Recently I tuned in to watch a live stream of a conference. The leader had given a welcome and began the time with prayer. As he prayed, members of the worship team walked onto the stage, cued up the songs on the MacBook, and got their instruments ready. Immediately after the prayer was ended, the music began.
This article is not to debate whether churches should have praise teams. This episode occurred at a conference put on by a para-church organization that advocates “gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior”, and not at a church. Conferences can be an encouraging and edifying time for Christians. However, several questions arose in my head from observing these “behind the scenes” actions:
1) What are these events considered to be? And what is the purpose of such events? There is prayer, song, and a talk on a theological topic. Would this be some form of informal worship service?
2) Why did the praise team not join in praying? Are they not part of the event, but merely “players”? Now I was watching this on the computer, but if I were physically there, as a Christian, shouldn’t I participate in the prayer? I could understand if there were an emergency, like my toddler had to go NOW or the baby was screaming. But if you’re on the praise team, can’t it wait? You may be praying while setting up the lyrics on your computer, but generally it is considered respectful to be still and wait for the prayer to be over. Does this not apply if you are part of the leadership?
3) How important is the “flow” of a service? Is a 10 second delay to be avoided at all costs? Will you lose your “congregation” if there is a pause between the end of prayer and the beginning of music? Or is this not a meeting of the church, but a performance? In a performance, timing is everything. Cueing the lights and music at the right time is crucial for the desired effect upon the audience.
4) So what is the intended effect on the audience? Is it to provoke some mood? Could this mood be recreated without such seamless transitions? Which is more important: the mood of the audience or allowing all people at the event a chance to join in prayer?
Much thought goes into planning such conferences. Yet a simple act of a praise band setting up during a prayer implies that this is entertainment, where the audience is a spectator and those onstage are not participants in a shared experience, but performers. It also demonstrates the priority placed on singing rather than prayer. May the organizers consider how to best glorify the Savior, and whether that means musicians forego joining in prayer.
5 thoughts on “Praise Teams: Exempt From Prayer?”
During my Charismatic days, “flow” mattered a great deal! The aim was to create and maintain an “air of expectancy” so that “faith would rise and enable the Spirit to move.” As if the Spirit was paralyzed without our “faith” to “activate” His actions. The entire music service was carefully scripted and manipulated to stir emotion and “expectancy.” The very idea that we could achieve “spiritual” results by manipulating the FLESH is completely opposed to scripture. In fact, I would go so far as to call it “witchcraft” because by very definition, manipulation IS witchcraft (Galatians 3:1, “who has BEWITCHED you … did you think that what you started in the Spirit could be continued and perfected in the flesh?”). I wonder if even non-Charismatic churches are just as guilty though, using soft music during an “altar call” to “move” people to the altar, and even the lofty, highfalutin liturgy of the Anglican and Eastern churches designed to heighten the sense of awe and “inspire” devotion. The Regulative Principle of Worship has been one of the Reformation’s most amazing gifts to all who would come after it.
Great point about charismatic churches and “flow”. Since this conference group makes charismatic gifts and the RPW secondary issues, it makes sense.
I wonder if part of it is cultural as well. I have often wondered, in the age of Michael Bay movies where every 3 to 5 minutes half the set has to blow up or a scantily clad woman has to start running in slow-mo, if the Master of Suspense (Hitchcock) could have actually gotten his career off the ground. No one wants the suspense before the explosion. That requires too much time, too much investment, too much attention, too much audience participation. No, they want their explosions, expletives, and half-naked women now!
Now bring this same audience into a church service where they have not been discipled to think differently about these things. They enter a service where they are told there will be no explosions, no expletives, and no scantily clad women. Before long they start to think, ‘This requires too much time, too much investment, too much attention, and too much congregational participation. I’m out of here!’
Well, when you have undiscipled millennials leaving in droves, this makes pragmatist church leaders very uncomfortable. They start to do their research and read the polls. They start to see that, if you really want millennials to stay in the seats, you have to give them smoke, lights, big screens, explosions, expletives, and scantily-clad women. You certainly don’t ask them to participate in any way, to the point that you start supplementing congregational singing with solo performances and music so loud that the congregation couldn’t be heard even if they all sang at the top of their voices anyway.
The worst thing you can do is leave them in suspense while the sound is being set up. After all, they may start to think, ‘This requires too much time, too much investment, too much attention, and too much congregational participation. And where’s my coffee bar? I’m out of here!’ The alternative as I have already implied is individual discipleship, but that requires too much time, too much investment, too much attention, and too much elder participation for the modern church leader on the go.
I did wonder if the organizers thought a pause wouldn’t work with our instant gratification culture. For a conference such as the one I watched, which is hugely popular in Doctrines of Grace circles, and has several relatively sound speakers, I wonder if those in charge have thought through these methods or have shrugged it off as a way to reach more people, or perhaps practice evangelical ecumenism. However, what you win them with, you have to keep them with. When the circumstances of worship are more important than the elements of worship, there’s a problem.
Gabe and I are actually starting a worship study together. So thinking about your post, I do think that people feel generally uncomfortable with long pauses, and as Billy said, they don’t like to think and reflect too much. So it really may be cultural, but growing up in the Black church, the pianist was pretty much always playing. And he would even play music as the pastor was gearing up to finish the sermon and during the call to prayer at the altar. So, I’m realizing more and more how much music has always been a part of my general disposition towards “worship”, and I’m guessing this study is going to pretty challenging to “rethink” a lot of what I’ve always known to be normal. Fantastic eye and thoughts!!!