An Open Letter to Praise Bands

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Someone pointed me to this letter the other day, and the author (James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College) gave us permission to re-post it here. As someone who has been in hundreds of churches over the years, I resonate with much of what Smith says. I’ve wanted to write something similar before, but didn’t because I didn’t want it to be seen as some veiled critique of my own church—a church I love.

This is a touchy subject, and it’s easy to get opinionated without affording much grace toward the music leaders. I agreed to lead the songs one Sunday at our church a few years ago, and by the time I had chosen the songs, learned the songs, chosen the keys, prepared the slides, called the band, rehearsed with the band, soundchecked with the band, and played in the service I was exhausted. My week was shot. I learned two things: 1) music leaders at churches work harder than most people realize, and 2) never agree to lead songs at church again if you hope to get anything else done that week.

However, it doesn’t do to keep silent if something’s really detrimental to the spiritual nourishment of the church. I’ll just come right out and say that I happen to agree with all three of his main points. What do you think?

An Open Letter to Praise Bands, by James K. A. Smith

Dear Praise Band,

I so appreciate your willingness and desire to offer up your gifts to God in worship. I appreciate your devotion and celebrate your faithfulness–schlepping to church early, Sunday after Sunday, making time for practice mid-week, learning and writing new songs, and so much more. Like those skilled artists and artisans that God used to create the tabernacle (Exodus 36), you are willing to put your artistic gifts in service to God.

So please receive this little missive in the spirit it is meant: as an encouragement to reflect on the practice of “leading worship.” It seems to me that you are often simply co-opted into a practice without being encouraged to reflect on its rationale, its “reason why.” In other words, it seems to me that you are often recruited to “lead worship” without much opportunity to pause and reflect on the nature of “worship” and what it would mean to “lead.”

In particular, my concern is that we, the church, have unwittingly encouraged you to simply import musical practices into Christian worship that–while they might be appropriate elsewhere–are detrimental to congregational worship. More pointedly, using language I first employed in Desiring the Kingdom, I sometimes worry that we’ve unwittingly encouraged you to import certain forms of performance that are, in effect, “secular liturgies” and not just neutral “methods.” Without us realizing it, the dominant practices of performance train us to relate to music (and musicians) in a certain way: as something for our pleasure, as entertainment, as a largely passive experience. The function and goal of music in these “secular liturgies” is quite different from the function and goal of music in Christian worship.

So let me offer just a few brief axioms with the hope of encouraging new reflection on the practice of “leading worship”:

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship. Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship. In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship. I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity–even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

Please consider these points carefully and recognize what I am not saying. This isn’t just some plea for “traditional” worship and a critique of “contemporary” worship. Don’t mistake this as a defense of pipe organs and a critique of guitars and drums (or banjos and mandolins). My concern isn’t with style, but with form: What are we trying to do when we “lead worship?” If we are intentional about worship as a communal, congregational practice that brings us into a dialogical encounter with the living God–that worship is not merely expressive but also formative–then we can do that with cellos or steel guitars, pipe organs or African drums.

Much, much more could be said. But let me stop here, and please receive this as the encouragement it’s meant to be. I would love to see you continue to offer your artistic gifts in worship to God who is teaching us a new song.

Most sincerely,
Jamie

You can read more from the author at his blog. Many thanks to James for allowing us to re-post his letter.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


108 Comments

  1. jacob

    I had the great privilege of hearing him speak this weekend at the C3 conference in Nashville. I do agree with this letter and am thankful for his gracious critique. It is not about “style” but goes further into the larger “cultural liturgy” that the church has, in many ways, adopted.

    His book, Desiring the Kingdom, is a great one for artists, musicians and those in “ministry”. I sometimes think of him as the church’s Malcolm Gladwell. He turns things upside down a bit and, like Gladwell, is endlessly interesting when he speaks.

  2. Michael

    Thanks for posting this.

    I am a bit puzzled, however, by this line in your blog post:

    However, it doesn’t do to keep silent about something if it’s really detrimental to the spiritual nourishment of the church.

    Nourishing the church through singing is certainly detrimental. But is it detrimental to have all the instruments, singers, slides, etc. that so many “worship leaders” and “praise times” have in contemporary evangelical churches?

    Perhaps, in line with the spirit of Dr. Smith’s letter, “worship leaders” ought to really think through what is “detrimental” to worship – and cut the excess baggage for the spiritual nourishment of all.

  3. Susan Hawson

    Great points! Our job is to encourage the congregation to join in Worship to the King!
    Unfortunately, we have done everything but step into the congregation and move theirs mouths with our hands like a ventrilaquist…why don’t “Professionals” in a small community feel they can worship freely?!

    So, having taken all those points into consideration and action…
    1.) If the congregation chooses not to sing along, we can’t hear them, therefore THEY are not worshiping.

    “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

    ~Fighting a losing battle.

  4. Becka

    I agree as well, with both the understanding that members of praise bands most often work hard and genuinely desire to serve, and the realization that this model very rarely results in genuine worship. I’ve been the pianist who struggled through Sunday services completely exhausted, and I’ve been the congregant who stood silently, frustrated, through the performance of songs I didn’t know. Kathleen Norris summed it up well: “It is difficult not to confuse our worship with self-expression.”

  5. Jud

    Loved “Desiring The Kingdom”. But I feel like this letter, at least as written, takes too narrow a view of worship. If one could substitute “it’s not congregational worship through song” where he says “it’s not worship”, I could agree with him more strongly. He does clarify that in the “fine print”, but if one were to take his 3 points at the summary level, it could lead to misunderstanding.

  6. Jon Swerens

    This is a wonderful critique that touches with a pin the actual battleline in the so-called “worship wars.” I’ve seen truth and error on both sides of that debate, and this puts into words what some friend and I have been thinking about. Thanks for the post.

  7. Janna Barber

    I see what you’re getting at here, but I disagree with the claim that certain things are or are not worship. I think that’s going a little too far. I believe worship is also an attitude of my heart and I have experienced times of great worship, even when all of the things you pointed out were going on.

  8. Micah

    As a song leader at my church, I find myself nodding in agreement with this letter. One of my great struggles is trying to achieve a balance between singing to the Lord a new song and ensuring that it is edifying to the Body.

  9. Janna Barber

    I shouldn’t have said “you.” I should have said “the letter” I hope none of that sounded like I was trying to pick a fight. I’m not.

  10. Marcus Hong

    As someone who has helped to “lead” worship for almost twelve years now*, I really resonate with this open letter. However, I want to move beyond even helpful critique and toward creative measures. If this is what we should not be doing, what should we be doing? How can we reclaim a new “liturgy,” that is congregational in intent? Where do we go from here? I have thoughts. But I’d like to hear the thoughts of others.

    *Brief historical note for those interested in the background and context of my thoughts: I started leading worship in my medium-sized PC(USA) church in Salt Lake City, UT when I was 15. When I went to College, I was band director for our chapel worship service for four years. I went straight on to Seminary, where I’ve led worship at several different churches for the past five years. I’ve now been the High School Music Director at a large youth center (200 youth per week, a small congregation on its own) for about two years.

  11. Michele Womble

    I lead worship on a worship team (in Siberia) – and I TOTALLY agree with this. His letter is full of grace – and truth. In our situation, Edik – our lead male vocalist/lead guitar/soundman (we’re in Siberia, we have to mulit-task) does a wonderful job keeping the sound just right…not too loud…and we have always positioned ourselves off to the side – although I would say that that is in large part due to the fact that the four of us are introverts and somewhat shy (someone once told us that we’d play from behind a curtain if we could get away with it). However, we have always gotten good feedback about the fact that we are off to the side rather than in the center.

    I’m intrigued by the idea of playing from the back. If I can convince our elders to let us try that, I’ll write back next week with a “report” about how it went.

    Thank you to AP for pointing out that it is a lot of work to be a worship leader or part of a worship team – it really is. And a lot of times these folks have full time jobs as well (true of everyone on our worship team.) So, if you do work up the courage to ask them to turn the music down or do something else different – please do it with grace and appreciation

  12. Cory

    I’m a worship leader at a church that is Charismatic in its expression. I’ve found that there are certain elements of a rock concert that when added *tastefully* to a church service often help certain people to engage in a dialogue with the Lord that would have been lost on them in a traditional liturgical church service. (And that goes both ways.)

    That said, all three points are absolutely correct — the band is not the center of attention, the leader should always be sure the congregation is singing, and, at least at multiple points during the service, the congregation needs to be able to hear themselves sing. But I’ve been moved to worship and to tears thanks to a loud and raucous electric guitar solo!

  13. Tim Bourne

    Thanks so much for posting this, Andrew. Let me say first that, as a contemporary worship leader, I was so encouraged to see someone recognize how much work can go into doing what we do. I’m not a person who takes naps, but Sunday afternoon after lunch my brain just wants to completely shut down for an hour or so. There have been times where I have felt myself “pass out” on the couch.

    As far as Professor Smith’s letter goes, I agree almost completely. I so appreciate the tone with which he wrote. One area that goes right along with all of it is how worship leaders simply regurgitate the radio-friendly versions of popular worship songs (I know, that’s an entire blog unto itself). The main problem with this? The key. Much of the time these songs are keyed for tenors and sopranos, and many folks in our congregations are simply not able or trained to hit some of those notes. If someone stops singing because they can’t hit that high E or F and just stop singing, then I’d say that’s fairly detrimental to their worship. I will routinely transpose songs down to make them more accessible vocally. (Shout out to Paul Baloche who pays attention to this with his songs.) Take a look at your hymnal. A high D is pretty much the highest you see most hymns go, and usually they don’t stay there for long.

    I won’t say this is a correction, but I would add this to the idea of the band being the center of attention. Try and seek a balance. I’ll admit we have the occasional short guitar or organ solo. We don’t drag them out. We also try and have songs were we pull away from our mics and intentionally put the focus on the congregations voices. When we “take turns” with the congregation, I feel it’s like the four-part harmony of the great hymns, especially the ones where there are echoing parts (“and heaven and nature sing…”). In the end, we can try and look at the entire worship service and ask if it was a communal effort to praise the Most High God.

  14. Jess

    My family doesn’t usually go to church, but we visited a church a couple Sundays ago. It was tiny, maybe four rows of folding chairs and a third of the chairs were empty. But when we started worshipping, well, it felt like worshipping. There were two violinists, a drummer, a bassist, and a guitarist. None of them stood out. They blended together in the music that they poured their hearts into, and the congregation blended with them. Everyone sang and sang and sang, and it was the most joyful thing. There was one moment, when the music got louder and louder until it drowned our voices out, and I was lost in a complete and utter ocean of praise (and that would be my exception to point 1). THAT is what worshipping is meant to be. I think it’s all in the attitude, really. Some worship bands seem very self-concious and it makes me feel self-concious as well. The focus is taken away from the actual point of worship. And some just pour themselves out and all I can think of is God.

