We’ve all had that awkward moment. That moment where you know you’ve put in the work, you prepared yourself and your team well, you were prayed up and the Holy Spirit moved in your time together as a church, and you walk off the stage. Then, someone walks up to you and says, “Great worship, man,” or “I really liked that,” referring to the worship they just experienced.
While these people (and there are likely people like this on our teams) are well-meaning and simply want to encourage us, this is a dangerous thing to encourage or cultivate in our church families.
While part of what we do on stage is something excellent, we understand the direction and intent of our efforts. However, lots of people don’t quite understand what we’re trying to do and react in a way that’s familiar and comfortable, rather than seeing the gathering through the same lens we do.
In his book Transforming Discipleship, Greg Ogden has an interesting thought that I believe applies directly to this perspective many in our churches have:
“Worshipers see it as the responsibility of those on stage to provide an engaging, meaningful and entertaining show, while it is the worshipers’ job to give an instant review of the worship service as they pass through the receiving line after worship. Doesn’t it seem odd for people to make evaluative comments like “Good sermon, Pastor,” or “I enjoyed the service this morning” about the worship of the living God? On many a Sunday after concluding the morning message, when I glanced in the direction of the choir I expected to see them raise cards from their laps rating the sermon–9.9, 9.4, and so on.”
– Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship, pp.25
He’s not wrong. I think the average person DOES view the gathering as “an engaging, meaningful, and entertaining show.” Why? Because they are conditioned to.
Everywhere else they go in the world, great music, great production, & the presence of a stage/platform (call it what you want), puts them in Performance Mode. In Performance Mode, most people sit back, take in what is happening in front of them, then talk about what they liked about it. Maybe they sing along or pay close attention, but they are definitely more spectators than participants.
Like I said, people come into our churches conditioned to walk in, sit down, and be good spectators, to no fault of their own. Getting mad at people who are like this is like getting mad at a child for wanting to play during nap time. For them, playing around was perfectly ok a few minutes ago. They don’t know any better.
However, when we look in the Bible, especially in the context of worship, we NEVER see God’s people as spectators. Maybe people from the outside watching and wondering “what’s that about,” but people who were involved in the worship are almost always full-on participants.
If our people come on Sundays not knowing any better, then it’s our responsibility to show them a better way. Yes, we have social conventions, conditioned responses & even engrained perspectives going against us, but we must help our church move from spectators to participants.
Do note that the reason we need to do this IS NOT to have people “more into” the worship, IS NOT to create an atmosphere we desire, and IS NOT to massage and build up our own or our team’s ego. No, the reason we HAVE to help teach our churches this is because the worship of God is not meant to be a spectator sport.
While the worship of the gathered Church is the desire of God’s heart, our personal, individual response is what makes up the worship of the gathered Church. God desires our personal, individual response to who He is, what He’s done, and what He’s going to do. That’s why we have to lead our church
Here’s a few ways that we can help our church move from spectators to participants:
Show & Teach
This is the most direct & obvious thing to do. We first have to show our church what a personal, individual response to God looks like, and that starts with our music teams. At our church, I don’t just train up the singers like this, but rather the entire team because we’re ALL Worship Leaders. Seeing others responding to God will help to remind those gathered that this simply isn’t a concert or performance, but rather a collective response to God.
We also should teach directly about this. I don’t mean that we need a 4-week series on worship, but I also don’t think that’s a bad idea! Since we probably won’t be able to do that very often, I believe that it’s helpful for Worship Leaders to teach during a music set on occasion.
We call them “Spiritual Direction” moments at our church, and they are short & direct times for Worship Leaders to speak into a moment. The key here is direct, brief, with clear direction leading out of it. Use this time to lean into the importance of the personal response to God, we can all use a helpful reminder from time to time.
Emphasis on “gently.” No one likes a grumpy Worship Leader.
This is especially important when you are talking with someone one-on-one. Like when you’re talking to someone casually, DON’T use that opportunity to slam that person’s perspective of worship.
You can easily use your own words to be gracious while gently correcting their perspective. Always thank them for their intention to honor you and your team, but take the time to ask them a question about their experience. Get them thinking about WHY they enjoyed their time.
Also, you can police yourself and try to speak intentionally about worship. Don’t use “worship” generally to describe too much (as a blanket term), and use language that is inclusive (us, we, etc) rather than making the band out to be a marvel on stage.
Don’t Just Use the Hammer
No matter what we’re doing, we need to use the right tool for the job. From stage, maybe the hammer isn’t always the best option. Don’t always come down hard on your church family when teaching about this.
Moving from spectating to participating is a long, slow shift that happens in your church culture, so learn how to use other tools in your Worship Leader toolbox to change & shift their perspective. This includes how your team LOOKS on stage, what you say in the short moments in a song, what your team does off the stage, and so much more.
Think outside the box and learn how to use other opportunities to speak into your church family, rather than only hitting them on the head from stage. While the hammer can be effective and helpful, it can do more harm than good when you’ve got a box of screws.
BONUS: Take the Compliment
The last thing is just for you. When you inevitably have someone walk up to you after a gathering and spend a moment telling you how great you were and how awesome the gathering was, use this simple trick: Take the compliment.
Yes, you are doing this for Jesus, not them. Yes, you want to give God all the glory. Yes, I get it. However, what’s likely happening here is more a product of someone having an experience and not knowing how to process it.
When someone does this to you, first listen to them. Don’t cut them off. Then, THANK THEM for their kindness for telling you. Finally, especially if you don’t know them, try to learn more about them. Care about the person more than the moment. That’s showing Jesus to someone first hand.
Taking a compliment in any context can be hard for people, especially anyone artistic. Doing this here will help the person complimenting feel connected to you and your team, and you can use this opportunity to build the relationship. You don’t have to immediately correct them to help them see the glory of God, we can do that in many, many ways.