expressive worship

What Real Worship Is

I’ve been a believer for over 30 years and have been fortunate enough to work with Christian musicians that whole time.

I’ve taught at hundreds of Christian and worship conferences around the world, and I try to be sensitive to different denominations – to what they teach about worship and what worship artists should be and do on the platform.

Here’s where I need your help. Over the years at every one of these conferences I’ve seen these class titles (or something similar): True Worship: What It Is and What It Isn’t; How to Really Worship God: What Real Worship Is; The Correct Way to Worship; on and on and on…

All these titles are saying similar things – that their way is the correct way. So does that mean everyone else is wrong?

It’s funny, because I’ve been to conferences where almost the same topic was taught by two different people at the same event, but they were both saying something completely different!

So I ask you… who is right?

In my blog last week, I mentioned that I had felt robbed during a worship service were there were brilliant players playing great arrangements. They appeared to love God. And yet they felt it was important not to move, stand, or show any emotion except in their face. It seemed that somehow for them this was Biblical worship.

Yet when I go to Gospel Music Workshop of America, the choirs and worship teams are groovin’ and rockin’! That’s true worship for them.

I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, my church has no musicians on the platform (they’re hidden from view). We read and sing the words to the hymns in the bulletin.

In many contemporary worship services, there are words on a big screen up in front, and it’s OK to look at that. But when it comes to the praise team, a little emotion is fine, but not too much, because we’re supposed to be paying attention to the Lord.

So who’s right?

I hear statements like “I want them to see Jesus, but not me.” In fact, when I first started working with Christian artists years ago, that’s often what I was told. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. I assume they didn’t mean they wanted to disappear – or if they did, I figured they could have a great career as a magician. :smile:

I know I’m being a little silly here, but I am confused. Why is it OK for the pastor to completely express himself as he’s preaching. He can use his arms to gesture, embellish how he feels with voice inflections or by raising his hands, or he can walk quickly across the stage to make a point. Are we distracted by that? Or is the visual presentation a part of worship?

I’m not talking about putting on a show – “look at me, look at me, look at me!” – that’s not what I mean. I just mean visual expression of the music, lyrics, dynamics, when we’re leading worship or singing at a Christian event.

I sincerely want your well thought out opinions.

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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:

    This is a very thought provoking article, Tom. Out of all of your posts I’ve read, what sticks with me is “love your audience.” I’ve been blessed to work with some pretty cool artists that range from very animated to not so much. If we focus on whether or not someone is moving their arms or not, we miss the bigger point of are they communicating. Travis Cottrell, for example, is a good performer. His style is toned down, and he doesn’t move a whole lot, but he exudes emotion. Steve Green is very similar. Charles Billingsley, on the other hand, will move more and sings with his whole body. That’s his style. All three of them are effective communicators and I’ve seen audiences truly moved by all three. In my opinion, the best worship leaders are ones that can adapt their personal style to give the audience what they are there for. In that way, it becomes more about the audience and less about the performer. They can “get out of the way” and let Jesus shine!

  2. Shy Smith says:

    This is a question that I have been struggling with since I started leading worship in my church. The biggest thing that I have learned is that worship depends on the sincerity of the worshipper, especially the worship leader. When I saw “Tom Jackson Productions” use their gift of improving live performances and shows at Camp Electric I was amazed at the transformation of the worship band and the worshippers. I wanted my own church congregation to feel the great moments that I had felt during worship. I found that it was a lot more difficult than I expected because, I didn’t want to “baby” the congregation by making them feel perfectly comfortable, but I want to push them and I want them to experience deeper worship than what they have been experiencing. The most effective way of doing this, I think, is being extremely intentional with time spent preparing the hearts of the worshippers. Know your congregation and know what will guide them into sincere and meaningful worship.

