expressive worship

What Are We Lacking?

I taught at a worship conference, but left with an empty feeling. I’m not sure why.

Everyone was nice at the event – the organizers of the event are great people! My teaching was well received. People told me how much they appreciated it. I made a little money.

But I felt a lack of vitality. Here is my perception about that lack of vitality: most everyone plays it safe. Personalities are dumbed down. I feel like growth and change might not be impossible for those that came… but improbable.

This happens regularly when I’m at worship events. I don’t sense the same desire I experience at other events: Berklee College of Music, the Army School of Music, Canadian Music Week, the New Music Seminar in Los Angeles…

The desire to be artistic, creative, or serious about the craft is not prominent at worship events like it is at those secular events. It seems that the musicians who are “in the world” are passionate about seeking their own glory – but many of the musicians and artists who want to glorify God through music don’t seem that passionate.

Maybe it was just a weird weekend for me. But I don’t think so. It’s hard for me to explain this feeling, so I’m reaching out to you – what do you think?

Is it because there’s a lack of freedom in our church services or with the pastor? Are we preoccupied with other things? Are we trying to be “humble?” Maybe it’s my personality. But when I do something, I want to do it passionately, with my whole heart. Particularly something as important as this.

Philippians 2:13 (Amplified) says: “It is God who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight.”

It’s frustrating for me. These are the things I want for the church: energy, passion, excitement, creativity, artistry. But it feels like I want it more than some of the people I speak to.

Let me know what you think. If these are things that DO move you, I hope you’ll join us at our worship event on May 20-21 in Nashville. I hope we can encourage each other to be passionate about what we do!

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Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson, world renowned Live Music Producer, helps musicians and worship teams develop songs into “unique worship moments.” His Live Music Methods help create freedom in the room so your congregation can express their worship more freely and passionately than ever before! Tom has worked with nearly every genre from rock to pop to Christian Gospel, impacting major artists and worship leaders such as Jars of Clay, Casting Crowns, NewSong, Sidewalk Prophets, Chris Tomlin, Francesca Battistelli, Todd Agnew, Phillips, Craig & Dean, Parachute Band, The Martins, plus a multitude of independent artists.

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  1. Scott says:

    Tom, I firmly believe it’s a lack of training. I work with our Student Worship Arts program at my church, and have been disturbed at the trend of churches eliminating these programs. I’m sure you’d agree that passion is not just felt, but it’s a result of growing in an area you enjoy. For example, I’m passionate about football because I enjoy football and have spent time watching it. How could I be passionate about it if I never watched it and learned about the game. The same goes for worship. If I don’t practice and learn about worship, I won’t be passionate about that worship.

    I think you’re on the mark with this post. I love reading them!

  2. Randy says:

    I completely agree with you here Tom. I am a worship leader for a small church in Florida and I used to be a rocker in a secular band. We woodshedded and toured and wrote and recorded. Very passionate about our craft and always seeking to enhance the performace aspect of our lives shows. Five years since the band dissolved, married with a kid, and seeking to glorify God through music, it seems very difficult to find others as passionate about arrangments and practicing as I am. Why is it that church bands only practice once a week for an hour and a half (2 hrs if lucky) and secular bands will daily for 3-4 hours? My old band use to practice until we could litterally play every song in complete and total darkness and sound the same. It seems like many church bands struggle to just play the songs (with music stands and bad chord charts) mediorcrely and call it glorifying God. Maybe if they were playing more of their own songs it would change? not sure. Thanks for your wisdom Tom

  3. Jim Drew says:

    There are probably many reasons for this but prominent is the “balance” between humbleness and boasting. I was a timid sort, I believe well gifted but afraid to put it all out there. Stage was okey but letting folks know I wanted to play felt like I was pushing myself on them. That has changed but it took a lot of years, letting go of mental baggage. What you teach makes great things possible but sometimes there is a ton in the background that needs to get dealt with, personally, emotionally, spiritually.

    It was the coolest thing to meet with a guy a few weeks ago who has known me for many years. He said to me “You finally seem comfortable in your own skin”. As we talked I realized that I had stepped up and was no longer tied down by my history. The very love I had for music and things to say was finding it’s freedom in more ways than one.

    Over the years the “church” has unwittingly added to that baggage and sometimes folks need to recognize it and find real freedom in Christ.

