I grew up in a relatively conservative church with an organ off to the side and a communion table front and centre, underneath a large cross. At some point in the mid-80s our evening services started to incorporate a few more musicians as well as the organist! The band was always off to the side, so as to not be a distraction from the true focus of worship. These days, many churches have the band up on a stage, front and centre, so they can visibly “lead” the people with enthusiasm, energy and passion. It can actually look very similar to something you would see in a nightclub or pub where a live band is performing. This change was intentional; it provides an environment which is reasonably familiar for many people who may have never set foot into church before, and allows for an artistic expression of faith which is relevant to the world today. There is an unintentional danger though, that for those of us on the platform, we can see ourselves as rock stars performing for a crowd. We can be carried along, and carried away by a cheering, appreciative crowd.
I could be wrong, but I think there’s a great reason why traditional churches had the communion table front and centre. It’s a symbol of the sacrifice Christ made for us and a reminder of why we gather to worship. Without the cross, without his death and resurrection, our gathering as a church is nothing more than any other club.
I’m not saying that we should go back to the old days, but I do believe our modern churches, and modern stages should still be a reminder of that sacrifice. The reminder is not necessarily a static symbol, but actually the very people that stand on the stage itself. Romans 12:2 instructs us in this: “Offer yourselves as living sacrifices…for this is your spiritual act of worship”.
The raised platform that we stand on is not so much a stage, as an altar, with living sacrifices on it!
Those of us who have the privilege of being on that platform must recognise that with that privilege comes a greater level of responsibility and sacrifice. Luke 12:48 tells us that “to whom much is given, much is required”. When we prepare for our services, how much prayer and seeking God goes into our preparation? We prepare the songs, sure, but if we’re on that platform, we have an even greater responsibility to prepare our hearts for the work of the ministry, whether we have a mic in front of us “leading” worship, if we’re in the backline somewhere, or even behind a production desk (a lot of those are on raised platforms as well!) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having the band front and centre, and having a great looking stage, but let’s never take that added responsibility lightly.
Our “sacrifice of praise” is not only getting to rehearsals each week, and learning our craft in our own time, or turning up to church early to set up and soundcheck before the meeting. The sacrifice is also laying down our agenda, our preferences, our lives to serve God and His people. Remember, our role is not to make people worship, or manipulate them into some kind of behaviour, but like I mentioned in an earlier post our responsibility is to facilitate the worship that people bring (with music as a vehicle for the expression of that worship), and make sure we’re not in the way!