An Audience of One

Søren Kierkegaard originated the idea that in worship, the congregation is not the audience; they are the performers. The worship team members are not the performers; they are the promoters. God is the ultimate audience. . . . When we purchase a ticket to a concert we have the right to base our choice of performer and music on our personal tastes and preferences, whether that be Renaissance motets or acid rock. We have the right to criticize the performance, and evaluate whether we got our money’s worth. We have the right to sit passively and expect to be entertained. Depending on our mood and personality, we have the right to have our expectations realized, whether that involves being intellectually challenged by a complex work brilliantly performed, or experiencing emotional catharsis brought on by a deeply moving and evocative work. We even have the right to leave at the intermission if we are disappointed. If Kierkegaard is right, however, this all changes when it comes to worship.

If Yahweh, the true and living God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is the audience, and we are the performers, then we must approach worship with infinitely more humility and reverence. God initiates the conversation in this encounter. If he makes us aware of our sinfulness, we should lament, and if he reveals to us his majesty and goodness, we should offer praise and thanksgiving. If he speaks to us and says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4), we have no right to sulk or sigh if we prefer contemporary songs and other believers like traditional hymns. If we are told, “Sing
to the LORD, you saints of his; praise his holy name” (Ps 30:4), we have no right to sit and expect others to entertain us or make us “feel good.” If we are to tell of his greatness to unbelievers, then we must welcome outsiders into the context of our praise, and speak the truth to them in love.

–Mary L. Conway, “Worship Music: Maintaining Dynamic Tension,” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 7 (2006): 156