    Obviously this doesn’t just apply to worship bands. How would it be to be so unaware of myself in my life that the only thought I have is for God? “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37, I think.)

    Thanks for posting. 🙂

  15. Carl A.

    To the issue at hand – music in a formal church service – I have settled on the fact that my responsibility is to come, as part of the Body of Christ, to worship with an open heart. The mix of believers in any given church is so unique, some may be tentative about singing, and others may be “making a joyful noise,” emphasis on noise :-). My part is to be open to what the Lord is asking of my worship. He is delighting in the meager offering I bring and at the same time, desires more.

    Growing up, I worshipped through singing at a hymn-singing, traditional church, which I enjoyed very much. Yes, we could hear ourselves. Yes, we could sing along. Yes, the focus was not on the performance. Yet, nobody raised a hand. Nobody moved. There was almost too much quietness about it.

    Contrast that to now- my church is CCM-land, we can’t really hear ourselves, and we have to learn new songs more often. Yet, I find that I am freer to express myself. I even move my body a little bit (Gasp!). I find that I do enjoy the occasional instrumental jam, because I recognize that this person on the worship team is delighting in using their gifts for God’s glory.

    In both places, I believe I was earnest in my worship (most of the time).

    And finally, worshiping through song way redirects or thoughts and lives to the reality of who God is, so that we, to quote Richard of Chichester,
    “May know Thee more clearly,
    Love Thee more dearly,
    Follow Thee more nearly.”

    This topic also reminds me of Jason Gray’s song “Fade With Our Voices:”
    “After all the songs are sung
    And our prayers for kingdom come
    Did we bring honor to the words we sing?

    Does our worship have hands
    Does it have feet
    Does it stand up in the face of injustice
    Does our worship bow down
    Does it run deep
    Is it more than a song that fades with our voices
    Does it fade with our voices?”

  16. David Jacquet

    There is a thin line we must walk. Often a deciding factor in picking a church family is the worship. For good or bad, many will choose a fellowship not for the teaching, or the theology, but because the music meets our needs. Often this may encourgage someone who doesn’t see the point of attending to stay long enough to get some real spiritual food. And often drive others away from too loud, too long, too repetitious, too concert like, not hip enough, too hip. These are some really great tips to be a leader not a star.
    May I add that some advances in accoustical archetecture has led to a less live, less involving room that sucks voices away and I find myself not comfortable expressing myself as it feels like I am sticking out like a sore thumb, or can’t follow the vocal gymnastics of the leader.

  17. Michele Womble

    Jess – Your example is beautiful. I agree with your exception to point one. And totally agree with your second paragraph. Thanks for sharing it. I’d like to share it (your post) with our worship team.

  18. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for your comments, everybody. I wanted to respond to Michael’s comment. For the sake of clarity, I reworded my sentence in question to “…it doesn’t do to keep silent if something’s really detrimental to the spiritual nourishment of the church.” I’m not sure what’s puzzling about that thought, so if I’m missing something please let me know.

    You said, “Nourishing the church through singing is certainly detrimental. But is it detrimental to have all the instruments, singers, slides, etc. that so many ‘worship leaders’ and ‘praise times’ have in contemporary evangelical churches?”

    How is nourishing the church through singing detrimental? It seems to me that one of the many blessings of corporate worship in song is that it is spiritually nourishing—not just because of the saints in unity, or because of the experience of beauty (hopefully), but also because of the doctrine that’s being sung (which is a way of teaching), and the very act of expressing adoration to the Lord.

    My point with the original thought was that, because I’m fairly non-confrontational, I tend to avoid sticky subjects like this one in this forum. But after reading the good doctor’s letter I thought it might do some good to risk the controversy and share his thoughts, in the hope that some of his ideas might bring about some change in the paradigm of song leaders around the country.

    Hopefully this clears things up. Thanks for reading!

  19. Brad

    As a musicians and worship leader, I’ll say this is good stuff. Point number 1 is highly subjective though. I’ve been in some incredible worship services that were very loud and I’ve been in some horrible services that were just acoustic…and vice versa. The last two points just relate to making sure the set is congregational. So I would add that choosing congregational songs is also important. There are loads of songs that I love, that I might sing in my personal devotion time, but those songs don’t work well for congregational singing. It needs to be something everyone can sing fairly easily in time and together.

    I think it comes down to two things: 1. know your congregation, and 2. seek to serve them. Paul Baloche offers a great DVD on leading worship that we’ve used and highly recommend as they speak to the points above (www.leadworship.com).

    The last thing I would point out though is that often times the bad habits come about due to the requests of the congregation…what they think they want. Oftentimes there are congregations and congregants that want a rock concert vibe. There are passive congregations that want to be entertained. It takes a clear vision of what worshiping God through music is to avoid becoming a people pleasing worship leader as opposed to a God pleasing one.

  20. Samjoy

    I do appreciate this letter and the humility in which it was written. I also agree with much of it and have to admit to having many of those same thoughts at various times. At those moments my thoughts were probably not as kindly put as the Dr.’s, however. Marcus asked “where do we go from here”? I am not a worship leader. I am someone who feels blessed to have a worship leader who is very intentional in the direction in which he leads us towards the foot of God. We have loud music ( I can hear myself though), fancy lights, and guitar solos. What makes the difference is that our leader shares exactly where his heart is or what the song means. With just a few softly spoken words he directs our thoughts. I can be robotically singing along and then it is as if he knew my heart wasn’t in it and he says something. He is aware of the congregation and when we are done praising God through song we are open and raw, excited and willing to be changed and used by the message we are about to receive.

  21. Chris Whitler

    I also lead the music team in my congregation. I have a buddy that insists on calling that part of a Christian meeting “praise singing” because worship is much more than 5 songs on Sunday morning 🙂

    Anyhoo, I do agree with these points. We have tried to correct some of this cultural inheritance by…

    Being diligent to adjust sound levels for the room. Our building is old (built by the Methodists a generation ago) and we have just renovated it with a contemporary sound system. The room was made for an organ so it makes a good band mix difficult. But I regularly ask older people in the congregation if everything is ok for them sound wise. We try to keep the stage noise (monitors) down but frankly, two people on my team can’t hear too well because they are older…so it’s a bit of a delicate dance.

    I strive to choose simple, singable tunes. I do not enjoy songs that are not singable by a group (Ever heard a congregation sing “when he rolls up his sleeves he ain’t just puttin’ on the ritz”? It’s really funny). Congregational music has to have a clear melody and the musicians need to play and sing simply in order for a group to sing along. Also, I agree with another commenter on the subject of key. I am a strong tenor and get most of my power from singing a bit higher than the average bear. But the women in our congregation cannot sing with me and it forces the men to sing an octave lower. So, I adjust the keys for the group even when it is below my comfort zone.

    Our hall is long and narrow and the platform is at the end. But our band is all to the side of the stage, making our “words on the screen”, the cross at the front and the communion table and pulpit the middle.

    So, we try to keep these things in mind, understanding that the congregation is in the band. I’ve been asked why the worship team isn’t bigger and I tell them that it is, the worship team is the whole congregation.

    I was recently visiting a friends congregation while traveling and had a wonderful time with them. The whole group seemed so released to just go for it. There was dancing, jubilant singing, prayers, canvas available for art to be created and the children were just as engaged as the adults. I was definitely nourished by being with those siblings of ours.

    I have also attended a Native American church in New Orleans…no band, just a simple circle sharing of traditional expression, gracious welcome and interaction with scripture. It was deeply moving. One of the best worship services I’ve been to.

  22. Jon Slone

    I personally agree. Sometimes in writing a letter like this, there is almost no way to say this stuff and not sound harsh in the process. But here, I think it was done really effectively. Everything was said and said well and with leftover grace to boot.

  23. James Witmer

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on this topic (especially points 1 & 3) in his Life Together. He argues very strongly – too strongly in places for my liking (eg: he says even vocal harmonies should be eschewed, to ensure unity and prevent performance).

    But I believe I’m much healthier for wrestling with his insistence on singing together as an expression of Christ’s body, never allowing either passivity or prominence of an individual. It’s not a long book, and I highly recommend going a few rounds with it.

  24. Tim Bourne

    Carl – thanks for quoting Jason’s excellent song on worship. One of my favorite songs, (and singers and album, for that matter). Yet another reason I’m thankful for this community of artists and square pegs of which I’ve become a part.

  25. Mark

    If we are saying this about “worship music,” how much more can be said about the pastor’s monologue? I enjoyed reading this letter, but carrying it to its ultimate fruition, seems to mean that we redesign most of our “church buildings.” The very design of most of our church buildings promote a passive (listening) audience, in all aspects of the gathering including song, preaching, etc. Why should 90% of the body be passive in worship?

    While we are going down this path, it may even lead to us questioning the “church building” concept itself, and promoting a more organic form of church expression.

  26. Becca

    I’m chiming in to agree with Janna. I think the idea that a certain style is “not worship” is too confident and too extreme. Though a loud, concert-type environment does not kindle worship in the author’s own heart (or mine), it does not follow that such an atmosphere is not worshipful.

    What I think Professor Smith should have said instead is, “I (singular) do not worship well when X is happening, because X distracts me.” That is statement enough.

    One of the most insightful books I have read on this is subject is _Sacred Pathways_ by Gary Thomas. Thomas discusses how different personality types are wired differently for worship.

    Some of us (i.e. Wendell Berry) are prone to worship while fishing with the Lord on the Kentucky River. Some of us are are inclined to worship in quiet rooms and stillness. Some of us worship through activity. Some worship via academic study. Some through service. Thomas explains the tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses of different personalities in his discussion of this subject. I didn’t agree with every sentence in the book, yet it opened my eyes to much I had never considered.

    Part of the reason I wasn’t seeing clearly before was my tendency to gravitate toward people wired like myself, for such community affirms my particular bent. We huddle and form the First Congregation of People with an Affinity for Pickled Beets; for God made the beets, and we are quite sure He likes them. Beets certainly evoke praise in all of us here! Right? (Here, here!) Ring after ring of pretty purple wonders! A slice of baked liver would never wake a matin in our hearts, but a spunky spring beet is half a hymn in itself. All rise.

    I try to keep it hush-hush, but my husband isn’t beet-inclined. He prays over his hot biscuits instead — just bows his head and thanks God from the bottom of his heart. Perhaps in time, he will learn. 🙂

  27. Peter B

    Jess: “How would it be to be so unaware of myself in my life that the only thought I have is for God?”

    I long to find out.

    Our church was planted about ten years ago (we still meet in a theater) and very early on, our pastor made sure we musicians understood that “leading worship” is not identical to or contained within the practice of “leading music”. We read through portions of Christ and Architecture — a worthwhile read if you can find it — and came to a few of the conclusions that were made here.

    For those who have “praise bands” or the like at your church, I’ve been wondering something and would love to hear your thoughts. It seems like there is a great potential for emotional manipulation of the congregation during the musical portion of worship. Do you consciously avoid this, and if so, what sorts of rules do you follow? Is this even a valid question?

