make visitors more welcome, visitors should be invited to share the pew with those in regular attendance, instead of being left to wander around and finally settle on the back seat. When people sit close together, they do not feel like they are singing a solo, as people tend to become quieter and develop a sense of disengagement with the worship experience when they are sitting apart.

Take time to teach new songs to the congregation; a new hymn may be sung as a offertory song, which will allow the congregation to hear it before they are called upon to sing it. Don’t forget, they need to be sung again to become ‘regulars’.

In conclusion:

  • Don’t appoint anyone too soon to the worship team, until they have been willing to serve the church for a period of time
  • Watch for signs of wrong motives with those who seem to have a greater need to perform than to serve God
  • Have anointed worship leaders that disciple and mentor others; this keeps the church from being overly dependent on the same people
  • Get to know the individual members of the worship team. Worshiping should be a lifestyle to them, not a Sunday-only activity
  • Give the worship team plenty of feedback. It is always a temptation for a worship team to seek endorsement, and if they get it from you they will be less drawn to seek the wrong kind

Let us remain mindful that when a worship service is barely distinct from a pop concert, in terms of stage setup, lighting, volume, etc, we need to remember that, unlike a concert where we are the audience, in church God is the audience. It is one thing to move an audience with a performance, but being able to rejoice God’s heart is something else altogether. When we lose our focus on facilitating congregational singing and settle for congregational spectating, we have successfully missed the whole point of why worship teams and choirs were established in the first place.

Rev Stephen Brooks is National Development Manager for Excell 3 www.excell3.com

You can contact Rev Brooks at sbrookaui@yahoo.co.uk or phone 07940 237959

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