By Dwayne Moore
In a sense, worship is a show; or to be more specific, praise is a show. Praise is the upward part of worship. Praise is done with our bodies—flowing from our hearts to the outside of us. Therefore, when we praise God, it’s obvious to anyone who’s looking our way.
In the King James Version, the New Living Translation and a few other translations, the word “show” is directly associated with praise: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (KJ21, italics added). According to Young’s Literal Translation, praises are “excellences ye may shew forth of Him.”
As a worship leader, I make no apologies for people watching me worship and observing me publicly lift up praise to God. One of our greatest privileges as Christians is to boldly proclaim to others how awesome He is.
I recently had a good friend say to me, “Dwayne, sometimes I feel like worship in church is a show.” The more I’ve thought about that, the more I agree with him. Consider the definitions of show. As a verb, it means to “be visible“ and “display a quality, emotion, or characteristic.” It can also mean to “demonstrate or prove.” Shouldn’t we be visible as worshipers, to let our light shine before people? Shouldn’t we display the amazing quality of life and joy the Lord has given us? Shouldn’t we demonstrate His greatness? Of course we should.
As a noun show means “a spectacle or display of something, typically an impressive one.” Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the praises of God.” They give an impressive display of praise. As His chosen people we should do no less. Our praise should be an excellent declaration of His glory and majesty.
Why Worship Is Not a Show
While we are to “show forth” His praises in the ways we just defined, we are not to put on a show. Another definition of show is “a public entertainment.”1 I think that’s the definition my friend was referring to when he called worship in church a show. I think he meant that sometimes it looks like public entertainment.
The goal of worship leading is not to entertain people; we should be trying to engage them in true, Biblical worship. We should want to influence people to “magnify the Lord with me” and “exalt His name together” (Psalm 34:3, ESV). More importantly, we should seek to illumine those in our congregations, to let the Lord shine through us onto them, as our faces glow for His glory. There’s nothing “showy” about that. That’s simply what He’s called us to do.
Perhaps my friend was referring to the lights and haze and artistic backdrops that more and more churches are using now. However, those things when used appropriately can help draw our attention and focus toward the praise that’s taking place on the platform and in the congregation. Think about how a beautiful sunset or a night sky of glimmering stars can help prompt you to worship. God’s been using visual art to draw us to Him since the beginning of creation. Visual creativity in worship is not a new idea, and it certainly shouldn’t be a secular or worldly show.
I’m not really sure what my friend meant when he said worship is a show. I just know I can’t be responsible for what people might perceive or imagine about our worship team or about me as we lead in praise. The word show can also mean “an outward appearance.”2 But my personal worship has never been about appearance. For me, it’s never been a show. I’m not some actor on a stage. As I stand on that platform week after week, my worship is real, as real as life itself. That’s because God is my life, and the songs we sing are truths my heart longs to express to the Lord. My sincere desire is to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
We can’t convince others that our worship is genuine. They can’t examine our hearts, and they don’t know our motives. All that any worship leader or pastor can do is to live a life of worship—which demonstrates to those around us our love for God, day in and day out.
May our testimony and the result of our worship be like David’s: “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:3, ESV, italics added).