    Even more relevant, though is this essential inquiry: will this be a Hutchmoot topic?

  28. Jenn H

    Great thoughts! I feel like we’ve been going round and round about this with our own worship team lately: At what point do we cross the line between leading worship and performing? For many of us, our background is rooted deeply in performance venues. It can be a tough (but absolutely necessary) adjustment to make. Thanks so much for sharing this article — he articulates so well the things I’ve had in my heart for a while. Now I can pass all this great encouragement/critique on to our worship pastor without it coming from MY mouth. 😉 Blessings!

  29. Loren Warnemuende

    Yes,yes, and yes to all three points for me, but it’s been good to read through the comments and realize again that my feelings do reflect my personality and certain ways I perceive how we can best live Christ together.

    My church has undergone some huge upheavals in the past few years and music is only one of the hot points. Unfortunately, though, it is often viewed as the root of the issue because it is an area everyone can see and hear. I am thankful for the perspective of our worship leader who recently took the reigns who stated, “We aren’t in a worship war, we’re in a spiritual battle.” Satan’s goal is to rip us apart and do anything he can so that we are not living the body of Christ with all of its incredible diversity; and if he can do it through fights over how we come together in song, why not?

    So, yes, our heart’s state is key when we come into any congregational singing. I know that’s true with my head. But honestly it’s so much easier for me to focus on Christ when I am surrounded by a blend of many voices, singing words heavy with meaning, in tunes easily managed. I don’t ask for much, do I? 🙂

  30. Chris

    Peter B – as one of the leaders of a “praise band” here in these comments, I thought I’d respond to your question of emotional manipulation. Of course, this has to be something we are sensitive to in all of life and not just a congregational meeting. A friendship, a sermon, a work relationship or family interaction…truly, all of our interactions can have an element of emotional manipulation and we must strive to keep clean of this sneaky, backdoor monster.

    That said, music is emotional. Our emotions were meant to be engaged in singing and playing. Music makes us feel. This is one of music’s great gifts to us. I trust that our congregation’s emotions are engaged when we sing together because that’s what it’s for. Robots don’t sing very well. When I look out and see Susan, hands and face lifted high in song and I can see the cares of her life falling away, something happens in me emotionally and I connect all the more with God and my sister.

    The trick is to not force or plan for this to happen. We try to just pick appropriate songs to sing together and we endeavor to play and sing them skillfully and simply and let the congregation be where they are within a particular meeting. Some days, the congregation really goes for it – we leave space for spontaneous singing and prayers of thanks and there are days when this goes on for a while because everybody’s really connecting. Some Sundays, everybody is tired and down and just kind of like a brick wall. Most Sundays, it’s a mix of all kinds of different places.

    I have been tempted and yea, have succumbed to the temptation from time to time to try to goad the congregation into what I would deem a fitting way to be responding. This never goes well. My goal is to play the best I can, allow time for the group to connect to God (mind, emotions and body) and leave the rest to the community and their honest response to God’s Spirit among us.

    Again, a delicate dance but one that can be done with grace, free from manipulation and full of emotions, thoughts, prayers, observations, movement and fitting declarations.

    A good question and a good quest.

  31. Nathan Bubna

    There’s a big, flawed assumption here. Worship does not require participation in the art. The artisans building the tabernacle did not invite everyone to pick up a hammer and a loom and work alongside them. They employed their art to create beauty that drew the mind of the worship of the Creator.

    The author is right that the way things are typically done in modern churches invites passivity and occasionally draws more attention to the artists than the Artist. But as great as congregational singing is for church worship, and as much as it is something diminished by amplifiers and “concert” liturgy, it is a mistake to conflate it with worship.

    All kinds of art and artists lead people into worship without creating space for them to participate in the art, from a cathedral to a short story. I have been led into worship–as have whole groups simultaneously–by a great concert designed to draw my eyes heavenward, to Him and His, even if i knew not a word aforehand, even when there were no words. Bach has never invited me to participate, yet often invites me to worship. And even there, without participation, i can feel oneness with the body of believers around me. And just the same, i have been a part of congregational, participational worship and felt little connection to those with me, nor with Christ.

    If anything, i will insist on this. Worship should never be defined by the appearance the worshipers nor their level of participation in the art. Participation and appearance may make reasonable measures of worship, as do all responses in the worshipers, but as they can be deceiving, they cannot be used as defining.

    I would say that participation leads into worship well. No worship leader should avoid or forget that. I love congregational singing and find it very inspiring, unifying and worshipful. I love the moments when an amplified band goes quite, and we can all hear each other. I would like more of that, and maybe this letter can encourage that. I also share most of his irritations with artists grabbing attention or making an old favorite song very hard to follow. But i cannot agree with the bold print in the first two items.

    I don’t need to hear myself or the people around me for a song to be worship. I don’t need to sing along for music to set my heart and eyes upon the source of all beauty and truth. Those points are simply not true, and he undercuts his complaints and encouragements by them.

  32. Tim Bourne

    To echo Peter B. – I think this would be an interesting Hutchmoot topic. I know that the Rabbit Room doesn’t usually delve into this area, but we might expand it to cover the arts and creativity in worship. I’d definitely attend that session.

  33. Brad

    I’d like to respond to some of the questions and comments about performing and emotional manipulation. I realize my views on this might be somewhat unconventional and easily misunderstood, but I’ll do my best to explain. My take is that leading worship is a performance and we use musical training quite often to manipulate the crowd’s emotions and that we should do this. Now, before you respond please read on.

    Just like pastors and preachers, worship leaders DO manipulate the emotions of those listening. One of the main characteristics of music is how it affects our emotions. I think that to get up on stage with the goal of not manipulating the emotions of the crowd is a bit silly (and somewhat hypocritical). The question is: what is your motivation in manipulating the crowd’s emotions and where are you taking them? In the end, who do you want to receive the glory? These things are essential and need to be settled.

    However, it is a performance. We should perform to please God and we should be leading (best we can) the emotions of the congregation into a place that makes it easier for them to enter into a worshipful mindset. Otherwise, why are we using music in the first place? Just a thought.

  34. Janna Barber

    I love you, Becca! Thanks for saying what I was trying to, and in a much funnier way. (By the way, I’m with Bobby — hot biscuits over beets any day! Especially with chocolate gravy!)

    On another note, can anyone help me remember the quote I’m thinking of, from St. Francis, or someone else like him, which says something about how kitchen duty is just as much an act of worship as singing hymns. This discussion made me think of that, but I couldn’t find it this morning.

  35. Bernie Rolfe

    It seems interesting to me that Jesus’ prayer to His Heavenly Father “that they all may be one, that the world may believe” comes into this discussion somehow. As someone who’s “lead” worship for more than 40 years and one who’s convinced that the practice time is just as enjoyable and full of worship as a well-attended Sunday service, we could be missing the main point. Are the words, sounds, volumes, instruments and attitudes “practiced” at rehearsal less meaningful than those with other voices at the “service”? I don’t think so, and have enjoyed at least as much worship during practice as other times. Jesus’ kingdom (designed to make us one), as opposed to the world’s system (that seeks to set us us at odds with one another) is one of the main benefits of the Abundant life He noted in John 10:10 and continually expounded until his Prayer in John 17. And so, while I agree that the “worship band” should not have the appearance of a Talent show (good or bad) and that the music should be done in such a manner not to distract from the sense of worship, I cannot deny that a good humble leadist playing at the right time with skill and loudly, accompanied with shouts of “Glory to God” from the band and “audience” is as much worship as the monotone in the audience at large who can’t carry a tune but is in fact making the best joyful noise he/she can – as humbly appropriate – as long as the sense of worship is the greater sense unifying the process –

  36. Peter B

    Thank you to those who have responded to my question thus far (and to Tim, for validating my position 😀 )

    On another note — which seems more pervasive here — it seems that there is some blurring of the lines between corporate worship and individual worship. Mr. (Dr.?) Smith appears to be addressing the former, whereas many of the arguments here are being offered regarding the latter. Are the two subject to the same rules and constraints? Is it possible for corporate worship to be as far-flung and diverse as individual worship?

    Sorry if I left a bunch of worms all over the floor. I have this nice empty can here if anyone wants it.

  37. Becca

    Janna, I’ve never had the option of choosing the “type” of worship I wanted. My heart is reflective and liturgical; yet, God made me a pastor’s wife in a Methodist church, then in a Bible Church setting for years and years. I don’t have the luxury of attending where my personality “fits” best.

    One of the things I’ve learned through this is that worship has far more to with my attitude than it does my surroundings. If I go in as a consumer, demanding that the service fits me, I miss a great deal. If I go in with a heart adoring Jesus, He makes pathways through every desert.

    Imagine a husband, demanding that his wife dress a certain way, cook a certain way, clean a certain way before he offers his love. That is one way of relationship, and some men live according to that method. He can also step into his home choosing to adore his wife, regardless of her alignment with his preferences. Worship (as long as it is not anti-Biblical) is much the same, I think.

  38. Becca

    P.S. If that last comment sounded condescending, I apologize. It wasn’t intended to be so.

    A number of years ago, I was sitting in a service that transitioned from a high-church pipe organ Bach piece to a guy in a big black robe playing “Pass It On” on the acoustic guitar. I’m talking consecutive songs in a set. I’m not sure if there was a, “Jesus, You Rock My Face Off!” song that week or not.

    I sat there banging my head on the pew in the back row, praying, “I can’t do this anymore, Jesus. I quit. I can’t worship here. I’m running away to Gethsemane. Monks have better robes, anyway.”

    He didn’t let me quit. Instead, He showed me I could worship there after all.

    So, I write all this admitting that I have felt almost all of these frustrations before, too. This is just where the journey has gone for me. ‘So sorry if I expressed that poorly.

  39. Janna Barber

    Peter B., In answer to your question, I say: What is corporate worship, other than a bunch of individuals who are worshipping, together? The fact that it ever happens at all is indeed a miracle, and it makes me think of AP’s song “Mohawks on the Scaffold” and the line “cooking s’mores in the burning bush.”

    Becca, I shared a little of my worship history in this article for the Curator last fall:
    http://www.curatormagazine.com/janna-barber/with-eyes-closed/

    And even though I like biscuits over beets, there’s still room in my heart for your style as well — though I’ve never been part of a body that does both. Too bad.

  40. Janet

    “Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God” by Bob Kauflin was very helpful to me as a church musician. It helped clarify my own thinking about worship and its purpose. The book doesn’t just focus on worship leaders and church music but presents a theology of worship that would benefit all believers. As I read, I was encouraged by the author’s love for God’s word and his pastoral heart. I especially appreciated the many chapters of practical guidance for worship leaders, musicians, and pastors. Perhaps this book may be helpful to others who resonate with some of the points raised in the open letter.

