Jamie Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College. He recently wrote an open letter to praise bands. It's an interesting read, but, more importantly, an interesting thought exercise.
1. Do you appreciate the time and effort that people put into leading music at church? My church, for instance, has two services. We aren't a big church, so that means that those who lead the singing will be doing both services while us "normal" people will only be there for one. Add to that the time to practice, the dedication to quality, the preparation both in content and in heart, and it becomes quite an investment. They deserve our appreciation.
2. Is it worship leading or is it performance? I've been in front in the past. I've led singing, played music, that sort of thing. I stopped for a variety of reasons, but one that I don't typically mention is the fact that the entire task of leading music coupled with the popularity of entertainment lends itself to the sense of performance rather than worship leading. Drawing the line between "quality" and "performance" is difficult. Fighting off the quite natural human desire to be noticed and appreciated ("I just love our music director; he sings so well and really puts us in the mood.") tends to feed more of the ego than the attention to the divine.
This problem is typically reflected in the congregation as well. We think of the front platform as a "stage" (often because that's exactly what we call it) and the people on it as "performers" and we appreciate a "good performance" and aren't thrilled with a "bad performance". We applaud (quite literally) skill and technique, but don't really pay as much attention to lyrical content or the direction the music takes us. (How often, for instance, do worship leaders practice Col 3:16?) We often make the most skilled musician the worship leader without regard to spiritual qualification. Some churches even make the worship group a paid position because we want the best talent. As such, the congregation feeds off a sense of performance which the worship leadership has to fight in itself. Problem.
The problem is the worldly mindset. The people up front are the performers. The congregation are the audience. And we have a concert going on. Not nearly accurate, of course, but it's how we tend to think. There is indeed an audience in church on Sunday. It's God Himself. And there are indeed performers on Sunday. They are each and every member of the congregation. The worship leaders (and pastors and all), then, have the task of leading, not performing. They direct the performance of the congregation to provide God the best possible pleasure. That, of course, is not the standard thinking of the world and it is too often not the standard thinking of the congregation.
In the article, Smith writes several suggestions for "leading worship" for the band. He tries to avoid making it a performance by encouraging less volume from the band, by choosing songs that people can sing (rather than simply hear), by making the band less than the center of attention. Good things, I'm sure. And he tries to avoid making it an issue of preference or stubbornness -- not about style or form. It's not about "I don't like that kind of music" or "Should we really have drums in church?", but he asks instead two basic questions. "Is it about pleasing us or pleasing God?" "Is it worship or performance?" We need to be careful about importing worldly thinking into church and calling it "worship" because it tickles our ears. I would recommend, also, that you read his postscript to the open letter. There are certainly things in the open letter as well as the postscript worth considering. And since we consider worship our highest task, perhaps we ought to give it some careful thought.