Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Is it Art, Service or Both?

hydraulis mosaicIs worship a performance? Is it a service or is it a mixture of both? Part of what I have been doing recently is reviewing some of the materials I studied on the way to my Masters from Regent.

One of those materials is The New Worship: Straight Talk on Music and the Church by Barry Liesch. He asks some tough questions and makes some good points about worship in the church. One of the questions he asks is "Should the word 'performance' be avoided in the pulpit?" I don't think so, but I believe it should be qualified.

One of the struggles I have as a musician is the difference between giving - and being satisfied with - a good performance, versus entering into intimate worship of God. When I am playing a church service, my main focus tends to be on getting the notes right, making sure my instrument is in tune and not too loud (or is loud enough!) and blending in with the other performers on the stage.

But I have also read articles and sections of books that encourage leaders to pick people who shine, who reflect the joy of being in God's presence in their faces and actions. I don't know that my 'focusing' face does that; I'm more concerned with making sure I am in time with the rest of the band and I am not distracting the congregation by playing poorly.

Does that mean that focusing on performance is wrong? I don't think so. C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying "Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan." So making music is the same whether you are playing in church or in a stadium - you are doing something difficult in front of people and it needs to be done well. Otherwise you're not being honest.

What does a thready performance say? "I don't care enough to spend the time to practice to do this well?" "You people (the audience or the congregation) are not worth the time it takes to make sure this is done properly?" "God is not as great as we say because we offer Him something we threw together at the last minute instead of taking the time to prepare?"

But our acceptability to God is not based on what we can do; our acceptability to God is based on what He has done in the death and resurrection of Christ. So where does performance come in? Are we serving the people - the audience or the congregation - or are we serving God? Or are we serving both? More and more I am coming to see that we are doing both - serving God and the people.

I remember reading an article many years ago by John Michael Talbot, a monk who has released several albums and published several books on worship, mysticism, prayer and other topics including The Master Musician, The Joy of Music Ministry , and Come to the Quiet. He told of a time when he was struggling in his musical vocation. People were polite, they seemed responsive, but the power of God seemed absent; people did not seem to really worship in his services.

Ironically he got a fresh revelation from Barry McGuire - you know "The Eve of Destruction" guy from the 1960s? Barry told John that his problem was that he was trying to minister to the people instead of the Lord.

"Minister to the Lord," Barry said, "and let the Lord minister to the people." John tried that approach and saw wondrous responses of worship in his concerts. I also tried to employ this philosophy at a church where I was serving and I noticed more people responding as well.

And one thing I believe it is important to remember is that what we are doing - what we are performing - is something sacred. This is not your garage band playing "Sweet Home Alabama" or "Free Bird." This is a sacred employment. This is something holy; something special. It deserves to be done to the best of your ability, but the goal is to enter into the Holy Presence.

Paul Baloche, the writer of some of contemporary worship musics "big hits" like "Open the Eyes of My Heart" and "Above All" had something telling to say about this subject in an interview. When asked what he had learned about worship, Paul responded "That worship is a journey and God is always the goal." Singing, dancing, making music are expressions of the relationship we have with God.

I will have to chew on that for a while. I welcome your comments.


Laurie said...

Well said and very well written! All of our av team here needs to read this! I will be sending your blog to them. I found your site from your comment on Jim Gilbert's site - thanks for leaving your blog site.

David said...


Thank you for your kind response. In rereading the article, there are some thoughts that might not have been communicated clearly. The last thing I want people to feel is shame about what they are doing. People in church music are usually amateurs, with varying skill levels, and I did not mean to imply that everyone who takes part should be of professional quality. However, I do believe that we need to take this seriously, to treat it with the attention we give to something we care about.

I says that for a couple of reasons: (1) the artistic gifts are given by God (see Exodus 31:1-11) and they bring glory to Him as the giver; (2) not giving our best sacrifices our integrity because people will know when we are shoddy. So if we are not honest in our musical presentation (or other service) then how can we be trusted in other areas? Now again, I do not want to make anyone feel bad about their skill level ! God knows I have felt the pang of shame when others have shown me my faults as a musician.

If anything, I want people to pursue their passions - to work at it with all their heart. The only difference between a skilled musician and a less skilled musician (or singer, or artist) is often one of experience. The lesser skilled one has not done it as long.

So, please understand that the goal here is to be a road sign - to point to Someone else. And since our very relationship with God is based on His giving and love, we need to imitate Him and give others plenty of space to grow.

I look forward to hearing more from you.