  4. jim maloni says:

    At our church, we sing the latest & greatest songs.We play them well, but we lack much of what you,re saying here. It’s almost like if we let the Holy Spirit reign, that we’ll no longer be in control of the worship…My God wouldn’t that be terrible! To actually let Him have His way with us as we praise Him..Something crazy like healing miracles,or deliverances might happen..I want and need to get Crazy for the Lord,Tom, but I think it would be considered that I was showing off as I sing my praises to Him…Was David wrong or his wife as she criticised him? If we radically love Him, pray that the church radically worships Him in their lives and in their worship at church..I love ya bro. Thanx for your insight..PEACE..Bubba

  5. Howard Lull says:

    I appreciate and can relate to your article. I think this is at least two-fold. I spoke with a well known christian singer-song writer and told him that my personality loves to “tear it up” on the stage. (regardless who is watching) I just love to move and sing. He said that there are things in a relationship you do behind closed doors in privacy and some signs of affection you do in front of others. (catch the drift) In other words he placed restrictions on what I should do in front of a “church” crowd. Secondly I find most churches tell me where to park, usher me where to sit, and tell me how to think. In other words I can’t always be who God has created me to be, because of others comfort zones, restrctions etc. I am also left pondering the worship leaders at times because they are perhaps the most talented but not always the best anointed to lead me into worship. We all have a responsiblity to bring a worshipful passionate attitude that we havent let become mundane. Lots to say.

  6. Denny Russell says:

    “Maybe it was just a weird weekend for me. But I don’t think so”
    I don’t think so either Tom. My guess is that you’ve probably had this feeling before many times but you were more in the “Dating Stage” you were more hopeful. Now after so many years and so many seminars that “feeling” becomes more powerful, more nagging…

    “It seems that the musicians who are “in the world” are passionate about seeking their own glory” And there in lies the rub.
    That’s the fear. And at some level everyone has a bit of Sally Field in them.

    You made one statement in the DVD series we have about a kind of false humility that helped me a lot on this issue. I think that most “Christians” just don’t know how to respond, are afraid of how they may be perceived, truly want to “do it right” but just don’t know how to balance the “Performance” with the “Worship” how to accept the appreciation from the audience/congregation for the gift they’ve given them and rejoice with them in the place God has met them.

  7. Thanks for the email Tom! I know for myself, after playing secular rock for 8 years before converting to Christian rock/pop, my problem has been not wanting to be showy (as I knew it to be in the secular world). But after meditating over your vids for some time, I now understand that showy and creative can be two different things, if done right. In the end, it’s about making it worth people’s effort to come see you, as opposed to just listening to your CD. We can really touch people, and worship as one, in our live set.

  8. Alan says:

    Tom, I feel your pain.

    As a worship minister I feel that I never quite have the freedom you describe and I can NEVER just focus on that singular goal. I have graphics to prepare, videos to shoot/edit, students and adult volunteers to train, fellow staff that need my assistance in areas unrelated to my talents plus funerals/weddings and my own kids/family events/needs too. I imagine most church worship leaders could share similar thoughts.

    Add to this a typical church who can’t agree on things like musical style and creativity, instead using multiple styles of services spreading thin.

    And then when you do change something it seems people think you’ve somehow changed Jesus.

    The ideal setting would provide the tools and atmosphere needed to maximize creativity with real focus that keeps us from being spread too thin.

  9. Dan says:

    Great blog!! I think the lack of energy and confidence on the platform comes from the following:

    – Churches encouraging being humble on the platform and not drawing attention to yourself.

    - Only rehearsing once a week at best, many times just an hour before worship.

    - Leading worship with different musicians each weekend.

    - Not getting the set list soon enough (sometimes only a day or two before rehearsal) to allow enough time to work out your parts and memorize the songs.

