Welcome to the Worship Circus. Part 2.

You can catch part 1 here.

So here goes...what does "non-attractional" worship look like? Most of you have been around the attractional/missional debate. So if "attractional" worship is basically creating the most dynamic/creative/professional/emotional experience so that people will want to come to our church houses and receive the gospel, then what is "non-attractional" worship?

I think that worship is often attractive, but I'm not sure it should be "attractional." When we are crafting a service so that people will want to come and see the show, or come back because the show was good, I'm not so sure we can call that worship.

(Pardon my rambling excursion here, but maybe it will help as you try to follow my thoughts.)

This is a really hard article for me to write. I don't always have answers, but usually I have pretty clear opinions. But when it comes to corporate worship, the lines between performance and worship blur easily for me. Sometimes I like parts of the circus - though the clowns can be creepy.

I love to hear huge choirs, orchestra's, and even a solid band. I think some dramas have probably done a better job of clearly presenting the gospel than I could ever do. I could watch and listen to Hillsong United for hours on end. Are these things bad or wrong?

Maybe an example will help. When the preacher is using good grammar is that performance or worship? Is using a clever illustration to bring home a point entertainment, or is that giving God's voice to people? Is a guitar solo always inappropriate? What about "showing your skills" on your instrument during the song service? (I've often heard a skilled musician play and immediately felt in awe of a God that gives gifts like that.)

When do we cross the line here? When does corporate worship become the circus rather than a time where God invades our lives and inhabits the praises of His people?

When we first started having a "band" at Calvary (I use that term lightly) we had 3 guys with guitars and a piano player. All the guitar guys sat on the front row with their backs to the congregation. I think one of the reasons that they did this was because they knew it wasn't about them.

Later when we added drums, we moved the team up on the stage. It's easier to follow leaders you can see or so goes the reasoning. We added drums and an electric guitar not because we were trying to be cool or hip, or because we thought it would reach people, but we formed a band because we enjoyed playing, singing, and worshipping together. I think we simply felt like we were using the gifts that God gave us.

Some Sundays we were pretty hard on ourselves. We missed chords, or there weren't enough dynamics, or the singers were flat, or there were 100 other things we should have done better. So we invested a lot of time in practice. After all, we didn't want to get in the way of our congregation worshipping, and we wanted to create an environment that was conducive to people coming into God's presence.

Then we did a study on worship. It was refreshing. We were reminded that worship was so much more than singing some songs on Sunday. It was about obedience, and ultimately it was about God, not so much about us. I felt like after that study we spent more time asking for God to intervene and less time worrying about our "sound."

But this tension - performance vs worship leading - is always there. And it's really no different for preaching either. Maybe it's a good video clip, or a great personal story, or picking the right phrase to bring the message home. Pastors can also get bogged down in our performance so much that we don't rely on the Spirit of God as we should.

Where are the boundaries here?

I'm glad that musicians practice and preachers work on their delivery. There is a part of worship that is us. Us playing or singing or praying or preaching. Us lifting our hands, or crying from the depth of our souls. Part of worship is us. Then there's the part that is all God. God calling, convicting, uplifting, encouraging, exhorting, admonishing. God moving.

I don't want the worship of the Almighty God to be a circus. To be honest, that thought scares the daylights out of me. I'm scared to face God thinking that I made that time that was to be an encounter with him into a show. I've done this before. I've focused so much on the me part that I have totally left God out of the part.

How do you know when you've crossed the line?
(I'd love to hear your comments on this one)

So back to the point - what is "non-attractional" corporate worship?

I think it's when people come together in humility and bow in adoration of the Almighty regardless of what others may think. I think it's David dancing even though Michal despised him. I think it can happen when Tomlin or Crowder rocks the house and I think it can also happen when that 80 year old guy on the front row who can't carry a tune in a bucket gets up and sings I'd rather have Jesus.

Because it really is about the heart that is in love with God.

So what steps can we put into place to keep us from turning worship into the circus?

Stay tuned for Part 3.


Kevin said…
It's an excellent question about what are the boundaries and how do you know when you've crossed the line.

I'll try to take a stab at an answer. By the way, these are criteria for judging our own efforts, not the efforts of others. "Judge not" and all that.

If we become competitive--positioning ourselves to compete in the" church market" or against the church down the street--we've crossed the line.

If we begin to market ourselves--come hear our dynamic pastor, our rockin' band, etc.--we've crossed the line.

If we make worship decisions based on what's cool, we've crossed the line.

If we make worship decisions that feed our own self-serving ego, we've crossed the line.

If we establish a worship hierarchy--we're the professional worshippers, you're the people who watch us--we've crossed the line.

Those are just a few thoughts. Of course, it could be stated positively that everything should be focused on glorifying the Trinity, but I've discovered that we can easily fool ourselves into thinking we're doing that if we don't also consider the negative criteria.
Travis Penn said…
Excellent stuff Kevin. I may not even have to write part 3!


I think sometimes I have been competitive, and I know I've been self-serving. It's hard to know sometimes if a song you like to sing is really appropriate for the congregation.

I think we've even had a problem with "hierarchy," though we are overcoming it now. Some felt that because they weren't as "talented" then maybe they shouldn't participate.

Thanks again for your thoughts.
Kevin said…
Yeah, the reason I know where the pitfalls are is that I've hit them all at one time or another. We have to give ourselves and others a lot of grace.

But once we identify where the boundaries are, we can at least have a discussion and hold one another accountable.

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