  41. Ashley Elizabeth

    As a former Southern Baptist now Catholic who wishes all things were in Latin, I’m in an interesting place in this discussion. The one thing I miss from my former days is the choir. The 500 voice corporate sound can usher me quickly into worship. Imagine my surprise when the Lord made me a part of my Catholic church’s folk group. 4 people every Sunday night, attempting to lead a congregation not at all interested in singing some John Foley, SJ and a little Rich Mullins for good measure.

    For those faiths that celebrate it, the source and summit of the time together should be Communion. Everything I do as a singer/artist/worship leader should usher that time in or usher the people out with it. If I, or my words, or the songs are the focus, then the congregation has lost sight of the true focus: Christ is present with us, coming to dwell in us. Alas, my need for rules wishes there were a rubric for the exact amount of time that is good or bad, but then it wouldn’t be my nor the congregation’s good and holy gift of sacrifice.

    I do take issue with the letter in one part, and the American church in the other: corporate participation is not necessary to worship. Nathan B said it much better than I can attempt on a Monday afternoon. The chants and sounds and smells of my faith really allow me to focus on the source and summit, and not my own sound, on my own person. As one who has given up music for Lent, I’ve learned the sound, even the good and holy ones, can be fillers in place of the spirit.

  42. Jon Slone

    Hey Becca, I have a house on the Kentucky River next to High Bridge.

    Also, I have an aunt who is married to a Methodist Preacher and her name is Rebecca. She’s in Clarksville TN I think.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, “You’re not my aunt are you?”

  43. Michael

    Well, what I’m hearing from people is there is a fine line to balance. Here’s how to avoid that fine line:

    Ditch the musical instruments and “worship leaders” because they are not necessary for true worship and join the historic-orthodox opinion of not using musical instruments in church. Yes?

  44. Lydia

    Haha, that part about not leading singing at church is not very true at my church. In this little tiny town in northeastern Wisconsin our church has about 20 members, there is a piano an organ and a projector(which we rarely use). We sing about 5 or 6 songs and that is it, no one needs to rehearse at all. My mom plays piano and she practices for about an hour once to make sure she still knows the songs and she is good, the organist doesn’t even practice(she doesn’t even know what the songs are until she gets to church Sunday morning).

    p.s. I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to come lead songs at my church!! I would be sure to meet you!! lol 😉

  45. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I think an even easier solution is just to get rid of the people in church. People always end up causing problems. Get rid of people, and where do the problems go? Poof. They’re gone. No people, no problems. No more doubts, no more questions, no more dealing with how people think or feel. Everything is suddenly very simple.

    Michael: Bach. Without church music, with instruments, there may have been no J.S. Bach, or at the very least much of what he wrote would not exist.

    Lots of good points in the post and in the comments. I’ll be back later when I have more time to comment.

  46. Becca

    Ron: According to these standards, I don’t think many Bach pieces would be qualify for appropriate church worship music anyway:

    1.) When counterpoint is running here and there, baroque melodies often get so loud and complex, we can’t hear ourselves singing along. Likewise, people around us get confused, and we can’t hear them singing either. That diminishes the participatory and communal nature of worship.

    2.) Sometimes there aren’t words in Bach. This also inhibits our singing along. When the organist goes into long riffs that she might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, focused on her agility instead of our part in helping make the song.

    3.) If we can see the organist sitting on the organ bench, rapidly pushing keys and pedals, her making of music becomes our focus. If she is a virtuoso, her virtuosity gives rise to our passivity and her creativity simply encourages our silence. Not to mention if there are flashy, shiny pipes for the organ. In such a setting – even with the best of intentions–it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the organist the focus of our attention. 😉

  47. Katherine Kamin

    This was an interesting read, and the experience described in it resonates with my own. However, as the wife of a worship director for several years, I would point out that worship style has far more to do with the directives of the elders and senior pastors than the choices that the worship leader his/herself is allowed to make. Worship leaders take the criticisms (and occasionally compliments), but it often feels more like you’re a puppet of the congregation than the one pulling the strings. I believe the issues run far, far deeper and wider than the individual wielding the guitar or piano or baton.

  48. Matthew

    Nathan,

    I’m curious… where would you turn in Scripture to substantiate your assertion that one need not participate in order to worship?

    To be sure, there are different ways of participating. I participate in the element of preaching by listening, weighing, and obeying. I participate in prayer by agreeing audibly or inaudibly, depending on what’s being asked of me.

    But how would I participate in God’s call for His people to sing praises to him? Shouldn’t I sing? Could be antiphonal (you, then me), but still “me.” If I listen to a choir, I’m moved, but I’m not worshipping in the more narrow sense of ascribing praise/worth in the context of the gathered people of God – by definition a corporate assembly.

  49. Matthew

    Becca,

    Many things can be worshipful and yet wholly inappropriate (for obvious reasons, it would seem) to the covenant-renewal service on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people.

    An example: Recently, I’ve planted myself in a chair on my back porch and spend frigid evenings staring up at the stars and hear “the heavens declaring the glory of God” knowing that the night, quite literally, is “pouring forth knowledge” and pray that I have ears to hear and eyes to see.

    Yet, this would seem odd as a part of a worship service, right? How would we do it?

  50. Kelly

    I agree with so much of this. As a music pastor, I cannot begin to express how much I desire to hold high the importance of congregational involvement in my church’s services.

    I do have one small qualm with this letter. It involves this statement: “And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence.”

    I don’t know if he means all forms of instrumental music or just the improvisational sort (or maybe just the obviously self-absorbed, superfluous sort in which I would not apply the next statement). Either way, I believe that an entire congregation beholding the beauty of an instrumental piece or a well placed instrumental stanza can be quite worshipful for a congregation, not to mention wholly congregational in nature. I would love to hear his thoughts on this. I’m open to correction.

  51. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I agree with much of the letter in the main. However, as others have said, saying, “It’s not worship” is over the top.

    There are so many issues within this one subject of worship music. There are many ways to worship. I have stood during worship songs and prayed silent worship to God in my heart. I have sat down and read my Bible during the entire worship service. I’ve lifted my hands in worship, and left them at my side. I have sung loudly; I’ve sung quietly; I’ve been choked by tears too much to sing.

    Which of these is “true” worship?

    The thing at the heart of worship is the man or woman making a decision to either focus the entire being on God, or let it be fragmented on a variety of things, including God, or even to completely ignore God and his existence in favor of all the sensory input. I can say I have had experiences in each category.

    As a musician it is sometimes hard in some churches to maintain a worshipping attitude during the music. We grow up learning an instrument, studying songs, studying singing, etc. In other words, we learn to develop a critical ear. “This is good, that is not as good, this other thing is bad.” We develop a sense of musical aesthetics, based on what we love. Many hymns move me powerfully. Singing a chorus fifteen times does not.

    The problem is it’s possible to mistake this sense of musical aesthetics for spiritual superiority.

    I have sometimes in churches had issues with the particular genre or style of the music, and with the quality of the lyrics, or the chord structures. This is a valid point for me to think about, and discuss with others – but not when I am being given an opportunity to worship. In having these thoughts during worship, feeling hindered, I look around and think, “Look, Ron. Many of these people are experiencing and manifesting actual worship of the Lord God Almighty, regardless of your dearly-held sense of musical aesthetics.” So to a certain extent I have realized that the problem is, at that moment, in me. And so I go on to whatever manifestation of worship I am able at the time.

    This is where it gets muddy. There is in fact a real need for study on the part of musicians who are Christians, to do our homework, to analyze what makes a great song, a great hymn. There are too many songs out there which are a collection of cliches strung together, too many bland melodies and vapid chord progressions. We’re to value music and God himself more than that. All of this is true.

    But when it comes down to it, a guy in a church in Honduras singing his heart out honestly to God, out of tune, using a guitar with five dead strings and one broken, thrills the heart of God. Lewis said something to the effect that we must realize all our offerings to God are like the offerings of a child to a father, valued chiefly for their intention.

    So, like so many other areas, I find a paradox in the heart of musical worship. It involves the intent of the individual listener/participant, and also intent in the heart of the musician or singer or songwriter. A member of the congregation can make use of the framework of a bad song to lift very real praise to God, and God takes that every bit as much as a great song. Conversely, a great song can fall flat if we are thinking about eating pizza for lunch.

    On emotional manipulation –
    Whether it is mere musical manipulation depends on the intent. Are we intent upon making beautiful, moving music? or are we trying to get the proper crowd response? A lift in volume at the right time, and the lyric, “I will lift my hands in worship” or “Raise my voice” will often cause “the Spirit to move.” Maybe sometimes it is the Spirit moving. Maybe sometimes it is merely feeling the pounding bass and the excitement of the high volume; the same thing happens at rock concerts. As a musician it is not that hard to get the audience to react; play something that looks hard, and get louder.

    More thoughts:
    I think we often equate “joy” with volume. Some of my most joyful, deep moments are when the music is very quiet, or everyone is singing softly a cappella.

    I agree that congregational participation in the sense of having to sing along, is not always necessary. We can worship listening to Bach. We participate when we enter the worship zone and truly praise God from the heart. Worship can be silent at times. We don’t have to play along. Worship is a heart attitude, coming from a spiritual choice, which will manifest itself in the soul as various feelings, and in the body – tears, chills, goosebumps, raised hands, kneeling, or sometimes just as a sense of quietness and rest. Worship is the response of a person who is really hearing, at a root level, who God is, what he has accomplished for us through Jesus, and who he is within us by the Holy Spirit. Worship is a response to inner revelation. That inner revelation is not contingent upon all aspects of our circumstances being “just so,” just as the expressing of Christ’s virtue through us does not have to be situation-dependent.

  52. Scott Orvis

    I’d like to offer a perspective from someone who’s been in missions for 30 years and worshipped with hundreds from countless nations and cultures. Some of what the author says appears to me to be coming from someone from a different culture having a problem with how someone from another culture worships. The youth culture in much of the western world is a specific culture (no different than any other culture) and they like loud and intense. However, having worshipped with them, I haven’t found their compare in their passion for Jesus sometimes expressed very loudly and amidst loud and intense music. I wonder if the author is older or just has a problem with loud noise and, therefore, can’t hear himself. Being raised with rock n roll, I have no problem with it myself (I’m 55). I think most of us who worship in loudness do hear ourselves, but that isn’t really the point. Worship is coming from the heart and only God would know if it was true worship whether it was silent or loud. Even in a “concert” situation, it’s easy to worship for me as I either listen to what’s being sung and am impacted by it or, if I already know the words, I can sing along with all my heart.

    The last point about the band being the center of attention is true but only God would know. I think it is a good exhortation to any worship band to be careful of.

    In conclusion, I would suggest that instead of being tempted to judge how a particular expression of the body of Christ worships, just find one that YOU feel comfortable to worship with Amen?

  53. Becca

    Matthew, I’m not sure how long that Bach comment of mine will even stay here. I wrote it playfully, then I had second thoughts and wrote RR privately and asked for it to be deleted. I was afraid the tone would seem biting, when really I was just light-heartedly nudging.

    My answer, in brief, is that of course many activities are not fitting for a corporate service. However, that is not what the original article addressed. The original article declared certain styles of praise music “not worship.” That is, I believe, too big of a leap.

    I’ve read the article three or four times now, and I agree with Smith’s underlying suggestion. There can be a performance tenor to modern worship services that often stokes consumerism. As a result, some of us feel distanced. I am also prone to distraction in those settings.

    Yet, there is a significant difference between saying, (1) “This method is distracting to me. I think sometimes this method distracts others,” and saying, (2) “This method is not worship.” The only way this statement can be fair is if you specifically narrow the parameters of “worship” to a technical, ecclesiastical definition. My guess is that that was Professor Smith’s intent, and I keep reading this piece over, trying to see it in that light. However, I believe that in quelling a few dangers, he has awakened others.

    Ron’s comment was amazing, BTW.

  54. PaulH

    I have always felt the worship team should be off to the side and turned facing front , or (shock) in the back balcony – behind the congregation. It would take the “rockstar” off the team and help the worshiper focus.

  55. Alex Hagerman

    While much of what the doctor says I can understand, if not agree with, and while I do not feel I have much to ad that hasn’t been said in the comments already about the article I do have one thing, and I hope it doesn’t come off as biting.

    How many open letters will there be on church music/praise team/worship leadership in the coming months. I read my first open letter on this topic back around October or November of last year and since I have read at least 6-8 other letters. While some raise new points many are repetitious in content and thus the question becomes what are we doing to take these from letters to change? Recently the Resurgence website posted an article defining heresy because the term is flippantly tossed around about anything our personal theology doesn’t agree with and the article sought to educate so that this would end and only true heresy would be called heresy. In much the same way let’s quit writing such a vast amount of open letters on the blogsphere and sit down with our leaders, teams, etc. and discuss these things, see what we should change, and then write a letter about the change and how the Spirit has moved through that to encourage others to see what needs to be done in their context.

  56. Chris

    I think there are several tensions within the parameters of worship that will always be there, and we’ll always have to struggle with, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been involved in or leading worship for nearly 15 years, and I still haven’t figured these out:

    1. Worship is to God (the word literally means “to give worth”) BUT worship is given by the people of God, and is for their edification. So there’s a tension between worshiping in a ways that glorifies God and also involves the particular congregation in that.

    2. Giving God our best should draw from our deepest artistic resources as leaders BUT we are often faced with the challenge of leading congregations that are not musically trained. So there’s a tension between excellence and lay participation.

    I don’t think there are easy or straight answers to these issues, and we have to wrestle with them as best we can in the midst of our own congregations.

  57. Tim Bourne

    What an amazing discussion. I have been blessed by this entire thread of discussion, all the way back to the original post.

    Ron, your post resonated especially. You wrote about “a guy in a church in Honduras singing his heart out honestly to God, out of tune, using a guitar with five dead strings and one broken, thrills the heart of God.” My mind instantly jumped back one month. I was on a mission trip helping lead worship in a rural, mountainside church near Saint-Marc, Haiti. The floor was broken up concrete (we would pour the slab days later), wood and metal benches sitting unevenly and there were chickens walking up and down the aisles. Talk about distracting. They had a keyboard player who would tinker with his “Casio-style” drum beats during songs, even while changing keys seemingly after each verse. (It took quite the effort to relax my mind and ears to this.) Yet I have never seen people truly worship as our Haitian friends.

    I am beginning to think that we are blurring the line between worship and music. I think Professor Smith’s letter is really more of a request for MUSICAL worship leaders on how they lead the musical portion of worship. That’s not to say his suggestions are wrong, just that the use of the word “worship” may be misplaced. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster wrote in his chapter on worship: “Worship is the human response to the divine initiative.” That’s pretty darn basic. This means that our congregational prayers and liturgical readings are worship. This means the act of giving our tithes and offerings are worship. This means that when we walk out the doors, Foster writes that we complete our act of worship by practicing “holy obedience.” (He actually goes so far as to say that if we aren’t propelled into greater obedience, it hasn’t been worship.) Jason Gray’s “Fade with Our Voices” comes to mind once again.

    The more and more I read here, the more I hope this might be a discussion at this year’s Hutchmoot.

  58. Lydia

    Tim,
    I totally agree about Jason Gray’s “Fade With Our Voices”!! That is one of my favorites of his.

  59. Jud

    A few further thoughts:

    1. Oftentimes the problem with congregants not hearing each other sing is simply because they’re not singing loud enough, either due to timidity, embarrassment, pride, or other reasons. I vividly remember being at a Dave Matthews concert that was easily in the 110-115dB range at my seat (yes, I measured it, my nerd card is available upon request), yet it was very easy to hear everyone singing along. Why? Because they were singing enthusiastically and without inhibition! (the alcohol might have had something to do with that, but let’s not go there) I’ll even go so far as to say if the volume hadn’t been as loud, the singing would have been less enthusiastic. So I don’t believe that congregational enthusiasm is necessarily inversely proportional to volume, because I’ve seen plenty of examples of it being otherwise.

    2. Concerning the ability of a congregation to sing along, I think the issue is just as much a congregation’s unwillingness to try as it is song complexity. Going back to the DMB concert, many of his tunes are vocally challenging, but the crowd still sang along easily. Why? Because they’ve listened to those songs over and over in the car, in their iPods, etc. They invested time in getting familiar with them. So yes, part of being a worship leader is picking songs that are singable, but part of being a congregant is trusting the worship leader enough to say “he chose this song for a reason, and clearly sees it as valuable for corporate worship, so the least I can do is do my best to learn it”

  60. Stephen Clark

    Way too many comments to read them all. This post may end up with more comments than the Harry Potter post last year.

    Thanks Andrew for putting aside your non-confrontationalism and offering up someone else’s well thought out piece out a very important theme. Congregational worship aside, my wife and kids and I are very excited about once again enjoying the concert experience you will provide in less than 3 weeks here in Charlotte.

  61. Mike Brown

    My 10 year old son asked me Sunday why we had to put so much time into practicing, In his words, why do y’all have to be so perfect? I had no answer. I know I’m tired most weeks and I know that Jesus said he preferred mercy over sacrifice, so I am really struggling with the whole thing right now. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and I still struggle with the performance aspect of the whole thing; what are we wearing, where are we supposed to stand, young musicians getting raked over the coals for missing the note, facial expressions. Maybe its time to walk, but I’ve always thought if you weren’t part of the solution, you were part of he pollution. I really believe however as some have alluded to that it all has to do with the individual. People decide what entertains them, do we also decide what moves us to worship? Are we being led by the praise band or are we being led by the Spirit?

  62. Jerome

    Well, I’ve read all the posts up through Mike’s and it’s obviously a big subject with no easy, pat answers. And what I’m thinking at the moment is that worship leaders need to do their prayerful best. And the congregation needs to do the same. “Bear with one another” in Christian community.

  63. Renee

    My husband is the praise and worship leader at our church. I often see his struggle to help people to engage in meaningful, heartfelt worship through music. It is not an easy endeavor. He is constantly weighing his choice of songs. Will the fact that it is a new song be a distraction? Or sometimes He wonders whether familiararity is a hindrance. The old adage that familiararity breeds contempt. Was the piano too loud this week, or the supporting vocalist, singing his version of harmony, drawing people away from singing in unison, and causing confusion, the timing was off, etc. etc… The imperfections are endless.

    I mostly agree with all three points in ‘the letter’, but I would have to say that my observation has been a bit more complex than the concert, almost idol like worship, atmosphere that is so popular these days in our church settings. Through my own experience I realize that it really does not matter what the method or mode of worship is if I do not enter those doors ready to worship God. Is our worship in song an expression of the lives we are already living? I know from my own experience that if I come to church on Sunday morning empty, nothing to give, because I haven’t been to the well all week, my experience in the praise and worship part of our meeting is nothing compared to coming in the midst of a life well lived. So, while we may need to change how we lead the congregation, it is really not the total responsibility of the worship team. I have a very large part to play in my experience.

    As a part of being my brother’s keeper and submitting one to another, I wonder if my lack of preparation creates not only a hindrance to me, but am I responsible to the worship leader? He puts a lot of time, prayer, effort and thought into each week. I know the disappointment my husband goes through when it seems like ‘no one was singing.’

    One more comment, criticism because things aren’t perfect takes the life out of your praise and worship leader. Be careful, it is a weekly battle to try to make everyone happy.

    Glory to God.

  64. Canaan Bound

    I completely agree with all points made in the good Professor’s letter.

    The only thing that confused me was the line, “And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate.” I’m not sure why I would need worship to be modeled. I consider worship to be the regenerate heart’s outpouring of thanks and adoration toward the Maker and Redeemer of all things. Therefore, worship is a natural response, not the blind replication of man-made archetypes.

    This video, put out by the Gospel Coalition some months ago, addresses some of the same points as the letter, though not as eloquently, I dare say.

    Andrew Peterson, I wonder if Michael (of comment #2) mistook the word “detrimental” to mean “essential”. That would make sense of his puzzlement and dissention.

  65. Kari Richmond

    I am so grateful for the thought and energy that has gone into this discussion! There is much to consider and discuss with our worship leaders, and I’m looking forward to checking out the recommended books. I have to say also that Becca has inspired me with her church of Pickled Beets, and I just know there’s a way to work a lofty new “Spunky Spring Beets” praise chorus — or perhaps “Pretty Purple Wonders” — into one of the old chestnuts. I’ll let you all know when I get it worked out. Really though, thanks, everyone!

  66. Tim Joyner

    I also had the pleasure of hearing Jamie Smith speak this last weekend at the C3 conference. His talk at the conference overlapped a bit with this letter. What he has to say definitely resonates with me. I love the idea that it is not enough for the Church to drop christian ideas into secular liturgies – that it’s our responsibility and privilege to communicate the truth and beauty of the gospels through creative means that point to Christ. Ironically, right before his talk at the conference, I was thinking about point number one from his letter. The organ accompanying the hymn we were singing was drowning out all of the voices around me and I really missed the sounds of collective worship. I think the truths of this letter speak less to any specific style of worship and more to keeping the focus of worship on the important things regardless of guitars or choirs, organs or drums.

  67. Michael

    Forgive my grammar mistake that changed the whole tone of my first response! I did not mean “detrimental.” I did mean “essential” as Bound for Canaan indicated.

    Please note that I am not opposed to music. I am actually an avid music fan – and I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson for about seven years now. But my questions:

    Where do we get a biblical precedence for the type of “worship” done in most evangelical churches today? Certainly the Psalms indicate singing with instruments – but it would be unfair to say that the Psalms by these words mean what we mean when we speak of singing with instruments, yes?