  10. Joey says:

    I feel you heart brother. I had ask the Lord for a place to release what He had put in me, (and I too like it very tastefully done), and was instantly place in a wonderful band with a young energetic worship leader.
    After a year and a half we had a move of the intimacy of God in our worship and speaking and, “revival”, began. I can’t tell you how pure it was and all we did was play skillfully being led by the spirit.
    There was a guy brought in to be the worship person that had, has great success in the past and that’s when things changed. I tried to ask a question about it but was told, “that’s the way it is”. We went from one extreme to the other. All I wanted to do was Love on the Lord and it became something I never have experienced in earth and after men touched it, pride brought it down.
    So, just want to give your gift to Him to be used and it will produce the atmosphere for real life. It must but stay pure though with no personalities elevated and all will feel His pure love

  11. Karen says:

    I understand where you are coming from, but I think you may have missed the boat.  I think many worship bands carry an idea in their head about what “true” passion looks like that simply isn’t true for everyone.  It seems our idea of passion stems from what is seen in the mainstream music arena.  If bands who are out to make a name for themselves are jumping around passionately, why don’t we make a name for God doing the same?  The assumption is that because we do not express passion in the same way they do, then we are not passionate.  The primary purpose of congregational worship is not to make a name for God, but to collectively praise the God who saved us.  When we do that genuinely, God’s name is lifted up as a result.

    The beauty of God is that he celebrates his creation in all it’s uniqueness. As sons and daughters, we have the freedom to express our love in the way HE designed us to. For some, that is with great exuberance. For others, it is a quiet and reflective spirit.

  12. Kadee Reynolds says:

    I wholeheartedly & sadly concur. As a member of a bluegrass band (discovered Tom J at IBMA convention) which worked quite successfully to create some great moments, I understand & appreciate how that same devoted approach COULD help bring people to a place of amazing worship thru music at my church. But it’s as if our worship team exists in personal boxes of timidity & inadequacy – not places God wants us to live! As one of several vocalists – not “the leader” – I sometimes, carefully share ideas (some from your Expressive Worship & All Roads series and e-letters), to no avail. So I personally prepare myself to sing & lead others each service, and am humbled when complimented as a “passionate servant” and vocalist, but my heart truly longs for ALL leaders & followers to be in that place of personal intimacy & freedom with God. How can one be an instrument of change, when others don’t even realize what they’re missing?! Don’t admire MY worship ~ freely & unitedly worship Him YOURSELF!

  13. Joe Ninowski says:

    Thank you, Tom, for being honest to share what is the core challenge for most of us who lead people in musical worship. Just as most of our Bible heros, it is the core challenge for all who have embraced faith in Jesus Christ. From Adam & Eve to the Apostle Paul the challenge is clear-a constant battle against the status quo, wanting to stay in our comfort zone and strangely enough the battle against…success. We are learning great scales, chords, songs (access to a wonderful world of music), great teaching on where to stand and how to create moments-And all this is VITAL to the ‘Excellence’ side of the coin…but the real challenge is the other side: Anointing. ‘Bible-speak’ for having the passion and presence of God because of our pure connection and genuine time spent ‘with’ God. Pursuing relationship before ‘ritual’ is the KEY to finding that passion you spoke of and Matthew 6:33 holds that key – and one that I too am ever challenged with-Seeking God First. Thanks again Tom!

  14. Anne Rowland says:

    Hi All,

    I agree with so many of the comments above. My biggest obstacle is getting permission from my home church pastor to move around and take my time with worship music. There’s a set Order of Worship and I’m required to stay within it and to keep the time for music short. Frustrating!

    At the smaller churches I play for, where I’ve BUILT A RELATIONSHIP with the pastor and the congregation (married rather than dating the audience), I feel a lot better about bringing about the worshipful atmosphere people are looking for.

    Good luck to all! Blessings, Anne

  15. Billy Cox says:

    I think that a key difference between a worship band and other bands is that the worship band is supposed to connect the audience with God rather than seeking to connect the audience with the band. So the worship band holds back out of fear that they will become the object of worship. The lead guitarist tones down the guitar solo so as to not be accused of ‘showboating’ and the very things that would function as moments in a band’s performance are frowned upon as being slick or hokey.

    It may just be that the mantra of worship bands, ‘It’s all about you Jesus’ is misunderstood to mean that we artists should withold our best, keeping our light under a bushel. I don’t know anyone who could be passionate about that scenario.

