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A Reason to Be Suspicious of Worship Bands

Vicarious substitutionary worship.

I was at a worship concert with a friend who remarked that the leader up front was singing in such a beautiful and unattainable manner that my friend felt encouraged to sit back and enjoy the leader’s worship of God.

“Why do I need to worship? He’s worshiping for me, and he’s looking like he’s having quite a moment!”

My friend was saying that sarcastically, but fairly, to point out precisely what von Allmen here is illuminating. Sometimes we, as leaders, can get so caught up in either our own special “worship moment” or in the glory of the music or service structure that we fail to realize that we’ve left on a train that no one else is riding.

Sometimes, the worship band can either be so amazing or so loud (and I honestly believe, from experience, that these thresholds are context-specific and case-sensitive) that they become, in effect, the only ones worshiping in the room. The rest (the silent majority…the congregation) become passive receptors and spectators.

The irony, especially for modern evangelicals, is that in these moments, we end up looking more like medieval Roman Catholics than Protestants.

Suddenly, we’re dialed back a half a millennium to when Christians were trained that their sacrifice of praise was to sit and observe priests doing their priest-thing up front, elevating the host and chanting their indecipherable “hocus pocus.” Worship, then, was largely watching the priest “worship for me,” and we may be at a similar impasse now as we “observe” our worship bands do the doxological heavy-lifting.

Being question-askers and culture-shifters.

Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around well beyond the control of the worship leader—cultural influences, individuals’ sentiments, idolatries and constitutions—but nevertheless, worship leaders can and should ask the question of whether what we’re doing up front is helping or hindering the cause of active participation of the congregation.

Are our songs singable?

Is the melody clear?

Is our music descriptive and framing of the text?

Do our prayers, readings and transitions serve to encourage the “we-ness” of the moment, or are they merely our personal emoting to God before the people?

Each week, look out on the faces of the gathered faithful. Open your eyes a bit more often. What do you see?

Of course, it will never be perfect. You will always have with you the yawners, the disinterested and the downright “harrumphers.”

But, if you stick it out long enough with a local church, you’ve got the opportunity to observe and affect meta-trends and trajectories. You have the opportunity to influence not just strategies, but culture. And over time, if you’re sensitive, intentional, pastoral and persistent, you will see more participators per capita than a year ago.

What kind of worship culture will you influence? 

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Zac Hicks (M.Div., Denver Seminary) is Pastor of Worship at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He is contributing author to Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader (Nashville: B&H, 2013) and has recorded several albums. Zac blogs regularly at zachicks.com and liberate.org.