  3. Larry Shaw says:

    For me, true worship is when you connect with God and touch HIS heart. My STYLE preference involves jumpin’ and rockin’, but that doesn’t mean that I experience God more or less than someone who worships in a liturgical service (provided they really are focused on Him, and not just going through the motions, but we Pentecostals can do that, too). We’ve just experienced a different facet of who He is.

  4. jim maloni says:

    Sounds alot like our worship team…We’re fairly large as teams go, so whereas i used to sing at all the services, us older folks (i’m 65yrs. old), now only get a sunday a month..When I’m not up there (and please this is not boasting),no one seems to get a word from the Holy Spirit…no encouragement…or prophecy…or exhortation…But I do , and rather than hold back and get convicted for not saying it,I do…Many have told me that it has blessed them when I do…However, at our church we’re so regimented on our presentation and so time restricted in our worship, that I feel awkward to speak out what the spirit is saying..I believe that due to a time constraint, we stifle where the Spirit wants us to go…I believe that I’m not the only one that hears from God on our platform, but I believe that others are reticent to speak what the Spirit is saying..As a worship team, if the Spirit is given reign over our worship, I believe that we will see miracles, signs and wonders ….Bubba

  5. Bob Ingels says:

    As a guitar player who plays with a few different worship teams a month and fills in at other churches. I see all kinds of worship. In my experience if the Church see’s the band being free to worship, they open up and worship freely. That means different things for different people. I personally groove when I play, it’s my way of feelin’ the music. I know other musicians who just stand there like rocks. I do know that if the worship leader is projecting worship, the Church will follow, being happy and fired up, clapping, lifting hands, even some dancing, showing joy in worship. There’s a lot of bad teaching on worship, a lot of Churches I think holding the spirit back. I do believe what I see in scripture. If we were to be a fly on the wall during King Davids worship times, we would have seen, joy, dancing, fired up playing new music. But we would have also seen times of brokenness and quieter worship. A Churches worship will reflect what’s going on it the life of the Church.

  6. Katie says:

    i’ll play devil’s advocate for a minute: when we treat worship like a concert, using fancy lights and having guitar solos, and moving around a lot, it creates an almost orgasmic emotional response and that’s manipulative. (that’s the kind of stuff my fellow students would say in Worship class in college) I see what they’re saying and I agree w/ part of it-that it creates an emotional response. but i disagree that it’s manipulative. sometimes emotions are seen as a bad thing or seen as weakness, but i strongly disagree. didn’t God create emotion IN us?!? how could it be a bad thing? yeah, i’ve had some cliche “come to the altar & sob” experiences, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t authentic! a good worship experience brought out emotions in me that brought out deep spiritual issues & helped me find myself again & connect with God in a powerful way. i understand why a “concert-like” worship experience makes some uncomfortable, but it can be so beneficial to others! everyone’s different.

  7. Douglas says:

    I lead a contemporary worship service at a Southern Baptist Church. It is odd – because of the musical style I try to encourage our band to “rock out” in an appropriate way. When I look at the congregation, there are a few hands raised, but most people are just standing and staring. At first, it was a little demoralizing, I believed that they (1) Didn’t like the music (2) Weren’t worshiping God. My two worst fears for our service. After I talked to people though, i found out they did enjoy the music and they were worshiping God. I just brought this expectation for worship conferences, other events and evening concerts that wasn’t realistic for us. In short, I think unity should be the key element. Where can I meet them? What areas can I stretch them? What areas should I not try to? I feel confident that God will work regardless and the mantle he has given me is to do my best with what I have. Thank you, Tom, for giving me more tools to enhance our worship of Christ Jesus.

  8. I was wondering last week, Tom, if you ever work with Catholic churches? (I would guess not much.) Some are progressive with their music, many are not so much. Steeped in tradition and form and culture. But as a music lover, I always loved those few churches that had great music, Catholic or not. The work you do with Christian artists is every bit as powerful, or more so, than the rest of your work. Music really is a direct connection to the divine.
    I think it’s cultural in both cases. Big mindset shifts, whether it’s shifting Church culture or music industry culture. But any culture can be changed with a powerful, moving experience. They might not know how to handle it at first, but after a short time I bet many will grow to love it. And then word will spread.

