the shape of leadership

Going All Out in Worship

A closer look at church production

Chris Colvin on April 22, 2019

Want to start a debate? One surefire way is to ask someone their opinion about worship styles. Next to doctrinal debates, the worship set sparks the most arguments in church. In fact, I’ve even heard people become upset about the use of the term “worship styles,” as if worship can be in or out of style.

We all have our own tastes when it comes to what musical instruments we like, the tempo of our favorite worship songs, the use of drama or video, and even the lighting in the room. I believe that no matter how we individually think about it, all of God’s children should be free to use any and all these things to the fullest. Let’s go all out in worship!

The constant criticism against some of them, mostly the more modern forms of worship, is usually that it is distracting. Anything that detracts from God’s glory has no place in a worship service, of course. But it doesn’t follow that a particular type of worship or production element is inherently distracting. In fact, the use of production elements to worship God goes back a long way.

Nothing New Under the Sun

In the Bible, you can read about God’s people using contemporary forms of worship. The Psalms talk about all kinds of musical instruments common in that era. There’s the harp and 10-stringed lyre (Psalm 33:2), the hand-held tambourine instrument called a timbrel (Psalm 81:2), the trumpet (Psalm 47:5), and even an organ or pipe (Psalm 150:4). New was good back then, as Psalm 33:3 encouraged them to sing “a new song.”

The styles of worship were not subdued, either. They included animated and dramatic displays. Just take a look at how David danced when the ark returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14). And the Passover celebration itself required a bit of dressing up while retelling stories from Egypt: “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand” (Exodus 12:11).

In Jesus’ day, He enjoyed the Jewish high holidays on a number of occasions. The Festival of Tabernacles (John 7) involved setting up tents all around the temple. The Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah (John 10:22), meant there were torches and bonfires everywhere. They didn’t have laser light shows back then — probably because they didn’t have lasers — but they loved to put on a show.

The Church has consistently used contemporary expressions to glorify God. In some instances, they’ve innovated them for use in secular contexts. Stained-glass windows, architectural details, paintings and frescoes all found their beginnings in church worship. And the world’s greatest composers — such as Johann Sebastian Bach, who wrote Lutheran hymns — have also been the world’s greatest worship leaders.

The Church has long engaged Christians and the wider culture with art, talent and innovation.

Today’s musical styles and production displays are nothing new. The Church has long engaged Christians and the wider culture with art, talent and innovation.

What’s the Reason?

Even so, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, right? True, we still need to weigh the heart of the worshipper.

Why does your tech team want to install a new lighting rig? Why does your worship pastor want to bring in a four-piece percussion band? And why is the youth pastor asking for a basketball goal on stage when he preaches next month? Before you agree to these out-there production requests, make sure the motives behind them are pure.

Church production at any level is justified, I believe, if two things are present:

First, it glorifies God. The point of worship is to honor God. If the only purpose of a particular worship style or approach is to spotlight a person, skip it. But self-centered worship isn’t isolated to large-scale productions. Even an acapella hymn from a soloist can be self-seeking.

Second, there is an evangelistic intent. If people are more likely to come to church because of the use of some piece of technology, it’s hard to deny that request. Do whatever you can, short of sinning, to bring people to God.

I remember one time being a part of a funny baptism video. It wasn’t over the top, but it was lighthearted in its approach. One older member of the church told me he was offended — that is, until he overheard a new believer talking about making a decision to get baptized because of that video. The motivation, bringing people closer to God, outweighed any stepped-on sensibilities.

Use What God Has Given You

There is one other perspective to consider. Many in your church have God-given gifts in technology and production. Others have talents in music and dramatic arts. Still others have skills for designing stage sets and lighting displays. Why not find ways for them to showcase those gifts?

I attended a family worship night at a local church one weekend. The point was to get kids and parents worshipping together. What happened was an over-the-top display of musical talent, video production, games and skits. There was a small amount of worship and a short devotional. Otherwise, it honestly felt more like America’s Got Talent than church.

I was put off by the lack of spiritual emphasis. I later even said out loud, “God, were you happy with what happened there tonight?”

In response, I sensed Him saying, “You mean watching my children use the gifts I gave them? Yes, I was very happy.”

We often have a specific idea of what churches or individuals must do before they can really reach the level of worship. That expectation almost always matches our own enthusiasm, talent or taste. If we like it, it’s worship. If we don’t, then why even do it?

God has a different view. He gives His people many different gifts. Some are talented at speaking or writing. Others have the gift of music or drama. When we use our gifts to glorify God, He is happy. And that should make us happy.

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