The Performing Church

The other day, I was stopped in my tracks by a statement. It went something like this: “It’s hard for musicians to detach themselves from performance when Sunday morning is the only time they aren’t performing.”

Something inside me couldn’t reconcile myself to that thought. Does music always have to be a performance, barring use in church where we say we’re leading instead? After I had time to mull it over, I decided that the answer is no. Here are two examples.

The Campfire Singalong

Friends and family join their voices in a familiar song, perhaps accompanied by a guitar or two.

The Hoedown

A group of musicians build a foundation for the dancers’ feet, nimble and clumsy alike.

What do these two things have in common? Sharing. The music in each case is a shared thing, not something a single person or band does to perform. At the campfire, the group is joined by a musician who participates in the community. At a hoedown, the dance is a participation in the music.

And that brings me to my third example, which is a little bit harder to grasp if you haven’t been there. But I will try to make it understandable.

In the past two summers, I’ve spent my July at Proskuneo Worship Institute (PWI). While the full extent of those immense times of fellowship and growth would take me pages to write about, for the topic at hand you just need to know about panels.

What are panels? Each student at PWI is given an assignment to work on: learn a new technique on guitar, create a piece of art, sing a song, play on worship team. At the end of the week, students present their assignments to a panel of mentors.

This sounds like a performance. But the phenomenon I’ve observed both years I attended PWI is that it’s impossible to do anything without a good majority of the students joining in. This year, I took voice lessons and had to sing each of the three weeks I was there. Each time I got up in front of the group to sing, there was a near-immediate response of an entire roomful of voices joining mine.

Community. Brought together by sharing the music.

In other words, music can bring people together. But instead of sharing music in the church, we often spend our time in petty debates about what kind of music is okay, which instruments are acceptable, and how we can make things run more smoothly during the worship service. We’ve forgotten how to be brought together. Or we don’t want to be.

That’s my fear. And I only see one way out.

Bring the Campfire to Church

No, I don’t mean we should set the pews on fire. (Though, come to think of it, those things are horribly uncomfortable.) But what if the atmosphere of the campfire was in our churches? I don’t mean the unpleasantness of smoke that won’t stop getting in your face. I mean the freedom of a campfire gathering.

Freedom to be who we are. Freedom to forget that wrong note somebody played. Freedom to enjoy the community instead of dissecting every motive or action. Freedom to be one in what we’re singing.

It’s hard to make this work if the people of the church aren’t willing to be campfire participants. You have to really want to be with someone to desire their company in the solitude and stark vulnerability of the dancing flames. One could get lost in that moment.

What if church was like that? I don’t know about you, but in my private times of prayer and worship, I find myself feeling like I’m at a campfire with God. With some believers who are very close to me, I’ve found that same place. And while I don’t put my whole stock into how something feels, those times unfailingly make me stop and say, “Yes. This is how the church should be.”

Not a performance. Not a social gathering.

A campfire. Full of vulnerable, free people who share something far greater than the music they’re making.


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