How do we best bring God glory in our worship services? Is it through the polished performances that are commonplace in many modern congregations? What lies beneath the emotion and the noise?
I’ve recently become involved in a church that places a high value on excellence. A primary expression of this is the Sunday service:
Lights, stage managers, stylish sets, multiple rehearsals.
I love this church. I love its heart for the community and its emphasis on making disciples. Yet something about the concert-esque approach to worship that is part of so many Western churches today troubles me.
Maybe it’s where I’ve come from. My previous church was the opposite. The singing was regularly off key. The two musicians may or may not have looked at the songs before playing them on Sunday. The fluorescents flickered.
I don’t want to talk about preferences in worship styles. Genuine worship is found in many forms. I just wonder if we’re on risky ground when we make having such high-quality worship services a top priority.
We should do our best
Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verse 10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
I actually think that God is certainly honoured when we put in our best and aim high. Practising instruments, perfecting sound quality and beautiful voices in themselves bring God glory.
God expects our best. He wants us to use our talents to glorify Him. It’s false modesty or laziness to aim for mediocrity.
Does the pursuit of excellence turn us toward God or does it distract us?
Having said this, I feel that there’s a danger in expecting lofty standards of ourselves and others. Especially when it comes to our corporate worship.
The risk is that our focus turns from the God we worship to our methods for worshiping Him.
- W. Tozer said, “The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.”
Do we spend more time practicing hitting the right notes or preparing our hearts? Are we more concerned about avoiding microphone static or about allowing the Spirit to move?
Ultimately, we must ask what our worship is about. A. W. Tozer again challenges with these words: "Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.”
Worship is not about getting it ‘just right’. It’s about a broken heart reaching out in gratefulness to its Saviour. And sometimes the expression of this cannot be carefully controlled. Sometimes it’s ugly.
The trap of inauthenticity
I look up on stage and see beautiful people with beautiful voices. One song flows seamlessly into another, broken occasionally by brief interjections from the worship leader.
The message I sometimes get, is that you must have it altogether to worship. You must look right, sound right and act right.
When we’re not right, the strong temptation is to fake it.
Is our worship all about appearances? Do we feel free to go deeper?
Finding a balance
God wants our all. God desires our best in worship.
He also desires us to be real. Jesus dealt ruthlessly with Pharisees whose holiness was all for show.
God is looking for followers who worship in Spirit and in truth. Worship springs out from us when we turn our gaze to Jesus and the Holy Spirit speaks to us of His goodness.
Those that lead worship should aim to direct attention towards God. Music is an aid to facilitate our worship, but ceases to be so, when our attention shifts to the music itself, or the lights, or the singers.
So excellence yes, but not for excellence’s sake. Let not get caught up in appearances. Let us not simply be singing pop songs with Christian themes.
Let’s not call something worship that really is not. Is He the only audience we care about? When we do our best, and it is solely for Him, that is worship. Excellence for any other reason is something else.
Tom Anderson likes Indian spices, French cars, British drama and Japanese gardens. He goes running nearly everyday, but early in the morning so that he doesn't miss time with his wife and two young kids. In his spare time, Tom is a Special Needs and Technology teacher.
Tom Anderson is pioneering www.haventogether.com, an online church plant supported by his in-person church, Catalyst, Ipswich. He has a young, growing family and enjoys playing backyard sport. Tom is a keen long-distance runner, averaging 21km each day last year. He has worked as a teacher for eleven years and enjoys perfecting a flat white on his home espresso machine. Tom would welcome a visit for a coffee some time… or an online catch-up via Zoom. See the Haven Together website to get in touch.