When Does Worship Become Just A Performance?

[This post is part of a series on Leading Your Team & Congregation Through Worship Tensions. Check out the rest here.]

How far is too far?

Does performance have a place in worship?

When does worship slowly become about performance?

When does it become more about the stage than about the cross?

When does it become more about a killer band than a risen Savior?

Are we in danger of “emptying the cross of its power?”

Is our worship an echo of the Apostle Paul’s concern in Corinthians that we speak wise words but have no demonstration of the Spirit’s power?

How can we know if we’re performing too much?

How can we know if we’re not performing enough?

I feel like Paul Baloche speaks some wise words regarding this tension:

[tentblogger-youtube 1NTHzSTu_RQ]

I’ve heard this tension talked about the world over. “I don’t like that worship leader. It’s like a performance.” “Not a big fan of Hillsong. It’s just a big performance.”

I’ve even talked a little about it in my post, “How To Pursue Excellence and Authenticity in Worship.”

But I think there’s still legitimate concern here. We don’t want to simply perform for people but we also don’t just want to stand up there as duds and be boring, like Paul says.

So, let’s discuss.

Question: How do you balance this tension of worship AND performance? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


  1. Jimmy Fabrizio says

    This not really an answer, but I think that discipline, practice, and preparedness play a big part. If you are not practicing the songs, learning your parts, and becoming better as a musician, you have less freedom to worship from the stage. But when you know your part ahead of time, and have the songs down, it is easier on Christ, rather than making sure you don’t miss too many notes. This doesn’t really deal with the whole of the performance/worship question, but still makes a difference i think.

    • Jimmy Fabrizio says

      I realize this is kinda the opposite side of what you are talking about, touching on the focus part, rather than the pride and performance part as much… sorry for all the comments.

      • David Santistevan says

        Jimmy, I love comments! Good point. I agree that preparation prepares us to worship. It makes what we do on stage less distracting.

  2. says

    We are who we are… God has created each of us differently so personalities will be different amongst worship leader. Thank God for that. But when it comes down to it we have a gift that we need to work hard at, not for our glory, but for God’s glory. His glory being the utmost of our goals as we lead others in times of corporate worship, always remembering we are there to help facilitate worship not off in our own world “performing”. At the same time we create and play to engage and make it easy for others to join. As worship leaders/musicians; be excellent in all things by being who God has called you to be… a worshipper with a great gift of music. We will struggle, but more so because we afraid to express true worship like David. Afraid that others may see our “worship” as performance. If the heart is concerned with the heart of God and seeing others connect, the choices we make and how we “worship/perform” should be beautiful… because they come from a heart that desires pleasing God and not ourselves. We “perform”, but not to draw attention to ourselves but display the overflow of “worship” in our heart… rock hard worship harder.

    • David Santistevan says

      Good stuff, Brad. So others may interpret our true worship as performance? I guess we ned to guard against performing for performance sake in worship. Focus on the heart and express yourself. I like it.

      • says

        Its such a difficult battle because “others” sometimes just do that. They interpret what they want without knowing the heart of the person that is leading. Guilty here at times. We have a good desire to please people, but can’t be caught up in the desire to please everyone… we’ll go crazy :) In the words of the wise Martin Smith when asked, “How do you put a such a great show yet remain so worshipful?”, he simply reply’s “We love what we do and I’m glad it shows” or as I put it… rock hard worship harder :)

        • David Santistevan says

          Nice. You guys do a good job of serving people and yet remain authentic to who you are. Keep rocking hard and worshiping harder :)

  3. says

    I love the way my pastor talks about this. He says that you can usually only expect people to pick up on a certain percentage of your passion (I think he said somewhere around 50%). Some people (maybe the more mature) don’t necessarily need to feed off of that, but some people do. If I’m not putting on that passion, I’m not leading. Some might call it a performance, some might call it a sacrifice of praise.

      • David Santistevan says

        Charity, love that! So you would say there’s a discipline of “putting on passion”? I guess it would be true that no one wants to follow a bored worship leader :)

        • says

          I definitely think it’s a discipline. Every now and again I’ll feel the overwhelming emotions and it’ll be effortless. But I don’t think that’s a true picture of the walk of a disciple of Jesus in general, let alone our little part of corporate worship.