    The Scriptures are clear on organizing and arranging the ministries of men in the church – where do we get the idea that the church needs a “worship pastor” that is a distinct vocation (office?) from that of a pastor, elder, or deacon? And the command/suggestion that his life be dedicated to organizing slides, leading a choir, doing sound checks, etc. for organized worship?

    All this is in the spirit of the original open letter – and I’m asking for a little help in this area.

    Any thoughts?

    Warmly

  68. Dustin

    First, I didn’t agree almost at all with the Doctor’s letter. I’ve played in an assortment of different worship bands in churches over the years. We’ve done everything from “screamo” or “hardcore” songs to Andrew Peterson songs and everything in between. And every time we sang, we worshiped Jesus.
    He said he wasn’t picking on style, but method. My problem is he was picking on style. Loudness comes in form of the style. There are some, like AP, whom could play their songs quietly or loudly depending on the volume. However, some styles require more loudness. They just do. The church I go to does things really loud. Ear plugs are offered every week. And you know what? You look around and you can just see people pouring out their hearts to God– even if you can’t hear them.
    Second, he says if people can’t sing along, it’s not worship. How else are we to expand to creatively worship God? The Creator wants us to create. That means creating new songs that you may not know until we sing them a lot. Or, as he refers to, doing new renditions of old favorites. This is happening a lot in churches. For me, it’s amazing. I’m not a fan of hymns in their original form. They just don’t move me. I don’t get them. Ascend the Hill recently released an album called Hymns: Take the World, but Give Me Jesus… I get them now.
    The third point I could almost agree with, except that I think we’ve trained ourselves to expect the worship bands to be up front just as much as we expect the preacher to be in the pulpit. On that thought, should the preacher preach from the back? If our attention is on him, is it not on the Bible?
    While I appreciate the honesty of the Doctor’s letter, I do not appreciate the complaint without resolve. Scripture tells us to “rebuke, correct, and encourage– with great patience and understanding” (2 Tim. 4:2) but here I see a lot of rebuking, some encouraging, but no correction or understanding. He gives no way, except on the third point, how to correct the things he believes are “wrong” with our corporate worship.
    And on that thought, what is corporate worship? Just Sunday mornings? I’m sorry to use you a lot, Andrew but you’re my favorite writer and everyone knows you on this site, so is an Andrew Peterson concert not worship? You listen to his songs and hear nothing but worship for Jesus. Should his concerts not be loud? Should the BTLOG tour not have all the instruments but rather just Andrew with a guitar?
    No. It is as many have said already here. Worship is a matter of your heart. Jesus gives you a new heart and a new mind and a new strength. So you have new desires to worship as you have not worshiped anything before — for everything else was idolatry — and you have a new mind to understand better what Jesus wants of you. That is, everything. So if you have an acoustic, a mandolin, an electric guitar turned up to 11, and you’re giving Jesus everything you’re in the right mind. If you’re out in the congregation and you can’t hear yourself, but you know you’re singing at the top of your lungs to give glory to your Maker, you are of the right mind. And if you have the strength to sometimes say, “you know what, I just don’t know where the line is but we’re going to praise Jesus in our controversy” then you are of the right mind.

  69. Boyd

    Most Sunday’s I lead worship in song in a small Anglican expat church in Casablanca. Just me and the guitar and a multicultural congregation of a 100 or so. Godfrey Birtill once said that the congregation is a part of the worship band. So we are all in it together…

    Just as my mind was about to collapse with the weight of formulating thoughts in response to the article and comments, along came Ron Block to articulate many of them for me. Thanks for putting in the time Ron.

    Two extra thoughts. One, while open letters to ‘praise band(s)’ can be good for stimulating discussion and educating in terms of a theology of worship,I think the ‘how’ needs to be quite local. The local church needs to wrestle with this in a more personal way as to how they as a body worship and what they understand worship in song to be as a congregation, because its in that context that it leaves the blogasphere and becomes real and life affecting.

    Secondly I’m intrigued by the fact that Andrew doesn’t lead the congregation in worship in song very often. If I recall Andrew Osenga has also commented along similar lines. So I was wondering from their perspective how they see the role of musicians in the church (particularly local for them) and if there are district roles for musicians in church. I have often worshiped in song along to their music but their articles make me wonder if they see a distinction when it comes to having people sing along as a congregation. What are the responsibilities, if there are any, of musicians/singers as a part of the local body?

  70. Nathanael

    Obviously, this struck a chord (pun fully intended). I don’t have time to read all of the comments, so if someone else said that, my apologies.

    Again, not reading all of the comments, so I may be reiterating what some have already said. But I must disagree with the first two points in their definitive tone of what is a cultural and subjective topic.

    1. Increased volume does not negate congregational worship. It just doesn’t. In fact, in some of the loudest moments, I have raised my own voice to a level I would not if the music were softer. And I was able to worship my God in an uninhibited fashion. Granted, I do enjoy softer, acoustic songs. And I do enjoy hearing those around me sing praises to our King.

    2. These moments of music solos or variations of a familiar tone may silence my voice. But this allows me to meditate and pray, rather than sing. Just because I’m not singing does not mean I am not worshipping. In fact, there have been times during a bridge of a song when the keyboard or guitar has a solo, that I have literally fallen face-down in worship, melting into tears as the words I just sang actually took time to sink in.

    Just my $.02.
    Shalom

  71. Nathanael

    Okay, so I just did what I should have done before typing.
    I read all of the comments. What a great discussion.

    Thanks, Andrew, for getting the ball rolling.

  72. Pam Mattox

    This imparts wisdom and I totally agree with your insight and guidance. My comment is that Praise Bands are frequently the receiver of critism, but church choirs get a “pass”. What about an “Open Letter to Church Choirs”? I have heard many choirs that would do well to read your letter. I’m afraid we are guilty of overlooking their tendency to distract from worship because they sing Hymms and are considered more traditional, yet they often have the same distractable behaviors that you attribute to praise bands.

  73. larissa

    i also read all of the comments and i agree w/ the last one, so nathanael thank you for adding your two cents anyway 🙂
    the two places where i feel i worship God the most (with my voice) are in my car, singing along to a worship song, and at my church, where the songs are loud enough that i can sing as loud as I want to, and since i pretty much can sing OK i think, hopefully not distract anyone else from their singing, or not singing.
    i also think that churches shouldn’t feel they need to take everyone’s personal ‘singing or not singing’ or what each person does or doesn’t do on Sunday morning at such face value. i know several people who rarely sing loudly along w/ the music, yet have other ways they worship on their own.
    i would think a valuable thing for worship leaders and pastors to do, would be to address this up front, because maybe the people who don’t worship best in this environment are missing out, or maybe they aren’t. obviously the original poster is, so that makes me feel a bit sad for him.

  74. AustinP

    Worship is a response to revelation. God reveals Himself and we respond. (Isaiah 6)

    It is also a great joy to worship! Oh how we have missed this! To quote John Piper, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.” It gives the believer great delight to praise His God. We are not bound by duty, or by culture, or by training, but delight! When it is our joy to praise Him, then He is most glorified and shown as excellent! A lot of the problem is that there is nothing about our services that are set apart. We come straight in and plop down waiting for something to happen or for the routine to start. We must not let humor go too far. It has its place but it does not suffice to make disciples. We must not use too many illustrations. Let them be the seasoning to the meat of the Word Of God. Not the meat themselves. In all things we must look and seek and put forth in song or in sermon, the revelation of Christ and then, respond.

  75. amber

    As a classically trained musician and writer who also plays in the *praise band* at church I have struggled when the songs seemed too repetitive or lyrically mundane.

    But a few years ago I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis that basically called worship true worship when you can worship in the style you like the least.

    That hit me in the heart. I needed to repent! So many times what “I like” does not help someone else worship. Yes, I love the Bach violin solo on Good Friday or the occasional John Rutter choir tune, but in reality most congregations could take a pass on those.

    This discussion does have a place in the arts, but only from a place of humble gratitude for the freedom to assemble to worship. I read David’s Psalms about longing to be with the people of God again when he was exiled. Do we long to be with God’s people? Do we long to show support for the hard work of those in leadership – all leadership, to make their burden lighter?

    God is teaching me to long to be with his people, the ones who sing off-tune, the ones who come late so they don’t have to sing, and the ones who worship when they hear the Rutter and Bach they dislike.

  76. Gael C

    I like the distinction made between a worship time and a show. Maybe the problem comes with the mixture of the two. As a worship leader and a concert performer, I do both, but not at the same time and not in the same place. I tend to consider them as separate things.

    – When I am performing a concert, I use all the cultural codes of a show. People come to consume a show and meet a band, they clap hands in recognition for a performance they liked, they may request an additional song at the end, and the band salutes. In a concert I sing songs about my own experience with God, it’s a testimony, much like when Paul was telling his story to people around. People may sing along if they know the song and if they relate to it, but that’s not the main goal of it. These songs tell about God in my life, they don’t talk to God. I don’t consider this as liturgy.

    – When I am leading worship, I’m a servant, I’m here to help people focus on their relationship with God. I am a facilitator, I’m taking care of all the technical stuff so that people don’t have their minds busy with what to sing, when to start, etc. If I do my job well, people will forget about me and have a personal and collective intimate time with God. The songs lyrics are all prayers addressed to God or telling about him. In this case the main “musician” is the congregation. In this place the band has only a supportive role.

    For me the 3 points developped by J. K. A. Smith belong to the concert habits and that’s why they don’t belong to the worship time. I consider them as two different ways of serving people, I am fully christian in both approaches, but considering them as having to be separate helps me a lot to chose what I should or should not do in a worship time.

  77. Greg G

    I agree somewhat. Maybe just listening to a CD or mp3 may be better for some? All lights on, where everyone is looking very uncomfortable and feeling uncomfortable having everyone hear each other sing? No focus on anyone maybe? Maybe the same with a Pastor? He can be hiding in the back where he is way out of focus? Just saying. (not really)

    Trying to reach people who have not experienced the love of Christ is very difficult. Using “secular” methods can often help, especially with the youth. Helping them to connect on a “secular” level in a Church is a great way to let them hear the word of God. I understand it’s not for everyone. That’s why there are hundreds of Churches on almost on every block (at least in America) to choose from. Find one that suits you personally and spiritually.

    We have to change somewhat as a Church to reach people like that. I understand it’s a fine line. You can’t please everyone all the time.

  78. B.J. Demonbreun

    Great discussion!

    I love worshiping God…individually and with an assembly of believers. I yearn for singing praises to Him with fellow believers – drawing close to Him and each other as a body. There have been times, though, that I have been grieved in my spirit as church leaders have allowed an atmosphere conducive to bringing glory to individuals, creating a “super star” performer. In our “American Idol” culture, we learn to strike the poses, have the camera-man run up and down the length of the “stage” shooting live feed of our superstar-ness. Our CDs can be purchased in the foyer..and if you’re lucky, you can even get our signature.