  16. Katie says:

    i’m sure just like in any profession, some worship musicians are doing it because they are passionate about it, and some are doing it just because they can and therefore lack the passion that we all seek from them. in nashville, we hire people to play guitar or whatever because it’s what people do here for a living. whether they’re doing it because they love worship or whether they’re doing it as a gig-i don’t know. but the fact of the matter is – you can’t force passion INto someone-you can only help bring it OUT of them. all we can do for the “non-passionates” is pray and hope, knowing that God is working in their hearts just as He’s done in ours. For the “passionates,” people like Tom can work with them and encourage them to bring out what is inside and help them do it with the delicate balance of confidence and humility. when one is trained well in that balance, worshipers can read their passion, and we can worship whether the worship leader’s doing a backflip or standing still :)

  17. Amy Wolter says:

    Thanks to all for weighing in. We really appreciate the discussion!Responding to all would be tough since there are several issues involved, but I wanted to respond to a couple of things. Many of you have a set amount of time involved for you worship set. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a lead the congregation into a great worship experience! Think fewer songs and better moments. If the sermon topic calls for a more contemplative feel, pare down the band and use acoustic guitar, cello and percussion. Break open the song arrangement and allow space for people to just sit and listen, ponder and pray. Set the mood with candles & sit on stools. The idea is to best show visually what the song is saying. And passion doesn’t mean ‘running around the platform’ per se, but have the freedom to move and SHOW us when you sing about joy! At minimum, make sure your FACE gets the memo, yes, even when you don’t FEEL joyful. Just scratching the surface on this stuff but out of letters :-) – write on!

  18. Zach says:

    Too many times the whole idea of “being humble” is taken to the point of literally trying to sound less than the team’s best and “letting the Spirit lead” to being unprepared. I can’t think of one instance in the Bible where worship isn’t about giving everything you got to God. And while its our job to point the congregation to God in worship, it is ultimately their decision to focus and worship. Obviously running around and backflipping off amps probably has another place and time, but toning things down so much that the congregation is talking about the mediocraty or even a poor performance is just as distracting.

    Aren’t we supposed to give God everything we have inEVERY other aspect of our lives anyway? Why is worship any different? So you have an awesome drum fill, vocal lick that isn’t in the recording, or, God forbid, a guitar solo every now and then. Isn’t the point of being gifted with musical talent to use it and coordinate best we can it to create moments that glorifyGod?

  19. I would honestly expect a difference between people who are passionately pursuing music, hoping to perform it for a living, and people who are simply volunteering on the weekends to help out in the church and have no expectation of more. I am not saying it is right, I am just saying that it might be understandable.
    Also, I know that our particular church, for example, has a rather older, more stoic, less emotionally exuberant, more intellectually pensive congregation. Some of it is a lack of freedom and passion, but some of it is simply a different basic temperament. If they won the lottery they might not jump up and down screaming, but probably say rather meekly “that’s pretty cool.” So the musicians in our church may be more like that and less like the people who make their living doing music. Entertainers NEED to stand out from the crowd or they couldn’t get a job performing. They are different from the normal slice.
    Could these two explanations be part of what you are sensing?

  20. MARIA FLINT says:


  21. Angela says:

    I’m the minister of music at a Lutheran church. I have tried to implement this but I have noticed several factors that KILL the momentum and sometimes the principles you teach. 1. Working with volunteers that don’t care as much and aren’t getting paid. My choir members mean well, but half of them can’t sing and just want to be part of something, so getting them to give more of themselves has been a leadership challenge for someone like me. 2. Working with leadership and pastors that don’t want to change, because we’ve always done it this way, because it’s too out there, because they don’t understand, because we can’t block the alter, etc. And I always hear, that may work for them but not for us (like human nature changes in the church). 3. A feeling of frustration over the last two things that make hope of it changing feel impossible. I go to worship conferences and say, man I’d love to do that but I can’t get people on board. So I go back to doing what I’ve always done.

  22. Amy Wolter says:

    Have to jump in here again…I wish we could all be in a room together talking about this! Obviously lots of obstacles and much of it comes from the top down. We can’t tell you how to negotiate change with your pastor or your church, but what we DO know is the teams that leave our workshops and one-on-one’s, and took the risk to fully engage and infuse passion into their music set, got an immediate and positive reaction from their congregations. People weren’t able to exactly put a finger on what it was that was different with the worship, but they enjoyed worshipping more than they ever had before!

  23. Billy Cox says:

    Jason, I suspect that the time/money required to attend a worship conference means that those in attendance have a higher than average level of passion and interest in leading worship through music.

    I have observed that there are worship band members who would like to be more demonstrative but do not know where the ‘lines’ are. There are also worship band members who have not been trained to be visibly expressive in making music. In either case, leadership (or the lack thereof) is the key factor.

