Performance Vs Worship
Jun 2011 24

OK so time for an interesting and possibly controversial one.

One topic I get asked about a lot is the whole question of performance versus worship. Even this morning I received a email from a friend who posed the question “when does expression of passion go too far into performance instead of worship?”

It’s probably worth pointing out that my take on this has changed over the years. In my early days as a worship leader I was really big on the “faceless” worship leader and wished I could lead effectively without even being on stage. I would find certain big church styles of worship confusing and often would comment on them for being too much of a performance. My whole take on the ‘audience of one’ wasn’t wrong, but it perhaps excluded the other audience, the congregation.

So now as someone who loves to sample chart music within our youth meetings, who embraces movement on stage, uses stage lights, runs creative loops and features MCs in worship how do I balance this tension.

So here are six key things I feel we need to be aware of and think through.

1. Worship is a verb.

It is an action.  It is something that we do.  To truly worship God requires an action on our part. Sometimes physically, sometimes mentally, and sometimes emotionally but it always requires an action. Looking through the Psalms you’ll notice that for the writers simply saying or singing “I Love You, God” was not enough.  There was always an internal and/or external expression of their infatuation with God.

Shout to God. Sing a new song.  Dance before Him.  Clap your hands.  Bow down.  Lift up your head.  Tell of His might.  Stand in awe.  Meditate on His truth.  Walk in His ways.  Still your heart.  Cast down your idols.  Run to Him.  Make a loud noise.  Lift your hands.  Clash the cymbals.  Praise Him with trumpet.  Seek His face.  Tell the nations.

So our worship leading needs to convey and demonstrate an aspect of this all embracing ‘action filled’ worship.

Worship is both caught and taught

2. Worship is a Response

Our worship is very simply a response to God’s revelation in our lives.  Everything begins and ends with God.  If you read through the scriptures you will see countless acts of worship that started through a healing, miracle, or revelation of the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit.  And if we are honest we sometimes feel that they have to create an atmosphere, or set the stage for worship to take place.  I think sometimes we put so much emphasis on creating an atmosphere that we forget that the only way real worship will happen is if the congregation catches a glimpse of God revealing Himself.

That being said we shouldn’t be afraid to skilfully use music to unlock hearts. Sometimes we get so concerned with not “hyping” things up that we lose sight that the bible talks of worshipping or loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

What does it look like worship will all your heart, all your soul, mind and strength. I’m convinced that in order to achieve this we must involve every aspect of ourselves. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical actions, passion and excitement.

Evoking emotion using music in not always a bad thing. Lets embrace using music skilfully as a tool to unlock hearts and allow God’s message of love and grace to penetrate deep.

3. We need to Lift the Ban on the term performance

Bernie Herms writes that
“The word performance itself, in the context of a musical worship service, has often assumed almost a taboo status and held an unnatural negativity-meaning human effort, entertainment, or the flesh in motion. It has been awkwardly pitted against all things of the Spirit. The secular vs. the sacred, the technically superior vs. the anointed, the studied vs. the spirit-led; the more time you’ve spent around church music, the more familiar these false dichotomies sound.

Often, in our desire for a pure worship experience devoid of anything unspiritual, one blatantly obvious reality is obscured: a performance of some kind must take place.”

Every time we step foot on that stage, strike a chord or sing a note we are by definition performing.

There are two main definitions of performance

  • An act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment
  • A person’s rendering of a dramatic role, song, or piece of music

Now whilst I agree the first definition can feel at odds with worship the other one is exactly part of what Worship Leaders do. We bring a rendering or translation of a song or piece of music.

It’s important to realise that how we think about something informs every action we take towards it. So, if we are indeed performing. Then for whom? Are making the audience our god or God our audience.

As we worship God, our ability to also lead a congregation in the same is transformed into a sacred performance. Your performance isn’t at odds with a pure worship; it is your worship.

Martin Smith in his new book talks frankly and openly about balancing the worship leader and the showman and how to be effective in certain cultures he needed to embrace both.

So lets pop the myth that You must not perform otherwise it’s merely a concert. Recognise you perform every time you play and will elicit a response from those around. Embrace it and use it for His Glory, not Yours. As Paul Baloche comments the difference between Worship & performance is simply the posture of the heart.

4. We need to be Zealous for Excellence

Lets bring him & our church the very best. Surely our Worship should be a wonder to the world by all artistic standards, set still set apart from mere performance. Whether professional or volunteer, your calling demands a sacrifice of time and passion. If your craft is but a mere shadow of what it could be, what does it say to the Giver of the gift?

Not all noise is a joyful noise. I’ve often thought that making a joyful noise should actually an act of worship reserved for the shower or in the car singing along to the radio
But from the stage a joyful noise can be a distraction. Anything that draws attention away from God is an exit to worship and can become an idol.

5. We need to recognise that the overall worship experience of the leader is the NOT same as the people in the congregation.

Tim Hughes uses a great example of a host at a diner party. Imagine if the host invited people to a meal and then had them sat watching him whilst he ate and told them how amazing the food was but didn’t serve them any.

Or consider the opposite that the host invites you for a meal and serves you and then sits back and watches you eat but doesn’t join in, simply saying he’ll eat later.

The Worship leader should be engaging and Worshipping with the Church but also the act of leading is part of their Worship. Like the perfect host who eats with you and celebrates with you whilst serving and being mindful of all of their guests.

