A common misconception in churches today (and has been for a long time) is that the “up front people”–the worship leaders (including pastor, singers, choir, soloists, instrumentalists, drama team, Bible readers, etc.) are the performers of worship and the congregation is the audience.  I’m sure you see that attitude every Sunday.  Many like to sit back in their seats, fold their arms, and say, “Entertain me. Bless me. Give me a great song and an inspiring sermon.” –a common attitude for our entertainment-driven culture.  I call these folk “pew potatoes.”

I believe one of the most profound illustrations that has helped me understand the various roles in worship comes from Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher, theologian, writer and psychologist.

Many people view the roles of worship like this:

  • The worship leaders are the performers of worship. They sing the great songs, preach the powerful sermons, and perform instrumental solos with great precision.
  • The congregation is the audience. They sit back and take in the great show.
  • God is the prompter of worship, i.e. He tells the worship leaders what to do–what songs to choose, what passage of scripture to read, etc.

Kierkegaard stated that in corporate worship:

  • The people should be the performers of worship. They are actively participating in the act of worship.
  • The worship leaders are the prompters of worship. They lead the congregation on a journey of worship, helping them to voice their praise to God.
  • God is the audience. He is receiving our offering of worship.

If our congregations fully understand that worship is not something done for them, but they are active participants in the journey, it can truly transform worship in our churches.

Unfortunately, many worship leaders see themselves as performers rather than evokers of worship. Getting our roles straight is an important first piece in seeing worship renewal in our churches.

We worship the Audience of One.

[note: while this illustration is very helpful in getting our focus off of the worship leaders as performers and the congregation as passive spectators, we do need to recognize that the worship leaders are actively worshipping (performing) with the congregation in addition to prompting the worship experience. Additionally, worship leaders and the congregation are also an audience in the sense of worship as a interaction with God (a two-way interaction in worship) in that He reveals Himself to us and we respond to Him.]