    Where that leadership is lacking, the worship band tends to be a group of shoe-gazers – some frustrated, some oblivious. So I’m saying that passion-deficit is a symptom of a leadership issue, not a reflection on the musician’s respective aspirations.

  24. Steven Brown says:

    I agree with Tom. I think we have a misconception in some churches that passion in worship is “showing off” or “seeking our own glory”.

    Of course there is a place for quiet reflection, but I also believe that the job of the praise team is to “jump-start” the congregation and get them involved in the praise and worship process.

    Therefore, if the praise team is not involved in worship, it is unlikely that the people out in pews will be.

    I am just as guilty as the next worship leader, at times just going through the motions, but my prayer and hope is that I can really let go and let God work through me to bless the people, as they are blessing God.

    I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Expressive Worship event in Nashville. This is my first Tom Jackson workshop and it’s going to be so much fun.

  25. Pam Sandness says:

    I think every church is so different. Through different denominations and doctrines and beliefs. I think they play a great role in how worship is lead in a church setting. You have pentacostals that can hang from shandalers, (o: . You have conservatives that wont let you even raise your hands in church. I do think alot is just the church.
    I am pentacostal and we can do just about anything rofl. But, I use to play the piano for worship, and I played! I remember people telling me afterwards they could feel the vibrations in the basement.
    In a church, I definately think its the church. But, if we are playing in churches, I do think we respect the church that has allowed us to share. If they say dont jump, dont jump! It is there church.
    Just another thought. God dont need, neccessarily, our movement and expression to influence the Holy Spirit, to touch hearts, through our music. God isnt limited to our abilities, He gave it!

  26. Pam Sandness says:

    If I may add one more thought. Tom, you really do alot for christian musicians. You will reap what you sew, even if you cant see it all now. Worship in churches is so different from church to church. If you are speaking to one denomination, you might have more success, but, when you have have a vast variety of denominations represented, you will get different views, you know??
    I was raised Salvation army, went to strict baptist, and I am now a pentacostal. Churches have come along way in what styles and types of music they play but, some are still stuck in the hole, sorta say.
    I think the people who attented your conference, maybe, didnt know how to react. Maybe it was so different then how there worship in there church is lead.
    Whatever the reason, you left a seed of truth in there hearts, and I am sure some went away changed, for the good! That is what matters isnt it??
    I think churches are the hardest places to play in. That’s my thought, anyhow.

  27. Ok, wow. Great comments here! I just have to throw in my 2¢…
    1: Humility is walking in confidence in the gifts God has given you (thanks for the definition, Tom!). But if we aren’t walking in confidence, our “passion” (I.e., movement) will either come across like canned, rehearsed blocking, or a bad muscle spasm! But you have to have the tools to know what to do, you can’t just wing it. It starts internally.
    2: why does “being led by the Spirit” equal unplanned & unrehearsed?? The Spirit can move in the planning, too – even WEEKS before an event! More leaders should consider this an option, instead of winging the set the day before. I know you’re busy; make room.
    3: Passion doesn’t have to equal running the stage and amp-hopping. (It can!) It can also be an introspective expression. Just make it equate to the message (you probably wouldn’t jump around while singing “Alas, and did my Savior Bleed”, for ex.). Just be the truest expression of yourself you can be.
    Thank you, Tom-Rock on!

  28. Brandi Harvey says:

    I am the Worship Leader at our church (about 150 in attendance), and for me, what I sense in the worship bands I’ve been a part of is a two-fold problem, though, perhaps the root is only one thing. Volunteers!
    Dealing with volunteers, I feel like these are people who have other priorities and other interests. These things pull away from the worship band.
    Also, dealing with volunteers, I feel like I have to be very careful how, ehem, insistent I am about certain things. It’s hard for me to demand more from my drummer when I’m just glad to have a drummer and I’m trying as it is, not to push him away from the church since he’s a young (barely there) Christian.
    I’m reaching a place, though, where I am beginning to take responsibility for the teams spiritual growth as well as their musical growth. I’m ready to begin to help them see WHY worship is important, and trust God that if He gave me these members, he’ll provide others one if need be. As long as I’m faithfully leading in love.

  29. YES. And somebody else struggled with these same boundaries and spoke…

    “To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another,

    (sung to the children’s tune of na na… na na na)… heh.

    ‘We played the flute for you, yet you did not dance;
    we wailed in mourning, yet you did not weep.’

    For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” (Luke 7:30-35)

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