          This morning my alarm went off at 4am so that I could be at church at 5:30 to get ready for our worship practice for the 7am service. Last night I was grumbling about this sacrifice I had to make, and Jesus “kindly” reminded me that His was a lot more significant. That first service was almost purely discipline for me….but it’s always more than worth it.

  4. says

    Cultivating an atmosphere of worship in the team goes a long way to keeping performance in check. Time together, without the crowd, just to sing a chorus or play spontaneous worship. How can we expect to be in the flow of what God wants to do if we practice for an hour and say a 30 second prayer? If we practice the Spirit like we practice the music, we will be ready. What happens behind the scenes sets the tone for genuine worship. This needs to be done as a group, and also as individuals. If I know I’ve been with the Lord, it matters less what others think.

    • David Santistevan says

      Wise words, Kristi. I’ve noticed this to be a struggle with worship teams that only have a limited amount of time together. 1 hour rehearsal then service, for example. Any tips on how to “practice the spirit” as a team with limited time? I think that is so important. Thanks.

  5. Ken says

    Hi David,
    Good blog topic. I am a little late on adding but I hope you don’t mind my 2 cents.

    My family has been painfully forced to find a new church home due the slow death of our fellowship of 14 years. I had the privilege of being part of the worship leadership in our old church – so as we searched for a new home worship was a sensitive area on our list.

    One of the things I noticed in our visiting is that some worship teams did well to engage the congregation and some did not. I don’t think it’s a matter of talent or preparation, since all the churches had talented people leading. So putting aside the non-issue of distraction due to poor technical performance I did notice that performance style seemed to affect audience participation.

    People tended not to sing along at churches where the music was very loud or even more so where the team was vocally centered on just one person at a time. The church we ended choosing has a worship leader who is defiantly leading, but also has at most times four other singers. This seems to create an atmosphere that encourages the audience to sing along.
    Last week our worship leader was on vacation and the team that filled in was certainly talented and prepared. Of the three singers on stage each took turns leading while the other two mostly didn’t sing (there was the occasional harmony). It was surprising how difficult it was to sing along. I thought maybe the songs were new, but even the ones I recognized were not comfortable to sing when only one person on stage was singing. At one point my wife turned to me and asked,”Are we supposed to be singing too?”. Where as on other weeks the congregation could easily be heard singing, this week it was mostly quiet.

    My point to this ramble is that if our goal of worship leaders it to lead the church body in worship then if we choose a style that discourages people from singing along – haven’t we failed?

    It seems like Christian society has gone from the hymn leader, to the chorus leader (think mid 80’s), to the Christian artist, then to the professional worship artist – who has a following and is able to go on tour and has a legitimate purpose. But then as time goes on we are starting to emulate the concert feel on Sunday morning. Instead of everyone worshiping it’s one person on stage performing.

    My answer to your question is:
    No matter how talented or prepared you are, if they’re not worshiping with you then it’s just a performance.

    • David Santistevan says

      Ken, you’re never too late!

      These are excellent points. I really appreciate your thoughtful response. You’ve included some great points on engaging a congregation.

  6. Jim Hawkins says

    One thing I’ve always tried to be aware of is that my team is not manufacturing worship.
    Worship is a gift from God to us to be able to bless his heart.
    I am a firm believer that if we ask God how he wants us to worship Him, and follow His Holy Spirit, we can’t go wrong.
    Being skilled in our area of worship is important, as even a joyful noise should sound good.
    But we shouldn’t get too hung up in “religious formalities” that are often mistaken for “Structure” Eg. “This song has to be sung like this :- verse 1, Chorus, verse 2, chorus twice then we go into free worship” etc.
    My advice,
    Be skilled, but be flexible and stay tuned to the Holy Spirit, let Him lead you in leading worship. Always give the Glory to God, He has blessed you with your talents and abilities.
    Perform the task He has given you to the best of your ability, if man see’s it as a performance, yet you are blessing the Lord and following Him in your worship, then rest easy. After all, it’s for His sake that we worship, a privilege that He has given us.
    Just my 2 bobs worth.

  7. Russ Gray says

    I think that also sincerity comes across to the audience as well. What is he/she like after worship is over? Is he willing to take the trash out of the Church’s kitchen? or clean up that children’s potty? I think people that know their Worship leader as a person who isn’t just involved in the music will also know that no matter how well things are done in the worship time, that this person is real and genuine, given their life example off the platform. Their passion and sincerity will be something infectious and not regarded as “performance” but hopefully as a true expression of worship to the Lord.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *