The latest blog at WorshipReady.com is "Undistracting Excellence" by Rob Hampton. You can read it here:
I'm pasting the content here. Please read and share your thoughts!
It was one of those perfect moments of worship. It had nothing to do with the band or the song; it wasn’t the lights, and it certainly wasn’t my heavenly VOX AC15 guitar tone. Instead the moment was focused entirely on God moving in a small room of sold-out worshippers. As a worship leader I love these moments. I live for these moments and I work hard to intentionally achieve these moments. But far too often, they’re interrupted with poor transitions and simple distractions.
This particular time, I remember specifically, the song had ended. Everyone was caught up in the moment of worship, and then the keyboardist hit the “demo” button on the keyboard which started a 90s style beatbox loop. It was humorous... scratch that, it was hilarious! But it was also mood-killing. We quickly went from an intimate moment of worship to a goofy reflection on our own humanity as everyone chuckled at the mistake.
This distraction was just a simple mistake, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it builds on something I’ve sought in my worship leadership for years... undistracting excellence. I first came across this concept in an article from John Piper, What Unites Us In Worship. Piper writes:
“Undistracting excellence. We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people's attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.”
That is one of my primary goals when leading worship - to get out of the way and let people see the glory of Jesus Christ. I strive and I encourage my team to strive to play and sing their absolute best but not to a point of being distracting. Likewise, I encourage them to think through all the other ways we might be distracting. What am I wearing? How am I moving on stage? Is the guitar part I’m playing helpful to the song or does it distract from the worship experience? Is this vocal harmony showcasing how great my voice is or does it add that perfect texture to this part of the song?
I would encourage you, as a worship musician, to constantly be asking yourself this question every time you help lead worship: “Is this distracting or helpful to the worship experience”? By asking this simple question, I believe we can better honor God and encourage His people.
I think it's good when the band occasionally makes mistakes or has hiccups during worship - it enables the congregation to feel like they can be part of it too, rather than being afraid to intrude in the perfection with their un-rehearsed thoughts and insights. Assuming a smallish meeting of <200, if people don't feel able to start stuff off the floor or stand up and pray/read scriptures then it's often because the worship performance has shut them out.
I look for things that are enabling for the congregation, and letting them feel like they are welcome to interrupt is one of those things.
I would probably remove the word "experience".
I have no issue with "worship experience" as I believe that's what it should be. Some may push away from that because they assume "experience" means you have to run around the building, be slain in the Spirit and speak in tongues. :) Throughout the Bible, people had encounters with the presence of God. I would say you could also label that as an experience. When we worship, we SHOULD be encountering the presence of God. We should be having an experience... a moment that comes from that powerful corporate worship time. While we can worship and spend time with God on our own... and we should... there's still something different that we experience as we worship God corporately. It's a powerful thing.
If someone is just singing songs... just filling out a time slot in the overall service... then there will be no experience. If someone is truly worshiping and engaging the presence of God, there will most definitely be an experience. You might want to label it differently... but that's my take on it.
While I am from a pentecostal background, I certainly do not see this as a pentecostal only thing. Even the people in the Bible prior to the day of pentecost had life changing encounters and experiences with God. It's not based on the name your church has on the building. It's based on what's happening inside. Regardless of our denomination, we should be striving to have such an encounter every time we gather together in worship.
I don't disagree that worship will often be an experience. But I do disagree that the "experience" should be the aim. It puts the focus back on us, when the focus should be on God. I think the question works very well without the word!
“Is this distracting or helpful to the worship here?"
Or to put it another way, if we have worshipped, but did not come out with an "experience", does that mean the worship was worse?
I get what you are saying, and agree, but want to clarify a bit. You're right that the aim is not some physical response or experience. I don't think I said it was, but in case it could be perceived that way, I wanted to clarify that point.
Also, an experience does NOT have to mean a physical response such as being slain in the Spirit or something like that. Sometimes in worship, the presence of God is so real and evident to me that I just start crying. That is a physical response, yes, but not one that is as noticeable to others. It is PART of that worship experience. As we worship, and as God inhabits the praises of His people... we SHOULD be able to feel His presence. Feeling that freedom, peace, joy, etc that comes from being in His presence is also an experience.