  9. Hope Helme says:

    Hi Tom, As you so skillfully teach, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” (Proverbs 29:25 ESV) Keep doing what you are doing, bro, as unto the Lord. I am very expressive in worship because God has pushed me in that direction through a variety of means with a common theme: “Worship like David!” And thanks to your Expressive Worship workshop (and the DVDs I brought to my team),, I think my team is now moving more, looking at each other more, enjoying their individual God-Appointed roles in the band more . . .and the congregation is benefitting from it. Perhaps the “right way” to worship is abandoning ones SELF to GOD . . . However that looks depends . . . For example, a person who screams at sports events and concerts should probably be more expressive in their worship of Almighty God than one who doesn’t. And a person who appears to have zero personality every time you engage them in conversation . . . well, pray for a miracle.: )

  10. Liz says:

    “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” ~John 4:23
    The only “true way to worship” is to worship in spirit and in truth. But that, of course, looks different for everybody. I think the only way to know who YOU are as a worshiper is how you worship when you are by yourself, in your personal God time. Maybe you cry, kneel, dance, jump, raise your hands, clap your hands, whatever (although there are some things that worshiping in spirit and truth is NOT). It is different for everybody, and there is no one correct way, but I’d say as long as one is worshiping in spirit and truth, not focusing on themselves or others but fully abandoned to GOD, then that is real worship.

  11. Liz says:

    Another thought — I’m not sure the worship leaders you mentioned (both at the church and gospel music workshop) believe that their way of worshiping is the only biblical way of worshiping. I could be wrong, but it may just be that that is true worship for THEM.

  12. Jim Drew says:

    I find that most of this is about your thoughts on authority, . We think authority as in dominance commanding one or more to follow our way or the highway. What “we” mean by authority is something that progresses to a point where we can walk confidently with a loving attitude and boldness. Moving or not, learning proper ways to walk and handle equipment is still good, even if only to make sure they don’t kill themselves entering and leaving the stage. From what you taught and from observing folks I emulate here is something I recently said to my music team.
    “Confidence instilled by the Holy Spirit and hard work makes it all the more powerful and gives us a loving authority to truly lead during services so we can be available to the Lord and those He has placed in front of us. Restated – Growing our skills, (lessons and practice), leads to confidence giving way to a Godly authority for the situation and ultimately leading to one of the more common forms of worship, this music platform.”

  13. Josh Wood says:

    I spend part of my Sundays each month serving in the adult services as a bass player and part serving in the middle school service as a lead worshipper. Those groups worship in very different ways. Some of the teens rush up to the front of the stage and throw their hands up in the air. The 70 year old ladies in the main service do not. Both groups, however, worship God with a lot of enthusiasm. That’s what we’re all supposed to be doing. We should worship like a teenager or like a 70 year old lady if that’s what the Holy Spirit inside us inspires us to do. Listen!
    We should worship that way when we’re on the stage, when we’re out in the congregation, when we our for a jog, and when we’re in our car on the way to work. If the Holy Spirit is guiding us one way and we start showboating (or not), THEN we’re doing it wrong.

  14. Mike Domenici says:

    Worship is unique to each person. Some prefer hymns while others prefer praise and worship choruses. But the main thing about worship is bringing yourself and those in the congregation with you into the throne-room of God. Why i prefer overhead projection is that if they are reading the hymnal or the songs on a songsheet, they are not looking towards God, but at the paper. I have found that even churches that sing hymns have overhead projectors so that the people don’t have to look down. Whatever you choose to do, as long as it feels right to you, then it is right for you. I love clapping my hands, raising my hands to God and even moving to the music. You may not, but that doesn’t make my way right and yours wrong. the only wrong thing is NOT worshiping the Creator who loves us and sent His only Son to die for us!

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