Oxymorons: Jumbo Shrimp, Virtual Reality, Worship Concert

There’s a relatively new term being used more and more often by Christians, one that appears both sacred and oxymoronic: “Worship Concert.”

Recently, I’ve had a few conversations about the term.  What does it mean, and what does it imply?  On the surface, a worship concert is simply a means by which worship artists perform in a concert setting.  The point of the music, and the point of the musicians, is to point people to God in some musically compelling way.  As the Christian church has done for the last two thousand years, She adopts the cultural setting and technologies and uses them to express the timelessness of the Gospel.  And there is great validity to this.

But then I got to thinking.  Just for grins, what would happen if the Old Testament worshippers adopted a worship concert approach?  Would we see Levitical priests advertising an evening concert featuring a particular name artist?  Would they sell tickets?  Would they play an encore?  Would they have a merchandise table in the back with logo’d T-shirts and hoodies? Would the band be signing autographs and having photo ops with fans?

I was recently at a worship concert where the focus was directed specifically and unapologetically to God.  And I was at a worship concert where the focus was seemingly blurred toward the performer in spiritually unhealthy ways.  The thing is, these two experiences happened at the same concert.

Certainly, there are dangers as well as opportunities here.  So I polled a few of my worship pastor/leader friends, and asked them a question I think might shed some light: “What is the difference between a worship concert and a worship service?” Because I think the answers might help us better understand the role of the up-front people in our worship experiences.  Here’s what they shared, in no particular order.

“A worship concert is designed for passionate response from the crowd.  A worship service is designed for passionate participation from the crowd.  Hopefully both produce passionate disciplined life-change.”

Dave Bollen, Twin Cities Church

“Perhaps it is simply a matter of direction, as both are acts of worship, an invitation. A worship concert offers people the beauty of music well performed.  The audience is blessed and directs gratitude for that to God. In a worship service, the audience is an active participant and becomes part of the musical/artistic offering.”

Eric Aiston, Church of the Foothills

“If the concert results in both personal and public worship of God, then great.  However, the typical concert setup makes it very easy for our human nature to applaud the ‘Leaders.’ Therefore, a concert is a risky (but not impossible) thing to associate with worship.  Any time you have people on a stage, with lights, sound, talent, cameras, everyone looking at them—we take the risk of ‘concertizing’ it.  That is why leadership is such a critical gift in helping make the ‘Front’ become transparent and point to who we are worshipping.

John Broadhead, Village Church

“Where both the worship concert and the worship service intentionally seek to engage the audience and usher them into the presence of God, a worship service is more likely to include components such as offering, preaching, and communion, and the worship concert has more of a presentational environment.  Both are great and valuable, but they serve different functions.”

John Plastow, First Covenant Church

“’Worship Concert’ means the worship band will be bringing lots of music in a wonderful way.  ‘Worship Service’ means that I, the layperson, bring my gift of worship.”

Cate Morris, Artist and Worship Leader

“For me it is a heart thing and about being intentional in the experience you are trying to offer.  I believe people are blessed at both even though the overall purpose and experience can be different.  I also believe the above two can be woven together artistically as an evening moves from moment to moment.  And I believe God honors both when He is the focus of our hearts.”

Len Jones, Journey Church

“In a worship concert,  I listen and am blessed (for me).  In a worship service,  I participate for Him and (I am blessed).  I’ve usually looked at a worship concert as us being the audience. What’s the difference between a concert and a worship concert?

Jim Heinze, New Hope Fellowship

The last response brings up a good point.  Soren Kierkegaard once compared worship to a stage play.  People typically see God as the “director” of this play, the worship leaders as the “performers,” and the congregation as the “audience.”  But he argues that in corporate worship, this is completely backwards.  When we worship as we were intended, the worship leaders are the “directors,” the congregation is the “performers,” and God is the “audience.”  Of course, this is a simplification.  But this metaphor may expose the differences between a worship concert and a worship service.

The question I pose to you then is this:  What type of worship are you experiencing in your church?