6. Church SHOULD be entertaining

To entertain is to hold the attention of someone.  Yes our churches need to more than mere entertainment, but any person trying to get any other person’s attention must entertain.  We should convey the wonder of a huge God who is intimately interested in the everyday mundane. Yes we need to guard against consumeristic worship which rates a service based on what I got out of it but at the same time we need to create an engaging and understandable service to those without the backdrop of church culture.

So lets keep checking the posture of our hearts.

Are we serving God and our Church, or our Ego?

Are people leaving saying “Wow that band were ace” or are they leaving saying “Wow, I met with God”?

Is our Worship a response to all powerful and loving creator or purely an emotional response to well crafted music?

Let keep a healthy tension between Performance & Worship, but also recognise they don’t have to at odds with each other.

What are you thoughts, I’d love to hear them.



  1. Ben says:

    Thanks for this ! really helpful and sums it up well. To add to that I have recently come to the relisation that we in the worship team are Musicians, Musicians instinct is to prefrom in a way. So maybe we need to accept this more by telling a musican to cut out all emements of preformence in what they do is almost taking away an attribute or a part of there nature. Do you agree?

    I think we (chruches) just need to be more leniate and aware that muscians are by nature preformers or at least that way inclined. As long as its not in the way of Gods name being glorified and his presnece being felt there is no need to regard it as an issue.

    But in a slightly bigger church as mine with a wide range of people you will find what some people get on with and dont mind and find inspireing and passionate others find a preformence and it distracts them from there encounter with God.

    Wheres the line? is it a majority thing?

    Thanks for this – very helpful

    • iam-kp says:

      Hi Ben,
      An interesting point to add.
      Although I would suggest that this focus could easily end up the wrong way around. The aim of the band is to serve and facilitate the church body in worship, so asking the church to be more understanding with the nature of musicians might go slightly against the aim of the band. Ultimately you and the band are there to serve and should remain under the guidance of the leadership and culture of the church. Chat this through with them?
      As I put in the blog, performance can be a barrier to worship but doesn’t need to be and can co exist.
      The best way to balance this is to keep asking questions. Are we being or creating an exit to worship? Does our energy and expressiveness aid others in engaging in worship or put them off. Is the church worshipping as a response to God or to us?
      Keep going for it. ;)

  2. Interesting post Kristian. I have to admit I am still not comfortable with the word “performance” but the questions you ask at the end show your heart. However, I do have a few questions:

    1) What are intending to do when you incorporate pop loops into worship? Be ‘relevant’ to un-churched people, claim back music for the Kingdom or ‘entertain’ people into paying attention?
    2)You say that you have to entertain to get people’s attention, but that certainly isn’t the case in places like China and the Middle East where it is more about the power of God and the passion of those willing to risk everything to serve his that convicts people of the need for and reality of our Saviour.

    Here’s what I think worship means:

    • iam-kp says:

      Hi Chris,
      Chris, I love your blogs and your heart for the kingdom.
      I was happy to provoke a little with this post to get us all thinking. I for one have been guilty of seeing a polished, well rehearsed and a planned set and being too happy to tag it as performance and discount it as legitimate worship leading. I’ve also seen young worship leaders lose their own identity and personality in the aim of not getting in the way or being afraid of the performance. And I’ve seen the opposite.
      So to comment on your questions.
      1. We rarely use samples or chart or pop music in our church meetings, its not needed. But we do at Reconnect which is our town wide more youth focused worship meeting. We don’t aim to do covers, we sample music within existing worship songs such as Blessed be Your Name over Viva La Vida, or Happy Day which has verse two incorporating the track from I’ve got a feeling by the Black Eyed Peas or One Way over Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out. We do it to creatively give a familiar sound to the unchurched people in the meeting and to help draw in the teenagers on the edge of engaging. And in both instances it has been successful. In this area we are also fighting against a strong stereotype of the church and keen to push boundaries, people’s misconceptions and show our Reconnect meetings as fun times of encountering God’s love.

      2. Erm, not sure what the question is, but I totally agree. True worship such as “the passion of those willing to risk everything to serve him” will always be our most effective tool in reaching the lost. Graham Kendrick once said (paraphrased) that if we knew how to truely worship there would be no need for evangelism.
      I also think that the culture of, or in which, the church is based has massive implications on the leading style. Martin Smith’s new book talks about this and is a great read. He talks about the first time he stood on a large American platform and realised that the timid ‘head down and strum’ worship leading style of the UK wasn’t going to connect. That the US culture demanded more. He talks about the difference in leading in Europe versus India or South America. And we can see this in our country just between difference churches.
      This last weekend I guest led at a church in North East. The congregation and context of the meeting required me to adapt my style of leading from that used in my home church. In fact my wife even commented that it was like watching me lead a few years ago, more reserved and slightly more intense. But it was perfect for that night.
      I guess this is all part of the servant hearted nature of what we do. To be able to adapt, give more or even restrict ourselves in order to facilitate the maximum connection.
      I’m not sure of all the answers i’m just enjoying learning along the way.

  3. [...] Looks like this was originally posted on Kristian’s blog back in 2011, but that that was before Worship Links existed, so I’m going to pretend it’s new. The [...]

  4. […] and worship pastor named Kristian Ponsford has written at length about performance and worship and calls for “a healthy tension” between them. Like most things, the use of technology in worship as well as in all areas of church […]