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Especially since we have switched from in person to live streamed services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and continuing as we have had a phased return with both in person people and live steaming, we’ve had a sense of the service being a production.

We’ve avoided using the term “performance” to describe the actions of the worship team, because we consider them to be leading the whole church, not performing to the church.

But we’ve struggled to find an alternative word to describe it. We want to say “you need to prepare to be ready for your X” for example.

It’s possible we’re hunting for a word that doesn’t really exist, nevertheless, is there a good alternative word to “performance” to describe an Evangelical worship music team's actions?


This is a non-denominational evangelical, independent church. Our hymns are mostly modern with a few more traditional. The instruments are piano keyboard, a couple guitars, drums / cajon and a singer (male or female).

Recent songs have included “Only a Holy God”, “This I Believe”, “Come Holy Spirit”, “Jesus Strong Kind”, “Amazing Grace”, “Yes, finished! the Messiah dies”, others “feel” similar to me!

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  • 8
    This would be better asked one English language stack exchange – Kris Mar 14 at 12:48
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    Just because it’s on topic there, doesn’t make it off topic here. I’m aware of it being OT on multiple sites. I asked here because I thought that a community which understands the nuance of worship not being a performance is helpful. – Tim Mar 14 at 14:08
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    We use presentation instead of performance. – Kris Mar 14 at 15:47
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    +1 I agree with Tim that this Q is on topic as terminology of a Christian practice , just as "grace" and "love" has essential Christian overtones which can only be discussed in C.SE. In the days before the modern non-denominational style worship, Christians have worshiped God in liturgical rites of mass and monastic liturgy of the hours for 2000 years and surely the singers and the instrumentalists have developed a spiritually appropriate term for what they are doing? – GratefulDisciple Mar 14 at 17:19
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    I am struggling to find a 'worship team' in the bible. I can find pastors, teachers, evangelists, overseers, elders and deacons. But no 'worship team'. – Nigel J Mar 14 at 21:07

11 Answers 11

6

Set is an acceptable musical term and doesn't carry as many negative or "performance" overtones as other words may. It can be used of a final production in front of people, a studio session (session is another good possibility), or rehearsal. Much more important than the labels we attach, (is it congregation or audience?), is what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? - Luke 6:39

As worship leader for a decade I found it was a near constant battle to keep myself in an attitude of personal worship while also striving for the highest level of "performance" of which we were capable. At the end of the day I am firmly convinced that leading God's people in worship through any means (music in context here) is a spiritual endeavor and therefore if I am not actually worshiping the Living God I cannot hope to lead others.

Therefore, work hard in practice and rehearsal and then, on the day of the "performance", disappear into worship of the lover of your soul.

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  • the set
  • your set
  • the music set
  • the musical portion of the service
  • the service
  • the praise
  • the worship

might all work, depending on your congregation.

Comment: If you are playing along with loops/tracks/Ableton, aiming to reproduce the recorded version of songs, then there may not be a way to avoid it "feeling like a production."

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We've found ourselves asking a similar question (for context: I lead the music group in an independent evangelic church in the UK). I get around the issue by shifting from using nouns to using verbs. Usually, the music group would be "leading the singing", but since the congregation (in the building) cannot sing, I've started using the word "playing" more.

The advantage of this is that it's a fairly simple, but accurate, description of what the musicians are doing, free from any additional implications. I find using almost any other word will cause disagreement from someone. Many in my church would be happy to use the word "worship", whereas I strongly disagree, since a) all actions Christian's perform ought to be worship, and b) we already have the word "singing"! As you noted, many are unhappy with the word "performance", since it implies the congregation aren't involved. By simply describing the action performed, we avoid these issues, while still being unambiguous in what we're referring to.

Some examples:

  • "I need you prepare to be ready to play on Sunday"
  • "Can you send a list of the songs you'll be playing?"
  • "As we start our service, the music group will lead us in singing that great hymn X, that helps teach us more about God's love"
  • "Can you come up to the front once the music group have finished playing?"
  • "I thought you played really well today"

Neither term completely encapsulates what the music group does at the moment, but I hope that regularly using both will give a complete picture. I trust that when I use the word "playing", I am understood not to be excluding the singer, and when I say "leading the singing", those in the building continue to know they are not able to sing at present.

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  • This is close, but we do still have one singer at the front, and they probably are still “leading” the singing for those singing at home. Playing doesn’t quite encompass the full team 😕 – Tim Mar 15 at 11:41
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    Yes, we felt the same thing. I think I probably alternate between "playing" and "leading the singing", and trust that those watching will understand by now that playing includes singing, and that singing excludes those in the building. – Korosia Mar 15 at 11:45
  • Updated my answer to suggest a blend of "playing" and "leading the singing" – Korosia Mar 15 at 11:55
3

Is there a good alternative word to ”performance” to describe a music teams actions?