    Gifted believers with great hearts for the Lord…and because of the way that they are showcased in an assembly (a responsibility of the church leaders to oversee), they can actually absorb some of the glory intended for God alone. Something they would have NEVER intended to do! Church leaders need to love worship leaders enough to watch out for them – to make decisions about the assembly’s worship setting that don’t encourage the body to rush to “adore” and idolize the “performers”… not even a little, bitty bit! Keep it purely about the adoration of the Lord alone!

  79. Allison

    I’m way late to this thread, but…

    Does this mean we get to hear Marva Dawn at Hutchmoot? ‘Cause that would be awesome.

    She has written two books on worship that immediately sprang to mind when I read this open letter: “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down” and “A ‘Royal’ Waste of Time” both of which have been formative in helping us answer the “Why?” questions.

    What I think the Professor said very well in this letter was to point out that too many churches do not have a theology of corporate worship, which I see as something distinct from say, worship in our everyday life, being sub-creators, private time in the Word, in prayer, etc. The picture of corporate worship in the Bible is the very act of doing a particular set of things together, in LOVE. Praying, giving, singing, eating…in corporate worship the focus of these is on God, done together. Otherwise why meet together at all?

    We could get very spiritual and say that in everything we worship God, which is true in a sense if we are in Christ, but that’s not what he seems to be talking about here, especially when he clarified in his PS “How we worship shapes us, and how we worship collectively is an important way of learning to be the body of Christ.” The most important point here is that our PRACTICE (what we do) has purpose and meaning and teaches us about what it means to be the Body. And that is ever so true in corporate worship. How we treat other believers reflects on Christ.

    And that’s where this letter struck a chord with me — because I have been to all sorts of different churches whose music has come in different forms, from the piano/organ type, to praise bands with drum kits, to loud, rollicking gospel choirs, to a single guy with a guitar, or an orchestra. And maybe I didn’t like some of the songs sung at those churches, for different reasons, but I still sang them. Marva Dawn in one of her books talks about it being loving when you can sing through a song that you don’t like so that someone else can worship (maybe similar to that CS Lewis quote someone mentioned.)

    I completely agree — worship should not just be “what I like all the time.” In fact, the church we attend now isn’t my favorite worship “style,” but we worship God there because Christ is being praised explicitly. And we love the people in our local church body and can tolerate our not-so favorite songs because we hear the “Amens” from those sitting near us in the pews. Even still, we are always trying to reassess our beliefs about worship, making sure they are being acted out on our practice (which is the important part) and teaching them to the congregation.

    There was a commenter here who said his church passes out earplugs (you know, so those who want to can enjoy the extra decibels), but I think that misses the point of corporate worship. That’s not being considerate. The point of leading people into singing together is because there is an object to our singing and it is not just for our personal enjoyment. It is not just so we can be comfortable together. Corporate worship does not mean being in the same room with headphones on listening to different renditions of a hymn on our ipods — it’s about singing the same songs together, loving your neighbor, appreciating the off-key singer in the row behind us. It’s about being involved in a group and doing things together, week in and week out. Marva Dawn (yes, here I go again) says that every type of church has a “liturgy” whether they realize it or not. And I think that is part of Dr. Smith’s point — that what we do together shapes who we are. And perhaps attending a worship service where you need earplugs is a little like living in an apartment next door to your soul mate yet never bothering to meet them.

  80. Allan

    I enjoy pipe organ and guitar, though Amber’s (very valid!) point above makes me want to ask what my enjoyment has to do with any of it.

    I just discovered this site today, and would like to thank all who have participated in this discussion. This is the first discussion of this subject that I have seen that was carried out in such a consistently decent manner without devolving into something far removed from thoughts of worship.

    Thank you all.

  81. Aaron

    Andrew,
    Thanks for sharing this letter. It seems we often flounder between defending dogma and tradition with a zealous lack of reflection and accepting anything new under the sun with that same zealous lack of reflection. Both are problematic and unhealthy and the gracious tone of this letter is a refreshing and important step toward the kind of truthful assessment that will allow the church to be all that it is called to be.

    Many blessings,

    Aaron

  82. Josh Kemper

    I’m a worship leader at a fairly large church in Houston. (“a” not “the”, I guess in both cases). I agree with both of the later points, especially the second point, and keep them in mind every time I’m on stage. The second point is something we can deal with by improving our song choice and arrangements. There are parts of the third point that only real church leadership has any control of. Such as how front and center the band will be.
    The first point, however, I feel is a matter of cultural preference, or preference in worship singing style. I don’t know how to write this well, but we young people just like to sing loud (and that probably depends on which young people you’re talking about). Some people feel the need to sing passionately and some people prefer to sing more reverently, or solemnly. I’m sure there’s a more fitting word there. If the music is so loud that you can’t hear each-other sing passionately, then it’s too loud. But if it’s so quiet that if you did sing passionately, you would stand out and seem like you’re trying to be a star in the crowd, people who don’t want to be a “star” simply aren’t able to worship passionately. But “we young people” don’t only want to be able to sing loud; dynamics are important. The best songs in my mind don’t start loud, because your soul doesn’t jump straight into passion so quickly. The loud, passionate part needs to be appropriately built up to, not just musically but lyrically. Whatever it is that you’re singing so passionately, be it the worthiness of God, or His great love, generally needs to be reached at the right time. I’m not a songwriter (just a wannabe), so I could be off-base here. I don’t think singing loud has any more merit than singing solemnly or visa-verse, but in any church the worship leader has to consider the worship singing preferences of the congregation. I don’t think on earth one way is better than the other, and I’m sure the worship in heaven will include a wide range of dynamics, many of which we don’t use in any church.

  83. Lanny

    Our Senior Pastor Died and finally our church Hired a young minster who had his own Church and merged with our mega church we had two services One tradional and One Contempory ever things was fine A soon as he was installled he fired the Prasied band fired Paid soloist Since his own Prasie band is used in worship the Pipe organ is silent now be he started a worship war and the church split .
    No more bach Widor Handel or sacred Music
    In my Opinion the Senior Minister and the Music director must be like minds and be hired at the same time and have a trial period .
    The organ is fantastic for worship Weddings etc
    The Worhip wars have to end .

  84. lori chaffer

    So, I pretty much disagree with most of this letter, for too many reasons to get into, not the least of which is that it’s a very mono-cultured (maybe older, white?) simplistic 20th century way of viewing worship (and imho, pretty fuddy duddy). If we were to follow its “rules”, we would have to say goodbye to black gospel music, anything charismatic, Bach, anything written by a young Christian etc…and then just dumb it way on down to repetitive kum ba yah songs.

    Seems to me, we as a church should change the way we view worship, instead of changing the worship leaders.

  85. Peter B

    Hi Lori,

    I may be reading the letter wrong, but which of the three points say anything at all about musical style? The emphasis seems to be on the way worship is conducted, rather than the particular type of music employed.

  86. Susan Marie

    First allow me to say that Worship and Praise are not always expressed in the same way. The letter was written to praise bands. Let us look at the issue of PRAISE BANDS first. Well, we all praise differently, do we not? Lets use a worldly example to show how we are different: One person may say, “Wow. That looks awesome on you!” with a loud voice or a tone with much expression. Yet, another would express the same idea by saying, “By the way, that scarf is lovely,” using a quiet and intimate tone. Both people feel the same way, however their personality dictates how their feelings are expressed. It is the same with our praise to the Lord of All Creation, Christ Jesus. This is a given, is that right?
    I like to differentiate praise and worship sometimes. Not always, however I do feel there is a subtle difference which is worthy of at least mentioning. So with this said, let us make this comparison or contrast here. Both praise and worship are expressed through speech, body language, singing, musical instruments. Praise, however, has a broader definition than worship, due to the variety of personalities involved. Personalities can be seen in it and heard in it. The contrast is lovely. Why praise another persons way? It is fake if you do.( Yet, praise should not interrupt others or invade their personal space.) Praise is telling and showing God AND OTHERS how great He is. It is enjoying the ability to enter the throne room of the Lord with confidence and excitement and joy. We sing and speak to Abba. The Lord wants to be involved in all the things of our lives. Praise can be about anything the Lord has done or is doing or will do for us.
    The purpose of worship, however, is to place our ourselves in perspective to Our Holy Lord. He is our King, our Teacher our Provider, our Creator, The Lover of Our Souls, the One True God. There are countless names for Our Glorious and Mighty God. He is the All in All. Worship is for acknowledgment of His Greatness and our dependence upon Him. It is to Glorify Him for all that HE IS. It is to intimately express love and adoration to Him…..DIRECTLY TO HIM, as opposed to singing or speaking about Him. The song “Our God is an Awesome God” is praise. The song “Lord We Love You” is a worship song. There is still individual expression in worship, however not as much, because God is the same now as he was in the past and as He ever will be. He is the I Am. I believe a good praise band should balance praise and worship. A few loud songs…ok. But incorporate quiet, intimate worship also. And yes, since this praise and worship time is for the Body of Christ, then let the Body be heard. It is not a performance. The bands are important to set the tone and lift up the voices of God’s children. But, let the instruments not drown out the children. when the music is so loud that singing cannot be heard, most people do not feel motivated to sing.The Lord is enthroned upon our praise. Without the voices of the children, the music is just noise to the ears of God. (In comparison to His heavenly choirs.) It is about THE MESSAGE. The music inspires US. We need that. The words lift up THE LORD. Sorry to be so long winded, but I have always felt that both praise and worship need to be expressed and there is that subtle difference. Without both, there is incompleteness in the experience. This is probably why there is controversy.
    With worship and praise rising up to Him,
    Susan

  87. nate

    “Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body.”

    I hear this argument used often in critiquing loud worship, and I have no problem with it. But is this definition of worship derived from the Bible? If it is, I’d love to know. So far no one has been able to point me to Scripture on this one and I haven’t found it in my own study.

    Thanks.

  88. Andrew Kangas

    I appreciate the tender approach the article takes in making its claims.

    Unfortunately, the claims are untrue. Truth brings freedom, and we should strive to arrive at it in every medium.

    CLAIM 1:
    1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.

    So a deaf congregation can not worship. It may be singing, but God will not view it as worship?
    Or, picture a person going to a Hillsong United concert, where they amplify the sound beyond 100db, and the person is so moved they start singing, albeit not actually hearing themselves, at the top of their lungs “Lord I give you my heart!”

    This, either, is not worship according to the author. And this is not true. If someone confesses Christ as their God, whether they can hear it or not, it is an act of worship.

    The author is stating something quite preferential as fact.

    CLAIM 2:
    2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.

    The church is made up of many body parts. It is a disastrous mistake to force eyes to be feet. That’s why you see all through the OT God selecting specific people for specific tasks. I.E. the priesthood, the skilled craftsmen to build the temple, kings, temple musicians, etc.

    It would have been a mistake for Joshua to say, “If we can’t all blow horns then we’re not marching around Jericho!”

    There are people who can’t sing. There are people who are exceptionally skilled at singing. God gave them that gift. The church should be the first place that recognizes it and showcases their ability to glorify the King. God has done this time and time again. We are like God when we do likewise.

