The Fine Line Between Worship and Entertainment

The problem is, when you have a gathering of more than two, more often than not what they want is not the same. Thus, those who lead the musical part of our worship gatherings have had to develop a pretty thick skin in order to survive.

Yet, while varying opinions are inevitable, we do have to ask the question, "What is the purpose of music in worship gatherings?" Why do we have music? Why do we sing together? And how do we know when we have crossed that very fine line between worshiping the Almighty and merely entertaining ourselves?

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So, before I even begin to venture into the conversation of music in worship gatherings, I must disclose that I, myself, am not a musician. Therefore I must count myself among the throngs of people who have very little expertise on the subject, yet very large opinions.

Honestly, there are few elements more controversial or divisive in a worshiping community than music. Strange as it may seem, we can be flexible on many things, but when it comes to singing together, most people know what they like, and they want what they like. The problem is, when you have a gathering of more than two, more often than not what they want is not the same. Thus, those who lead the musical part of our worship gatherings have had to develop a pretty thick skin in order to survive.

Yet, while varying opinions are inevitable, we do have to ask the question, "What is the purpose of music in worship gatherings?" Why do we have music? Why do we sing together? And how do we know when we have crossed that very fine line between worshiping the Almighty and merely entertaining ourselves?

So, while I am not a musician, I am a pastor, and I do have a responsibility to give thought to the role of music within our community. My first thought is that there is no genre that is particularly more worshipful than another. Hymns sung with an organ can lead us to an encounter with the Divine, or can leave us falling asleep in the pew—it depends on the spirit behind it. Similarly, rock and roll praise songs can help usher us into worship, or distract us from the purpose of the gathering. The type of music does not matter as much as the intention of the music.

Singing together is an act of prayer. Just as the Psalms were the prayer book of the Hebrews, so our hymns and praise songs are part of our communal prayer. Therefore, the words we sing matter. We need to pay attention to what it is that we as a community are expressing about God. It is important that we tell the whole story through our singing—not just part of it. It is important that we do not merely pick frivolous songs that have a great beat, but very little beyond that. What we sing shapes how we see God—even if we are not aware of the formative power of singing together.

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Additionally, and this is something our community particularly struggles with, how we sing matters. Trinity Church has some incredible musicians that bless us every Sunday morning. Many in our community find the music to be one of the most significant aspects of our worship. Quality has become very important in that. Yet, there are times when the music is honestly so loud you cannot hear each other sing. Or we focus on a guitar solo, that while very impressive, does not really draw our attention to God. Quality can be a distraction. But along with that, so can poor quality. Many churches, in an attempt to get away from the showy aspect of music have opted for bad musicians. And while we do not want to make music more than it ought to be, we also want to bring our best before God. Bad music is just as much of a distraction as great music.

The challenge for us is to allow music to almost become transparent—so that through it we see God. There is a fine line we walk here between worship and entertainment.

How does your community use music? How do you measure worship versus entertainment? In what ways are you intentional about the role music plays in your worship gatherings?

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