Sunday, January 18, 2009

soli deo gloria

Nate (age 10 months) performing on mandolin, Soli Deo Gloria

Yesterday I wrote about watching art and the vulnerability of performance artists. As I was thinking over the experiences that led me to write that post, I started thinking about performance in the context of worship.

Most of the time, you only hear those two words together in a critical way -- "I didn't like the music at that worship service because it was too much like a performance." I get that, and I've probably even said something like that before. But after thinking about it more, I'm not sure that performance needs to be divorced from worship, or even from a worship service.

It's really all semantics I guess, because it boils down to what you mean when you say performance. When people complain about a worship service having an air of performance, what they probably mean is that the focus is more on the people who are leading, and less on God. I think that's very legitimate criticism, and a difficult trap to avoid for any worship team.

But if we defined performance as I did in my last post, as "a pure representation of an artist's creative abilities at that precise moment," then it takes on a different light, at least to my mind. When I sing at church it is both performance and worship, and I find nothing to be ashamed of in that. I am offering my creative abilities (performance) but it is only by the grace of God and to the glory of God (worship).

There is danger here if we get off balance -- focusing on the art or the artist, rather than the Creator of both. In that case it becomes simply performance, without worship. But there is also danger on the other side -- repressing the God-given creativity of the artist, supposedly for the sake of focusing only on God. If He has given us gifts, let us use them -- perform even! But always and in all ways, only to the glory of God. As Johann Sebastian Bach is said to have written at the bottom of each piece of music he composed, Soli Deo Gloria.


Travis Thompson said...

Well said Hay.

And can I just say that I love that photo (and not just because it's my mandolin, or my old apartment in SLO)

Brian Moss said...

Good post. Whenever "performance" conversations come up at church I have often found that the real mistake being made is not so much that we're performing, but that we've forgotten who the audience is. Augustine helpfully reminds us of the "audience of one" and I try to remember this when leading worship. However, that can lead to another danger, the worship leader worshiping in a tiny little bubble and not really inviting the congregation to come along. But that is for another post.

Haley Ballast said...

@T - i thought you'd like that photo.
@B - thanks, and sometime i'd love to hear more of your thoughts on the balance between worshiping before an 'audience of one' and engaging/leading others in worship.