Søren Kierkegaard was a philosopher who devised a worship model explaining the relationship between God, the worship leaders, and the congregation. The history and other writings of Kierkegaard are beyond the scope of this writing but his philosophy on worship has truly opened our eyes to how Scripture (and moreover, the Lord) views each of our roles.
The medieval model of worship, still so prevalent today, views
- God as the prompter of worship,
- the congregation as the audience of worship,
- the worship leaders (and other platform personalities) as the actors.
The problem with this medieval model is obvious: the congregation is only expected to observe. Their involvement is secondary to what the worship leaders do. This practice is still observed in so many churches where the people “up front” do all the work of worship while the congregation sits idly. As Westerners we are also accustomed to this “observer status.” We attend concerts and sporting events where we are conditioned to being observers. Although our presence makes a difference to the “stars of the show,” the event could go on if we weren’t there. We do not truly miss anything by being absent.
This mentality creeps into the church in subtle ways. Even churches claiming to put worship first still focus on polished singers singing with a polished band on a stage lit brightly while the “worshippers” sit in the dark. No wonder worship feels like a “concert” to many in the modern Evangelical church. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a statement against excellence, artistry, performance, lighting, or video in worship services. It is, however, a statement to check our motives. Let’s remember who the “star” really is. We can’t get so focused on “doing a good job” that we forget to actually engage the dear souls in front of us.
Kierkegaard reacted to this idea by making the suggestion that we really have it all wrong. Kierkegaard stated
- God is the audience of worship,
- the congregation serves as the actors,
- the worship leaders serve as prompters
Do you see the difference? God is one who receives focus; He is the audience. The congregation is given the duty of serving as the actors of worship. They are the primary players in the theater of worship. The people on the stage are reduced from the stars of worship to prompters. Just like in the theater, these prompters quietly whisper the next phrase to the actors while they perform for their audience: God the Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit.
Churches using this model are different in significant ways from the church using the medieval models. For example, the entire worship space is artistically and creatively lit. The emphasis is on the people participating and not simply listening along. Honestly, you might not really observe too many differences between them on the surface but the motivation (and our hearts) are in truly difference places. Spiritually speaking, it’s night and day.
With this model, Kierkegaard reminded us Biblical worship is leitourgos: the work of the people (Hebrews 8:2). The church is a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9); we are called to serve the Lord. We also serve Him in worship (Romans 12:1). This philosophy, when properly integrated, will change the way a church worships.
Kierkegaard’s model serves us very well. However, there is a deeper level to what worship truly is. For instance: Scripture states God “inhabits” (is enthroned in) the praises of His people (optional rendering of Psalm 22:3). Also, since God revealed Himself to us, He is the producer. As such, many worship leaders have put forth this modification on the Kierkegaard model:
- God is the star actor, audience, AND producer of worship.
- the congregation serves as the actors.
- the worship leaders serve as prompters and actors in supporting roles.
Does this get us off the hook for performing well? Absolutely NOT! It raises the bar even higher. Supporting actors are there to make the actors and the star actor look good. I remember in the days of leading dramatic, musical outreach events, we would often say, “it’s not the guy playing Jesus reminding audience members they are at a play, it’s the ‘extras’ in the scene saying nothing.” When those without lines were “into” the scene and put their hearts and souls into it, people were transported to first century Palestine and for those brief hours saw Jesus and His passion “in the flesh.” As worship leaders and teachers (and anyone up front), it is absolutely imperative we perform our role as prompters well. We don’t want the actors tripping over us while they’re trying to make the Star look good.
A little something to think about: wherever you are in the model (worship leader, teacher, congregation member, Scripture reader, etc.), are you doing your job at 110% in order to make the Star look as great as we can? The only Star is our precious Savior and we have a world to show that we will not spare energy, attention and finances to make Him look as worthy as He already is.