Worship Leader Performance
There’s a temptation of every worship leader who steps on the stage—performance. Inherently, when we step up on a stage and have an audience, we’re in danger of making the worship be about ourselves. It’s oh-so-natural and unfortunately, all too common. Like standing before a mirror, we become enthralled with our own reflection. When we stand on a stage, gaining the admiration and attention of a crowd, we can easily roll into performance.
I had this thought because in preparing for our upcoming conference, we’re working on the music to be played. Then I saw a man at the gym standing before a full-length mirror with a smart phone striking poses and taking pictures of himself and his handy work. He didn’t even care that I was able to witness his adulation. He had an intended audience, not even nearby, that would be viewing the fruits of his physical labor. An audience makes us perform even when they’re not present.
Worship Leader Ta-Da
Now this is not isolated to narcissists; this is the temptation of every human, let alone worship leader. No, not everyone succumbs to this temptation, but many do. It’s very primal and emanates from our very nature. Put a tutu on most little girls and ta-da – “I’m a star!” Boys often display this a little differently, but start watching a little boy playing and when he notices your eyes are on him…ta-da – the battle is EPIC. We just like to put on a show and receive the attention of others because it feels like love.
Take this to the worship leader. All eyes are on them; they’re hopefully leading a crowd towards an admiration of the Father. Even with the best of intentions, the face may become more rapturous and beatific when there’s an audience. “Look how much I love Him, follow me. I’m a sign post to lead you to God.” But this whole process can become a trap for a fragile ego. There’s a slight shift when the sign post becomes source of the focus.
Additionally, some of this may not even arise from the worship leader. Some of those singing along aren’t interested in going beyond the horizontal plane of the performance. It feels good to have a sing-a-long in a crowd. You feel a part of something bigger than yourself, like you belong. Visit many an Irish Pub at night, the patrons belt out well-known folk songs because it feels good, like camaraderie. But is this worship? Not of God.
I was listening to Art Katz where he mentioned this very phenomenon. He spoke of the Sisters of Mary in Darmstadt, Germany, whose worship team is always found singing behind the parishioners and not in front of them. You never see them; you only hear their voices. They lead unseen so the Lord Himself is the focus, not the leaders leading. They too know the temptation is just too great when we’re on a platform to become a performer.
Worship Leader Leading the Army
I actually think the practice of letting the musicians lead the army out to battle is a good thing. This way they have a healthy fear of death because they are on the front lines. They stand between the opposing army and their protection. There is no preening seen amongst them; they are wholly focused on the job at hand—presenting the banner and hailing the victory.
I haven’t veiled my resistance too much of the worship coming out of Christendom. It just feels like performance that exalts self more than glorifying God. I’m not saying we should stop singing. I love good worship; I just wish it could be less man-centered. If I wanted to go to a concert, I’d pay my money and go. But when something is supposed to be about worship, a performance is defiling. “This is for God, yet it’s not about God?!”
Ultimately it does make me pray for those who are in the position to lead worship. Their temptation is just so huge! The platform of performance is a slippery slope for sure.
Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,
‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’
Mark 7:6-7 NLT