An alternative word for “performance”,when used as to a music team’s actions will very according to the Christian community involved.

Modern terms like a musical interlude may seem applicable to some Christian denominations, but not most.

In days of old when monks, chanted the Divine Office it was often described as a liturgical act that should be executed in complete unison and perfect harmony of voices.

Gregorian Chant: Perfect Music for the Sacred Liturgy

In other denominations outside the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (not completely true) music does seems to take on a performance style of worship service.

I would like to suggest the following as a replacement for the term ”performance” when describing a music team’s actions:

  • ”custodians of the music of the divine service" It sounds biblical!
  • singing accompaniment segment of our worship service
  • inspirational moment of our service
  • musical worship service
  • musical portion of our worship
  • (sacred) musical accompaniment portion of our service
  • music presentation or portion
  • musical interlude (when no singing is done)
  • praise portion of the service.
  • ”Praying twice moment(s)” could be a catchy way of replacing the term ”performance” as St. Augustine once said: “To sing is to pray twice.”

Ultimately, it comes down to singing: We sing when we are at one, or wish to be at one, with our activity or the object of our activity. This is true when we are in love with another person. It is most of all true when we are in love with God. That is the origin of the incomparably great music of the historical Church traditions. St. Augustine says: “Only the lover sings.” We sing… and we whisper… and we fall silent.

This question reminds me of the popular Christian radio station Praise 106.5 of the Pacific Northwest.

For many years, Praise 106.5 (KWPZ FM) has been dedicated to serving the Christian radio audience in the Pacific Northwest. - High praise for Praise 106.5

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  • Thanks for the answer! None of these quite hit the mark for my church, but appreciated nonetheless. “Musical portion” probably comes closest. Interlude isn’t right because(as you point out) it’s when there’s no singing. For better or worse, pretty much all our worship is music + singing and all the music has singing. – Tim Mar 14 at 20:56
  • @Tim Thanks for the update. As is the case, my answer may be beneficial to others. I’ll do a little more digging. – Ken Graham Mar 14 at 20:59
  • Agreed, I think it certainly could apply to others! – Tim Mar 14 at 20:59
  • Ahh, "Only the lover sings" I thought that was a Chesterton quote! Dale Alquist or somebody was saying that about the lack of singing in the 2020 summer protests, lamenting the lack of singing. – Peter Turner Mar 15 at 18:39
  • @PeterTurner Now I know where the title of Josef Pieper book that I read came from: Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation. I highly recommend Pieper's books for intro to Thomism. – GratefulDisciple Mar 16 at 3:57
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Thinking that the Bible can give a clue for terminologies, I scoured the NLT and the ESV translations for verses related to worship which has music & musicians (see "The Data" section below).

My findings

  • There are singers and choirs. The instruments are harp, lyre, trumpets, cymbals, and tambourines. Other participants include: choir leader/director, King (David) or Governor (Nehemiah), gatekeepers, the people.

  • "performed" is used in several verses, but as a verb, not as a noun, so doesn't have the negative connotation. Examples: "performed together to praise" or "performed the service of their God"

  • Summary of phrases found:

    Who Phrases
    musicians singing/playing "sing joyful songs"
    "raised their voices and praised the LORD"
    "rejoicing and blowing {instrument}"
    "play/sound/blow/clash the {instrument}"
    "prophesied with {instrument}"
    leading during the service "lead the music"
    "leading the people in a great celebration"
    "lead the choirs"
    Levites as a group during the service "minister with music"
    "proclaim God's messages"
    "performed together in unison to praise and give thanks"
    "offering thanks and praise"
    "giving thanks"
    non-musicians "skipping about and laughing with joy" (David)
    "worshiped the LORD as the singers sang" (people)
    "offered joyous praise and bowed down in worship" (Hezekiah & officials)
    "gave a great shout praising" (people)
    Levites's work in general
    (not during service)
    "carry out their work"
    "trained in singing"
    "continue their service"
    "performed the service of their God"
    "service at the Temple"
    "conduct the worship service"
    "celebrate"

Recommendations

As a noun: “You need to prepare to be ready for your X”:

  • music ministry (also recommended by bruised reed)
  • worship ministry (also recommended by bruised reed)
  • praise offering
  • praise service
  • celebration
  • worship service
  • service for church
  • Sunday service

As a verb: “You need to prepare to be ready to X”:

  • lead the music
  • lead worship (also recommended by Machavity)
  • conduct the worship service
  • lead the people for worship
  • perform for God
  • worship the LORD
  • offer praise

The Data

List of passages where there is mention of worship which has music & musicians. Note: list may not be complete, but sufficiently representative.