    Just because you or I cannot sing along with Jeremy Riddle does not mean what he is doing is not worship. It doesn’t mean my feeble attempt to hum along is not worship either. He’s a great singer. God made him that way. The church should not put the song in a lower key, diminishing his ability, so we can sing along.

    Its not about you.
    It is not about me.
    It is not about Jeremy Riddle. 🙂
    It’s about glorifying God.

    CLAIM 3:
    3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

    Totally agree. We should use this statement across the board in all of our church organizations. Such as:

    If you, the theologian, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.
    If you, the lead pastor, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.
    If you, the announcement guy, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.
    If you, the pastor’s wife, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.
    If you, the youth director, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

    If you, are the center of attention by demanding songs are sung in your vocal range, and played so quietly you can hear yourself sing, it isn’t worship either.

  89. Tim Bourne

    Andrew Kangas – You’ve written some interesting things in reply to this fun old post. I don’t have time to reply to all of your responses, but one stood out to me. You wrote:

    “Just because you or I cannot sing along with Jeremy Riddle does not mean what he is doing is not worship. It doesn’t mean my feeble attempt to hum along is not worship either. He’s a great singer. God made him that way. The church should not put the song in a lower key, diminishing his ability, so we can sing along.”

    I’ve been leading worship for almost 24 years and this has always been an important issue for me. An important distinction must be made first. If the song that Jeremy (or any singer) is singing is an anthem meant for the congregation to listen and experience God’s glory through the music and words, then I totally agree with you. If the song is meant for the congregation to join in but is in a key that is well above average singers, then I would argue he’s being a poor worship leader. Maybe if the effort is there and everyone’s heart is in it, then worship is still occurring, but I think leaders are called to do better than that. It’s not hard to bump they key down a couple of steps and maintain the energy of the song while making it more comfortable for everyone to sing. I’ve done it MANY times and with great success.

    The original article is not simply talking about what worship is or isn’t. It’s about LEADING worship and how we can give our best artistically and spiritually, while removing what barriers we can to the congregation joining us there.

  90. Andrew Kangas

    Tim,

    I believe God has made a lot of room for us to creatively worship Him. There are probably endless possibilities. The great thing about it is that He can see our hearts and motives. In the end, we will all be judged accordingly.

    I can agree with you that as a worship leader it can be a poor decision to pick out a song in a key a small percentage of people can sing in. But before you or I can come to this conclusion though, there is an agreement that having people singing along is the goal. If we agree on that goal, it would naturally be a mistake to have “Blessed Assurance” in a Soprano’s range. I wonder how assured everyone would be.

    That goal is a subjective goal though. It is not prescribed anywhere in the text. Paul tells us to sing songs of praise on more than one occasion. And we should! But there is not conclusive Biblical instructions that we should sing songs together in generally acceptable keys so everyone can sing along. Let alone, we should do this every Sunday morning, and have a worship leader lead us.

    In modern America, what most churches are doing on Sunday morning is so far from a Biblical mandate, it is incredibly subjective as to what a worship leader’s goal is in leading songs. I’m not saying what churches are doing, in some level, isn’t inspired from the Bible (i.e. fellowship together, 2 or more in Jesus name, ). It’s just when you start bringing any kind of structure to it, say as simply as saying “Lets meet at 10am!” You start veering into the subjective areas God leaves up to us. (I love that God gives us so much freedom in how we can worship. It’s actually a beautiful thing.)

    When I say subjective, I mean to say, they could have a wide assortment of ends/goals they are trying to achieve and all could please God. Having people hear themselves could be one. Having everyone sing could be one. Some more examples of perfectly fine goals for a modern worship leader:
    – move people emotionally with music
    – indirectly encourage scripture memorization by singing scripture songs
    – have people gain a new appreciation of music; God’s creation

    My contention with this article is that it tries to take very subjective ideas, musical preferences, and put them in a place of authority. They are very bold claims, and they shouldn’t be. The last claim is ironic in that it claims if you make yourself the center of attention, it isn’t worship, where as the first two claims do just that: make the author the center of attention by forcing people to conform to his standards, which aren’t standards, but mere preferences. (So is he really worshiping? 🙂

    I think it totally reasonable to go find a church that conforms to your preferences. It is unreasonable to apply those preferences on God’s church when He Himself has given it so much freedom of expression.

  91. Rick Painter

    I think this article is well intentioned and makes some valid points, but based on my 40 plus years of worship and pastoral leadership, it only got close to the real issue. My question that I hope you can help with is “how do we teach people to truly worship?” We disciple them to pray, study scripture, witness, manage their money, find their spiritual gift, etc. etc. etc., but I have found most people have an understanding of worship that is more about their traditions or about their emotions than about the current experience of their relationship with Jesus. When I step up to the pulpit to preach, I can see some who have worshiped and are ready to hear from God and others who have gone through the motions and participated, but their minds are still on something else.
    Traditional – Most hymns are great, but are often done with little real relationship to the words. (i.e. “We’re Marching to Zion” sung at a foot dragging pace., “I have decided to follow Jesus” done like a funeral dirge.) Almost without fail, when we ask for “favorite hymns” we get self-centered dribble like “In the Garden” (“the joy we share. . no other has ever known”?) or “Morning has Broken”. In other words, they sing out of habit often with their minds disengaged from the message. That isn’t worship. Bach can be just as ineffective and performance driven as Newsboys.
    Contemporary – Sometimes draws musicians that simply want to play music. (Have dealt with this many times). Sometimes the lyrics may be fun, but not based on any identifiable spiritual truth. Sometimes worship leaders use the same extensions and riffs as when the song is done in a concert setting. Sometimes it is age affected. Younger people will sing at the top of their lungs, fully engaged with a loud band, but older adults don’t.
    Biblical issues:
    1. We are commanded to sing new songs. Sticking with the old can create the automatic singing.
    2. Paul used three parts or types of songs “songs, hymns, and spiritual songs” in his letters
    3. Worship is not a form, but is to be “in spirit” (attitude) and “in truth” (aware and thinking)
    4. Using the Psalms and Colossians as a basis, not all worship is focused on God, but is sometimes focused on others in corporate relationship.
    5. Music must be varied in style, tempo, volume, and speed to engage the full range of experiences and emotions in our relationship with God. When we get excited, our natural response is to talk faster, louder and higher. When we are comforted, quiet calm and measures. When we are repentant, slow, deliberate. reflective. Psalms shows the range from meditative to the full band blowout of Ps 150.
    6. Music facilitates memory both of spiritual truth and of God’s presence. When a song gets “stuck in our heads” it can transforms our minds (Ro 12:2). That means effective worship has both a depth for theology, but also a “stick in your head”.

    My problem is “HOW DO WE TEACH PEOPLE TO WORSHIP?” How do we help them learn to pay attention to the words? How do we get them to engage not just their voices, but their minds and their emotions? (you shall Love the Lord your God with ALL …) How do we teach them to participate when they are embarrassed to sing? How can we constantly teach them to “sing a new song” if they have trouble learning them?

    I am hoping people on this forum can help!

  92. Steven Harris

    Thank you for this article. Great perspective, and timely for the church. Here is my 2 cents worth.

    God has taught me worship plasticity. I am a pastor, and have had the privilege of leading 6 churches over a 25 year period. Each church had its own take in its approach to the type and style of worship it practiced. Some were traditional, using hymnals and a piano, while some were modern, with the words projected on the screen and full bands. A few were blended, bringing both styles to bear in the “worship” encounter. Some gave serious and focused energy on the preparation and delivery, while others were non-chalant, and worship was nothing more than a second-thought. In some of those churches, the focus was on worship, while the Word of God was secondary, while in others, worship was complimentary to the Word of God, because IT was the priority.

    In all of these styles of worship, I have learned that worship is a personal and intimate encounter with God, alongside and with other believers. While the words of a hymn or song might be used by the Spirit to say one thing to a person, they invariably will be used to say something different to another, and the response to it as different as the people responding. The truth is, we might have a certain goal regarding worship, but in the end, it will be received and responded to in ways we could not possibly expect.

    There are churches who have million dollar budgets that spend lavishly on worship, while some churches are just glad to have a warm body willing to stand before a group of people and get through it. There are churches where nearly everyone knows and sings the songs, while there are others who haven’t a clue as to what or why they are hearing or singing something in particular.

    We in the modern church perceive worship as an event or encounter, usually with songs or music that precedes a sermon from the Word of God. Perception is reality, so the first challenge is to get worship into perspective. What is worship as described in the Bible? What was its purpose during the days of the tabernacle, temple, and especially the early church, as found documented in God’s Word? How did it compare to other activities that were practiced? What time and resources were given to such an event as compared to other activities, and what was the overall outcome?

    I believe when we seek out God’s Word for the answers to these questions, we will quickly learn that worship, as we perceive it, and the biblical perspective are two very different ideas. I could spend a great deal of time comparing and contrasting, but I found a web link that has a great viewpoint. Check it out here: http://www.xenos.org/classes/um2-2.htm I am neither associated with the church that posted the information, nor do I agree with all of their beliefs. However, I do think they approached the topic of worship in a spiritually healthy and biblical way.

    I could tell you my worship preference, and explain why, but this isn’t about what I want or prefer. However, this, to me, is a large part of the problem. The focus should be on what edifies the church, and glorifies God, and is solely grounded in biblical teaching… not on what I prefer. In many ways, the church has become a “made to order” environment, designed to draw the most people possible, and if most people do not like what is on the menu, they go elsewhere, then leaders look for the next big thing to get them back. This is far from what the church was created to do, and even more so when it comes to what we call “worship”.

    One final question: Why are we trying to get people to perform or participate in a worship service or event to get them focused on God, when the very act of worship by its nature should be accomplishing that?

  93. Rosemary Sandefer

    I can SO relate to many things in this “letter!” Fortunately, most of the worship leaders at churches I’ve attended are aware that their purpose is to LEAD worship in such a way that the CONGREGATION is able to WORSHIP our God in song and in their hearts. In some ways, they must give up some of their creativity so this can happen. For example, there have been a few times when I am deeply in worship singing a familiar song, and all of a sudden that worship is disupted by a new “trill” or different timing, and that holy moment is lost. Or, perhaps I open my eyes and see one of the musicians looking like s/he is in a trance, moving and/or dancing with eyes closed…….not leading, but performing. Sometimes we have to give up our own PARTICIPATION in an event in order to lead. It seems to me that “leading woship” is one of those times.

  94. Terry Richardson

    The point about being the center of attention works both ways. I am a drummer, moving into percussion, in a Traveling praise band. I had to a refused a few times when a church we play at wants the drums set up in the center of the alter/stage. We’re there to worship God and I am not comfortable being in the center.

    What I would like to see, is churches move praise bands to the back of the church. I know this could be difficult, being most microphones are wired up front, but we bring are own gear so not difficult for us.

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