Sunday 8 April 2012


This is one of those posts where I've got a whole lot of thoughts buzzing round my head that I'm going to attempt to funnel into some kind of logical stream that might hopefully make sense to you reading it.

So here goes. 

I've just come back from a Christian Conference.  I think that's what you call it.  I guess it's also a holiday for some.  After all it takes place at Butlins!  A few months ago a friend asked if I would go as a volunteer to help do 'creative stuff' with the 14-18 year olds.  That meant decorating their huge venue and then facilitating art (painting/drawing/writing/clay/collaging/etc) during the week.  I've got to say it's not the kind of thing I'd chose to go to usually... partly because I feel like I've been to enough of such events in my lifetime to keep me going for a while(!), partly just down to personal taste, and partly because I knew it would have the potential to raise some of the many questions and frustrations I hold about the Church, Christianity and Worship, among other things!

Which, it did.

I suppose I could go down a lot of routes, and make this a very long post discussing all the things that make me cringe, make me want to scream or hit something, make me feel disappointed... but I do realise that some of those things, like the style of 'worship' music, are not the most important issues, and sometimes I just gotta get over it (or save the chat for another day! haha!)

So to summarise.  Today's plea is:  Please Can we Get Rid of all the Stages.

In the youth venue, where they had all their meetings, there was a huge stage, on which the worship band (modern day choir and organists for any of you who haven't been to church in a few years! ;-) ) played during the week.  This is the case in many church buildings; the band, and the leaders (ministers/vicars/etc/etc), and the speakers/preachers stand on the stage and sometimes stay sitting on it throughout the whole meeting (service/gathering).  AND I JUST DON'T KNOW WHY. 

Ok, I do know why.  A stage means that people can be seen.  [Not heard, because the microphones do that job].  And a big part of communication is body language, so I suppose it helps to see the person that is speaking.  So my issue perhaps isn't so much with whoever's doing the 'talky bit' being on some kind of platform/screen.

What I find more difficult to understand is why those helping to lead and facilitate times of worship are nearly always on a stage.  In most churches these days, 'worship' means a group of musicians playing instruments while the rest of the congregation/gathering sings.  What this ends up looking like is a band on a stage, with a lead singer(s) and the rest of the room facing them, as if at a gig, as if the reason they are gathered is just to listen to the music and watch those creating it.  I think an often narrow definition of what it means to worship the God of the Universe collectively is part of the problem.  Yes, singing is great, but there are many other things we can do to express love/adoration/respect of God.  And even if we did just sing, the PA system is often so loud that it wouldn't make a difference whether we joined in or not.  And if the purpose of worshipping in the context of a church service is to do it together, why are some people made the main focus as if they are somehow more holy, more spiritual, more important? 

I do appreciate that having someone to lead is helpful, especially when there are a lot of people.  But this is a role of service, of helping others to focus on God, so I'm not sure it's beneficial to elevate them to almost 'rockstar' status by constantly having them on stages, under bright lights - not for them or for everyone else.  Which brings me to the question: Why are worship leaders so often good-looking young men, which young Christian girls then obsess over?  No wonder being a worship leader is often the dream of many a church youth group member, the sign of having 'reached' the ultimate 'Good Christian' status.  Doesn't this just sound like someone wanting to be famous, attractive, successful?  I'm not saying this is the reason that people lead worship, and I cannot judge the heart of those who stand and sing into microphones at many a Christian event or conference, but I don't think we are helping to maintain attitudes of humililty, of acceptance, and of living to please God rather than man.

Let's not create dependence on stages, whether physical or imagined.  Too often hierarchies can be detected in the church, fame becomes too valued, and those who sit on stages become less and less willing to join those stacking chairs at the back.  Of course these are generalisations, and I am privileged to know some very humble, servant-hearted leaders, but in my experience they have been the exception to the rule. 

And back to music: If you're a brilliant musician, that's great!  By all means, use your gifts to bring glory to God in pubs, in clubs, concerts, etc.  I know that many churches want to bring standards of excellence into their services and I do think it's important to give our best to God.  But that doesn't mean perfection.  It doesn't mean excluding those who are still learning, who aren't as good-looking or charismatic, who don't fit the mould.  I think the lines between performance and worship are getting too blurred, until those who have been trusted to lead don't trust themselves to deviate from the plan, or to make a mistake.  If we don't feel we can identify with those who worship on stages because they are too perfect, how can they truly lead us?  Why not come down to the ground where the lights don't blind you and get a sense of where people are truly at, and encourage them to approach God, just as they are.

God is a God of creativity.  Of variety.  Just look around you at the world, at people, and marvel at the diversity.  I think it's such a shame that this is often not being reflected in the church, especially in our worship.  Creativity to me means new things, means explosions of life and colour, means order coming from what might first appear to be chaos.  And God is also a God that choses the foolish to shame the wise, and the weak to shame the strong.  So please let's be careful of all our stages, and not become too eager to stand upon one.

PS  Sorry if this was a bit of a rant.  As well as being frustrated this week, I was also really encouraged.  I met some great people, had some good meaty conversations, and I saw young people being challenged, saw them being inclusive and accepting of others, heard them asking questions, and putting straight into practise the things they were hearing and learning.  Which was all about loving the world and making a difference.  So that can't be a bad thing!  And finally, something which goes to highlight what I've been going on about, is that each night after the evening meetings, young people gathered of their own accord on plastic chairs under fluorescent lights, next to a burger king, with a few guitars, and sang together, worshipping God together until the early hours of the morning. 

1 comment:

cardygirl said...

i have to say i agree with you kat. So often in the middle of a song I realise my eyes and mind are focussed on the band or the worship leader...and NOT on God. I definitely have a problem with "worhip" and the fact that it has come to mean well groomed bands and singers. I LOVE to sing but can't sing well, and I love to move and use my body (not quite as gracefully as you do!) to worship God, such as bowing down or dancing etc. But often feel that doesn't have a place in the worship. Anyway now I'M ranting!! and all i was going to say was I agree! :) :)