Bible Reference NLT ESV (terminology difference)
1 Chr 6:31-32 ³¹ David assigned the following men to lead the music at the house of the LORD ... ³² They ministered with music at the Tabernacle ... They carried out their work, following all the regulations ... ...service of song ... ministered with song ... performed their service ...
1 Chr 15:16-24 ¹⁶... to sing joyful songs to the accompaniment of harps ... ¹⁹ ... were chosen to sound the bronze cymbals. ²⁰ ... to play the harps. ²¹ ... to play the lyres. ²² ... was chosen as the choir leader because of his skill. ²⁴ ... were chosen to blow the trumpets as they marched in front of the Ark of God.... ... play loudly ... raise sounds of joy ... lead with lyres ... direct the music, for he understood it.
1 Chr 15:27-29 ²⁷ David was dressed in a robe of fine linen, as were ... also the singers, and Kenaniah the choir leader ... ²⁸ So all Israel brought up the Ark ... with shouts of joy, the blowing of rams' horns and trumpets, the crashing of cymbals, and loud playing on harps and lyres. ²⁹ ... King David skipping about and laughing with joy ... ... with shouting, to the sound of the ... and made loud music on ... King David dancing and celebrating ...
1 Chr 25:1-8 Duties of the Musicians ¹ David ... appointed men from ... to proclaim God's messages to the accompaniment of lyres, harps, and cymbals. ² From the sons of Asaph ... who proclaimed God's messages ... ³ From the sons of Jeduthun ... who proclaimed God's messages to the accompaniment of the lyre, offering thanks and praise to the LORD. ... ⁶ All these men were under the direction of their fathers as they made music at the house of the LORD. Their responsibilities included the playing of cymbals, harps, and lyres at the house of God. ... ⁷ They and their families were all trained in making music before the LORD, and each of them — 288 in all — was an accomplished musician. ¹ ... who prophesied with lyres, ... ⁷ ... trained in singing to the LORD ...
2 Chr 5:12-14 ¹² And the Levites who were musicians ... were dressed in fine linen robes and stood at the east side of the later playing cymbals, lyres, and harps. They were joined by 120 priests who were playing trumpets. ¹³ The trumpeters and singers performed together in unison to praise and give thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices and praised the LORD with these words: ... ¹⁴ The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud ... ¹² ... all the Levitical singers ... ¹³ ... duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard ... and when the song was raised ... ¹⁴ ... could not stand to minister ...
2 Chr 23:13 ²³ ... The commanders and trumpeters were surrounding him, and people from all over the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Singers with musical instruments were leading the people in a great celebration. ...
2 Chr 29:27-30 ²⁷ ... As the burnt offering was presented, songs of praise to the LORD were begun, accompanied by the trumpets and other instruments ... ²⁸ The entire assembly worshiped the LORD as the singers sang and the trumpets blew, ... ²⁹ Then the king and everyone with him bowed down in worship. ³° ... ordered the Levites to praise the LORD with the psalms written by ... So they offered joyous praise and bowed down in worship. ... ²⁸ ... the trumpeters sounded ...
2 Chr 35:15 Josiah Celebrates Passover ... ¹⁵ The musicians, descendants of Asaph, were in their assigned places, following the commands ... ... ¹⁵ The singers ...
Ezra 3:10-11 ¹⁰ ... the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites ... clashed their cymbals to praise the Lord ... ¹¹ With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord: ... Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord ... ¹⁰ ... the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, ... ¹¹ And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD ...
Neh 12:27-43 Dedication of Jerusalem's Wall ²⁷ ... the Levites ... to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. ... ³¹ I [Nehemiah] led the leaders ... and organized two large choirs to give thanks. One of the choirs proceeded southward ... ³⁵ Then came some priests who played trumpets ... ³⁸ The second choir giving thanks went northward around the other way ... ⁴⁰ The two choirs that were giving thanks then proceeded to the Temple of God, where they took their places. ... ⁴² ... They played and sang loudly under the direction of Jezrahiah the choir director. ... ²⁷ ... to celebrate the dedication ... ³¹ ... appointed two great choirs that gave thanks. ...
Neh 12:44-47 Provisions for Temple Worship ... ⁴⁵ They performed the service of their God ... and so did the singers and the gatekeepers. ⁴⁶ The custom of having choir directors to lead the choirs in hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God began long ago in the days of David and Asaph. ... Service at the Temple ... ⁴⁶ ... there were directors of the singers ...
Neh 13:10 I also discovered that the Levites had not been given their prescribed portions of food, so they and the singers who were to conduct the worship services had all returned to work their fields. ... so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, ....
Ps 68:24-25 ²⁴ Your procession has come into view, O God ... ²⁵ Singers are in front, musicians behind; between them are young women playing tambourines.
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The key in avoiding a "performance" is that a performer is someone who is doing something purely for the benefit of others. A performer might be compensated in some fashion, but that's not the same thing. Performers are trying to entertain an audience, and that does not include themselves.

