- Should we lead worship with the lights off in the sanctuary?
I remember hearing one time about a worship band that liked to perform in the dark. They would take the stage, turn all of the lights off and play. The motivation behind this unusual approach was to (literally) take the spotlight off of themselves in order to place it on God.
When I first heard about this unusual practice, I initially thought it was a little strange. After all, there are actually people up on a stage playing instruments and singing. What is the point of pretending they aren’t there? Couldn’t you just as well play some recorded music and achieve a similar result? While I completely understand the attitude behind this approach to leading worship, there is also a part of me that wonders what our place as creative people and artist is, if not to create artistic expressions of worship. If we are performers, this must somehow entail performance.
I know that word tends to have a very taboo connotation to it in the church these days. We as worship leaders and musicians don’t want to be accused of performing because it somehow seems to imply that the attention is on us. In some sense, that may be true. One definition of performance is ”an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment” according to the dictionary. Another definition, though, is to “carry out an act” as in to “perform” a duty. In other words, we can perform a service to the church by playing an instrument, singing, teaching children, taking out the trash, etc.
We’ve all seen the extreme. I will be the first to say that when someone who is leading worship seems to be motivated by attention or is conveying something less than an attitude of humility it can be distracting and off-putting. But therein lies the struggle of every creative that wants to serve the body and use the beauty the Creator has woven into him or her.
It’s perplexing and complex. I have often struggled with how to find balance in the weightiness of this responsibility.
Many years ago I was serving on a worship team as a lead guitar player. When the worship leader I was serving under, who happened to be a very good friend, asked me to stop playing guitar solos because he felt our team needed to be a little less showy, I was more than a little resentful. In other seasons, I have perhaps swung a little too far the other way in an effort to be more invisible as a worship leader or team member.
The key for me is the heart. What is my attitude when I find myself in that seemingly awkward position of stepping onto a platform under lights with an instrument with the goal of giving glory to someone greater than myself?
I love the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 of the master who went on a journey and entrusted his servants with his own riches. The faithful servants used what they were entrusted with and multiplied what they were given by faithfully using it as if it were their own. Their reward was not the profit their master’s money earned. (That multiplied treasure also belonged to the master.) Their reward was that they had shown themselves faithful and proven their trustworthiness and, therefore, were trusted with more.
In the same way, the treasure we are entrusted with does not belong to us. Nor does the fruit of it. The greatest reward for a servant is to be trusted by his Lord. If we get too caught up in the temporary satisfaction of our own glory, we miss out on the true joy that we can have when we don’t own the treasure or the glory it brings. Our job is to perform our faithful act of service to the one who gives and receives the glory.
Whether your worship team believes in guitar solos or not or performs with the lights on or off, the point is not to be invisible or visible. It’s simply to reflect.
Eric Heinrichs is a worship leader in Southern California. For more information or to connect with him please visit worshiptones.org.