I just looked up a definition of the word "experience". It says "
I have had conversations about this topic where I gradually became aware that the people using the term meant something quite specific, that the quality of a worship experience to them was directly related to the prevalence of some visible manifestation, such as spontaneous tongues or physical movement. These are not part of my experience, and have from time to time felt as though I were defending myself against the assumption that I was therefore spiritually dead . I was using this as an example of why I'd add "here" to the statement.
Even if I do not feel His presence in some emotional or visceral way, or in the same way claimed by others, I would choose to worship. If I perceived that none of my prayers were being answered positively, I would choose to worship. If the sick loved ones that I prayed for died, in my sorrow I would choose to worship. Were all my possessions taken from me, I would choose to worship. Were I stricken with illness which brought me to the point of death, I would choose to worship. In all these things He is present. My trust that He is present does not depend on my perception, my feelings, my situation, nor does it require some denominationally significant manifestation. He is able to cure all ills and bestow all blessings, but if He doesn't, it is because He wills, not because He fails. I cannot choose that worship will be my response to tragedy or misfortune without the Holy Spirit. I also will not dispute anyone's claims that the Holy Spirit has made them prophesy or speak with tongues, or fall down, or do any manner of outlandish things, but this has not been my experience.
My thoughts on this are similar to Greg's. There are a number of reasons...
1) Supposing we are hoping for some encounter with God. That, actually, is not something we can control: it is up to God, not us. So, I don't think we can aim to help the "worship experience" in this sense.
2) Different people seem to interact with God in different ways. For myself, I don't really trust my "feelings" so much, as a measure; I recognise that my own emotions can play a big part in what I am feeling, quite independently of what God might or might not be doing. Some people just don't "feel" God's presence. It does not mean they are not worshiping, or that God is not interacting with them. So, you are prioritising how one kind of person interacts with God over another. It is simply not true that we "should" be able to "feel His presence".
3) As Greg says, even if God doesn't seem to show up, we still worship.
4) Finally, and perhaps controversially: I think if we measure success by the "experience" then it could be a subtle form of idolatry. We are prioritising the "feeling" above the important thing, which is simply to worship. It is a bit like the classical or traditional churchgoer falling in love with the music rather than God. They find their emotions carried away by the beauty of the music, and forget about who the music if for. I think there is something similar that can happen in the modern worship scene, where the euphoria of the moment is what people become addicted to.
So, in the context of this discussion, I really do think the right question is:
“Is this distracting or helpful to the worship here?"
It is not the experience we are aiming for, or can control, or can measure, but the worship.
Hi Greg, thanks for the feedback!
I'm intrigued...what do you mean by "here"? Are you thinking "time and place", as in maybe something is distracting or helpful sometimes or some places but not others? If so, I'm totally with you. There's a lot to be said for context of worship. For example, a tastefully played guitar solo can truly help a worship experience...it moves draws excitement that then transfers to our hearts and our worship. But that same guitar solo can be played in the wrong moment, wrong worship service type, or wrong worship context and then it becomes unhelpful and distracting.
I tend to think of my local church family, the theology it espouses, and its working out in practice, as normative Christianity. I don't think I'm alone in this. Being a family, sometimes we have disagreements, but I couldn't leave over a squabble, run to another relative or neighbor's house, and say, "Hey, things aren't working out over there. I'm moving in and going to be part of your family as long as things are cool here, okay?" I agreed to attend a weekly men's Bible study at an AoG church with a co-worker who attends there. If I mention any of the difficulties I've had with music at my place, eyes click and wheels turn, and occasionally someone will see an opportunity to evangelize the found. I can't go there right now. It's not the same gospel I started with (Galatians 1:6), and things that would be most appreciated at that location would be distracting and divisive at ours. At our location, for instance, updated hymns with extra choruses and bridges are distracting. Electric guitar can be distracting for some, especially the current ambient, effect-driven styles, but for some reason, when I play in traditional r&b, blues based, or even rockabilly styles, it just works here. Edit: perhaps they sense my insincerity in trying to cop the current ambient style when I have tried for so long to express musical ideas clearly and distinctly on my instrument, and value my efforts to be genuine over my ability to pretend to be someone I'm not.