The word you need here is "worship". When you go to church, you expect to worship. The people who are on stage at a church service are worshipers, the same as those in the pews/chairs. Thus I would call them "worship leaders", and as such, they "lead worship". Per your example sentence

You need to prepare to be ready to lead worship.

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Giving the Bible the once-over it seems your apprehension at the word performance as used for an artistic production is well founded

There's lots of performing good works and miracles and things like that, but the only one who performs an artistic work is Herodias, and that ended unpleasantly.

This may not be any better than performance, but at least it's totally in the Bible:

  • act

The phrase "Be ready for your act." seems like it should be more than just a lyric to the Scooby Doo theme song, but apparently that is all it in in modern parlance. Anyway, if you have apprehensions about performance as being too showy, maybe act is too superficial.

On the other hand, actors know that there is back-and-forth between the actor and the audience and the act is for the audience not to show-off in the sense that performance is.

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  • Act is better than performance. I feel a little concerned that it has implications of, well, acting - in that the worship team are just going through the motions and pretending to worship - as you allude to with it being somewhat superficial. Still, +1 – Tim Mar 15 at 20:04
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You can also use another word in place that clearly defines the "performance" of something...

my example "There ability was out of this world and the atmosphere was breathtaking"

"The creativness of the artist was only exacibated by the excitement and sheer disbelief of the audience"

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  • While these do describe a performance, we’re trying to avoid that I guess! A worship team shouldn’t be performing (IMO), they should be leading worship. The focus should never really be on the ability of the team in that way. We also can’t use this when planning. We sort of want a word or phrase that fits in “When it’s time for the worship team to X, make sure that...” or “Remember to look towards the leader during your X”. – Tim Mar 15 at 18:07
  • @Aaron Welcome to Christianity SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the Tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. – agarza Mar 16 at 1:35
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As a former worship leader and musician, in that context (ie with a particular focus on the worship team's actions) we generally just used the word "ministry" or more specifically either "music ministry" or "worship ministry".

If that seems somewhat unwieldy, it's usually avoidable by just referring directly to "the worship" itself (in agreement with Machavity's answer), describing which, is an indirect commentary on the actions of those leading it.

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Not really. People perform during the show which is the established terminology for watching an event on stage whether live or via video.

Just like nave is the architectural term for the big space in a church while apse describes the stage area even if those terms originated with old style cathedrals and want to make you find alternatives like you sought for performance.

If your performance is also leading then you could use both to be more accurate. But you cannot get around the fact that they ARE performing during the show, even if done while leading. Sorry but that is the way the English language works for now.

Now even if you do not want to admit that the worship team IS performing while also leading you will have to change the English language to make that actually true.

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  • I wouldn’t say “ people perform during the show” - for a start it’s definitely not a show! “service” sure, “(live) stream” sure, “presentation” perhaps, but not a show! The definitions I’ve seen of “perform” all involve a) active performer(s) and (relatively) passive consumers and b) entertainment. Neither of those are descriptive of what the worship team + church members should be doing, so I contest your assertion that “they ARE performing” – Tim Mar 15 at 19:55
  • “even if you do not want to admit that the worship team IS performing”, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I won’t admit it because I don’t think it’s true; I’d say the worship teams at my current church do an excellent job of not performing, in fact! But even if they are performing (and I’m wrong, a distinct possibility), I think we can agree that an (evangelical) worship team shouldn’t be performing, and so using the word “performance” to describe what they should be doing isn’t helpful! – Tim Mar 15 at 20:01
  • @Tim -- I understand your viewpoint and what you are saying but unfortunately the English language and its standard usage says otherwise. – INONOTTING Mar 15 at 23:29
  • all of the other answers here would disagree. There’s (luckily) lots of ways to describe the actions of a worship team! That’s one of the great things about English: it has a huge vocabulary! – Tim Mar 15 at 23:30
  • Wowee. Some body does not like the truth and downvoted the totally correct answer. Like @Kris said ask this in the Writing or English forum and see what answer you get. You still won't like the truth. That is okay , Tim, I forgive you anyway. And I hope you feel better for having clicked on downvote. – INONOTTING Mar 15 at 23:30
-1

I think you said it in your description. Whenever you want to say "performance", just use the word "production" instead.

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  • Welcome to Christianity SE and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the Tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. – agarza Mar 16 at 1:32
  • I was meaning to say we have the sense, but don’t like it! We don’t want church to turn into a carefully choreographed + perfectly planned event. We want it to remain fairly fluid, fairly relaxed, and, as much as we legally can, interactive + participatory. – Tim Mar 16 at 1:38

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