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5 thoughts on “Oxymorons: Jumbo Shrimp, Virtual Reality, Worship Concert

  1. I love the Worship Team Hero game…it’s not so far fetched.
    Great food for thought and contemplation…and as always, so very well communicated.

  2. I believe that in the hearts of the worship teams at my church, the intent of every service is a worship service. Yes we have talented musicians, but it feels like all attention is focused on God whether it be from the “stage” or from the “audience.” This is one of the many reasons why my church is my home. I can feel that each worship service is genuinely focused on God and it inspires me and allows me to focus on God as well rather than on the technicalities of the “performance” or the opinions of the people around me. It’s an intimate time for all of us with God.

    This is a tangent, but I feel compelled to share. One time, a long while ago, I was at the Hallelujah Jubilee at Six Flags Magic Mountain and we were at a concert. Switchfoot (before they were very big and when there were only 3 of them) was up first and Audio Adrenaline finished out the show. The only way I can describe it was that is was a worship concert service. Yes there were band logo’d items being sold and I even got some autographs from Switchfoot, but the atmosphere was different than any other concert I had been to. There was one point in the concert when it became obvious that I had just experience a worship service right in the middle of an amusement park! The band was playing a song from one of their CDs when all of the sudden, they started singing a worship song. They didn’t play anything, they just sang… and everyone around me was singing and there was the overwhelming presence of God. It was beautiful and I knew at that moment that God was there with us rocking out to Audio Adrenaline and Switchfoot soaking up the love that we were all giving to Him :).

    P.S. If I comment or babble too much let me know. It’s just that my heart relates to what you write and it helps me to channel in on what God is thinking and desiring for my life :). Have a lovely day!

  3. First, thanks for discussing a topic that seems to be rarely considered, at least in the circles in which I roam.

    Seems scripture does not present anything close to the “concert” idea that the modern Western/USA church is embracing. I would suggest the Israelites as well as the early church Christians didn’t look at worshiping the Creator as a PASSIVE event where they went to WATCH a few do all the “work” of expressing the worth of their Lord, Sustainer, Life!

    There seem to be many denominations (and tens of thousands, yes, TENS of churches) who say/preach that the Bible is true in every way and is to be our guide for life yet their members know little of what it means to ACTIVELY worship God, not just on Sunday but Monday through Saturday. I know what it’s like. I was someone like that, yet have been graciously “rescued” from that empty, should I say, religious lifestyle.

    It’s SAD that most church leaders don’t know the difference or don’t care or don’t know what to do to help those for whom God has allowed them to be responsible.

    While there may be no condemnation (Romans 8:1), the Western church needs to do some heavy self-judging. “Depart from Me, I never KNEW you” comes to mind. Knowing HIM experientially seems to be an ACTIVE thing not passive. Just as my wife, I’m sure, would rather I be ACTIVELY engaged in knowing her in our marriage than just sit back as she “performed” on stage and I clapped. Probably not a good analogy.

    He desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and truth.

    Worship, like church, is not something I GO TO but something I AM and DO all the time.

  4. In my opinion, I believe when you are lifting up the name of Jesus and playing skillfully in whatever it is you do it is worship unto God. I don’t think it matters how loud the music is or if you have lights flashing…if we put worship in a genre or a certain setting then I guess we’ll have to go back to playing lyres, harps, trumpets, etc. in buildings made of rock with dirt floors and torches or candles for lighting. I think the thing we need to worry about is our own hearts and focus when we come together for worship, we shouldn’t worry about anyone else but ourselves, we shouldn’t worry about the music or anything else. It’s up to us to worship God.

    1. Though you’re quite late to the conversation, I appreciate your contribution, Jonathan. And I appreciate your passion for worship as well. I do agree with you that worship is more a matter of the heart than genre and setting, though the latter are not unimportant things. I would challenge you, however, to rethink your comment, “we shouldn’t worry about anyone else but ourselves.” As a worship pastor, my calling is more than music — it is the spiritual conditions of the hearts of the worshipers I lead. As such, we must teach, model, encourage, engage, and love our people as they become more fully formed in Christ. And that includes how/why/when they worship. This is one reason why the calling of the “worship leader” is more strenuous than that of the “worshiper”.

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