Walk into just about any church this Sunday morning, and you’ll see something so common that you’d never think twice about it — worship leaders on the stage. In contemporary churches, it’s as common as padded chairs and plexiglass pulpits. But maybe we need to ask the question, should worship leaders really be on stage?
Should Worship Leaders Really Be Exalted on Stage?
The Problems with Worship Leaders on the Stage
What’s the problem, anyway? Most churches use stage-centric worship. An architect designs a church, and one of the first things he does is plan for a stage — big enough for a full band and maybe a choir, too. Stages are the focal point of the auditorium. Stage-centric worship leaders are de rigueur in churches today.
So…why is this an issue?
Here’s how one churchgoer described his situation:
I see where he’s coming from, and that’s why I’ve raised the question. No, I don’t have any verse from Scripture or private revelations from God that will settle this matter once and for all. I’m just getting the question out there. Here are some of the concerns that I have with stage-centric worship leaders.
• It distracts from worship. Like my friend wrote, “I know I’m not worshipping the Lord.” In other words, he is distracted. Obviously, we don’t expect to have a perfect physical setting for every worship event. Babies will cry. Lights will flicker. Chairs will creak. People will drop their Bibles. It happens. But if there’s a major distraction that we can prevent, shouldn’t we consider it? With worship leaders on the stage, under the spotlight, and in the limelight, there’s at least the risk of distraction at best, and at worst the inability to worship.
• It places worship leaders on a pedestal. Have you read our team’s article on worship leaders and pride? Or Kristi’s discussion of humility in the life of a worship leader? We write about it, because we know it’s an issue. Let’s not pretend that worship leaders are immune to pride. The lights turn on, and there you are — in the presence of the people. You’re seen, heard, and respected. You’re The Worship Leader! And so it begins — an insidious version of pride. It’s horrible. Part of the process of feeding this monster is the very fact that worship leaders are in front, being spotlighted, being promoted, and being seen. Stages don’t create pride. But they can contribute.
• It turns worship into a performance venue rather than a worship event. Most contemporary church stages are modeled on the modern pop music stage setup. It’s the same instruments, configuration, wiring, blocking, and other accoutrements. One might argue that just because a rock concert has the same stage setup as a church doesn’t mean that the church shouldn’t do it. Speakers stand in front of people just like secular people, right? Christians drive vehicle with four wheels just like secular people, right? Of course, but there’s more. Many of our worship events are little more than concerts, albeit using Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman songs. Sometimes, the “worship service” is a performance driven event rather than a God-focused worship time. When we replace “worship” with a display of talent and skill, we’ve substituted our adoration of God into the adoration of musicians. This tragedy is facilitated by the mimicry of secular performances — elevated stage, theatrical fog, ERS, gobo lights, and a few laser effects for good measure. Is this necessary?
I know what you’re thinking: Okay, if they’re not on the stage then where should they be, huh?
The Solution to Stage-Centric Worship Leaders
Like I mentioned above, I don’t see the issue of stage placement and spot lighting addressed in neither Leviticus nor Hosea, not to mention the sixty-four other books of the Bible. In my study, I did learn that during the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:13), Solomon used an elevated stage when he led the people in corporate prayer. Nehemiah did the same thing when he led a rededication ceremony (Nehemiah 8:4). This doesn’t exactly answer our issue, though — should worship leaders be on stage?
The fact is, there aren’t any hard-and-fast answers. No single solution will work or should work for every church forever and ever, amen, thus saith the Lord.
Each church and church leader must honestly face the risks and potential effects of their particular worship plan. It’s an important decision. Please don’t feel compelled to do something just because every other church does it, or because a seriously awesome church leader recommends it or does it.
So, if you skimmed the previous section and skipped to this section because it had the word “solution” in it, I’m sorry to have disappointed you.
Here are some mold-breaking alternatives that may get you thinking. Since this article addresses the contemporary-style, band-on-the-stage model of worship team, the alternatives below provide suggestions for this model.
• Worship team on the floor. Instead of giving them a stage presence, why not put them in front, but on the main floor? This clears the way for a more prominent display of projected lyrics, too. It could be possible to shift the team to the side, too, rather than occupying the entire stage.
• Worship team behind the congregation. With sound amplification the way it is, there’s no really compelling reason to have the worship team in front, is there? I’ve visited a church where the choir sang from the back of the church. Though unexpected (to me), it served to highlight in my mind that the worship wasn’t about the performers — it was about God — and helped me focus.
• Worship team out of sight. Have you ever been to a funeral home where the musician performed in a separate room off the stage — maybe with a screen or louvered wall? The idea behind such a design is to remove distraction and to keep the audience’s attention on the memory of the loved one rather than the performer or musician. It’s not a bad idea, actually. Maybe removing the worship team from sight altogether allows us to have the benefit of the accompaniment without the distraction of their focused presence.
By the way, worship leaders and musicians, we’re not trying to get rid of you. We’re just proposing ideas that may help you do what you do better — allow for more focused worship. Focused on God, that is.
What ideas do you have?