I don’t know Jamie Brown, but in a recent blog post that’s well worth reading, he nailed something that I’ve been thinking for a long time: much of today’s worship suffers from an entertainment mentality in which worship leaders are performers, the congregation is the audience, and God is little more than a theme.
Brown calls it “performancism,” though I prefer “performancitis,” because it can be like a disease that inflames worship with human ego and detracts from any serious contemplation of God. Whether it’s a Southern Gospel quartet, a six-person praise team, a solo artist — or a preacher — it’s always tempting to seek praise and applause (or “Amens”) for one’s performance to the detriment of helping folk encounter God.
When the quality of worship is measured by the level of applause or subjective measures of “feel good,” something is amiss: you can get those same things at a rock concert or line-dancing club.
I don’t want to suggest that the problem is with leadership alone — many congregational folk would prefer to be entertained than challenged, and it’s tempting to give them what they want. Performancitis then infects other churches when folk who are accustomed to a worshiptainment model move or become part of another church and start agitating for music they can sway and wave to.
The problem is not limited to “contemporary” worship: leaders of a more traditional model can be just as subject to the prima donna syndrome. Self-serving interests are as old as humanity.
We have to recognize that the task is challenging: designing an authentic service that’s lively, appealing, and personal enough to keep people awake while not losing God in the microphones and media is a tricky thing.
It’s good to know that folks in the forefront of worship leadership are thinking seriously about such things. If what we do isn’t focused more on engaging with God than on feeling inspired, we’ve missed the mark.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.