Beyond Worship Music

March 19, 2009

Worship. I hear a lot of teaching about how “it’s more than music,” but have yet to see non-musical worship become a consistent part of corporate worship in American churches. “Alternative worship” has steadily grown in Europe over the past decade. Decade, as in the past 10 years! Why hasn’t it taken root in the United States?

Two Sundays ago, our church did something fairly bold: In order to give the “worship teams” (that is, the musicians) a break, we did not have a band. No singing. Instead, the pastor led a time of non-musical worship. It was really more like an interactive sermon, in which he would describe something, then invite everyone to participate in a brief exercise:

  • Saying the Lord’s prayer together
  • Silent meditation
  • Declaring praise with words (“God I worship you because you are ____”)
  • Body postures (raised hands, then kneeling)

This worked well. For “praise with words,” we were given a chance to write a few words and read them aloud. I wrote and shared my “Psalm by one who is unemployed“. But that experience left me wondering: Why is this special? Why can’t it be a regular part of corporate worship?

Art worship

Notably missing from the list was one our church actually does once in a while: art worship. But even that is special when it happens. In two different churches, I tried to establish a regular “art corner” with supplies, which anyone could use at any time during a gathering. It lasted exactly one time in each church. Apparently pastors don’t mind people drawing during musical worship, but really don’t like anyone drawing while they’re preaching! (Which bugs me, because some people need to draw in order to interact with anything that’s being said.)

Another form of art worship is not participatory in the sense of “everyone does it” but rather in the sense of being drawn into an experience by a gifted leader. In much the same way that a live musician expresses worship, the same can be done by a live artist. Like the music side of things, you need a certain amount of foundational talent for this not to suck, but not just talent; it requires a heart of worship. Here is a photo I took of how Jeremy Wells leads worship:

Jeremy Wells leads worship

(There is a larger story to this, which I might tell another time.)

Who’s doing it in the US?

I am less interested in special events and more interested in regular rhythms. As one who leads worship using music, I am particularly interested in blending musical and non-musical forms โ€” though even here, I’ve had pastors get nervous and say, “we want everyone to sing.” But I see my role (if it ever happens again) not as song leader but as atmosphere setter. I want to create environments that help people open their hearts to the Holy Spirit, whatever that looks like for them.

For that matter, where are the live VJs working with the music? Not the horrible canned backgrounds or even the good canned backgrounds: I mean live VJs working with the musical worship leader (they can feed off each other’s ideas), responding to the music, responding to the Holy Spirit, responding to the people?

So back to my original question: Why hasn’t alternative worship taken root in the United States? Or maybe it has and I’m missing it. Do your gatherings include forms of alternative worship as regular part of your gatherings? Is it a “sermon response” or is it seen as a worthy activity on its own?

Jon Reid

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As an American missionary kid who grew up in Japan, I'm a child of two cultures, while not fully belonging to either. This gives me a sightly different view of the world.

3 responses to Beyond Worship Music

  1. There was a group of Christians who experimented with this “Alternative Worship” concept here in Singapore a few years ago. I do not know if they are doing it these days. The one I attended was organised by artists. There was a band that played and led worship and an artiste doing some kind of art at the corner of the stage. It was a totally new experience for me, but I love the concept of worshipping God in other forms other than music.

  2. Hi Jenn, good to see you here after “meeting” on your blog. I’m so glad to have someone from Singapore come by! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I think the reason I am passionate about this is that I believe that the ultimate purpose of the arts (of any kind) is to point to God (worship) or speak for God (prophetic). Calling artists to do this as part of the gathering is a public acknowledgement of the value they bring. People used to traditional church gatherings may think it’s “weird.” But my heart goes out to artists, both believers and non-believers, who think that what they do “doesn’t belong in church.”
    Me, I love it. (Can you tell?) I hope you get another chance to experience it รขโ‚ฌโ€ or create the environment for it!

  3. Michael Gustavo c January 12, 2011 at 11:00 am

    did you watched this guy singing? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utsHefseuFc
    really amazing, he is from Brazil
    Bless you
    Michael