Here is a hard question for today’s worship leaders.  How much of our worship singing could in truth be idolatrous in spirit?  There are numerous means by which to be led toward such a radical question.  One way such a question could be instigated would be the modeling of worship leaders after the likes of singers viewed on one of America’s favorite television shows, American Idol.  It is not too difficult to make such a connection given that more than one contestant on the show has come from the ranks of church worship leaders.  A less blatant thread, since it does not actually contain the word “idol” in it as does the previous connection, might result from an honest evaluation of motivation behind attraction-driven worship forms and elements.  At what stage of planning worship to attract outsiders does the controlling point of worship move to formation based upon what will “please” the target of attraction?  Is this really the biblical purpose of Christian worship? Finally (though others could be enumerated), in a close scrutiny of what is being sung and how it is being sung, how much of worship singing includes a narcissistic bent?  Whether overtly intentional or not, how much do we succumb to pressures of what people want to feel like in their worship as a primary decision factor as to what we will sing and how we will sing it?


The question, “How much of our worship singing could in truth be idolatrous in spirit?” may sound overstated to some, or misunderstood to be a polemic for a certain musical or lyrical purity to others.  My voicing of the question, however, comes as a prayerful attempt at drawing our attention to the state of worship singing with a charge to the prophetic aspect of our calling as pastoral musicians and liturgists.  In reading Isaiah 6 I have far too often been content to basque in the beautiful liturgy of Isaiah 6:1-8, the call of Isaiah and his willing response, “Here am I, Lord, send me.”  A more difficult step is to move on to grasp even a hint of the message Isaiah was called upon to bring as begun in the remaining verses of Isaiah 6.   A theologically difficult question arises to gain some grasp on the Lord’s command to Isaiah to harden the hearts of His people.  All of the usual theological tensions can be seen here. That is the question of predetermination verses reflection on what is already occurring, or else a prediction of what is to happen as people remain dull and unresponsive.  Wherever you land in theological grasp of the message Isaiah is called upon to deliver, you who serve as pastoral worship musicians and pastors must surely see some common ground in our own calling in today’s idolic culture.


A foundational question in worship continues to be whether we are encouraging people to allow God into their life story, or if we are rehearsing God’s story in which they can see the miraculous invitation of our Triune God to live in His story, humbled before Him, joining the song of saints and angels, singing forevermore, “Alleluia! Amen!”  In one of these worships we ask God to act on our behalf, in the other we live out our worship that He may be glorified in faith that He works all things for good for those called according to HIS purpose. (Rom 8:28) One worship centers on the good pleasure of the worshiper, one centers in the pleasure and master design of Father, Son, and Spirit.

While I have addressed this article to worship singing given that my direct influence tends to be in this aspect of worship activity, the same question of controlling point must surely be applied to all aspects of worship action – preaching, praying, offering, ordinance-sacraments, rites.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology


  1. David Manner Says:


    You have hit it head-on with this post. Any time worship is planned and implemented to “bring them in” it will always slide into what you refer to as “pleasing the target of attraction.” Those who read your post must not miss the last 4 sentence paragraph! Sometimes other service elements and even service personnel can force us to move in that direction even when that may not be our desire.

    • Thank you David. These are hard truths with which to wrestle. Received several email responses from worship pastors struggle. I believe it is a battleline with the enemy. Thanks be to God the battle belongs to the Lord. We must be faithful

      Sent from my iPhone

  2. […] Idolatrous Worship Singing — Paul Clark cautions us against an idolatrous spirit in our corporate worship, a constant temptation for all of us. At what stage of planning worship to attract outsiders does the controlling point of worship move to formation based upon what will “please” the target of attraction?  Is this really the biblical purpose of Christian worship? […]

  3. I have been leading my church in worship since I was 18 years old, and now I’m 30. One thing I have fought so much within myself is that it’s not about me no matter who tells that I sing nice. I’ve tried to apply what John 3:30 says; “He must increase, and I must decrease”. It’s a struggle for a person who leads the congregation in worship at their local church.

  4. Ed Kee Says:

    I appreciate this honest and straightforward question. Anyone who takes the “stage” or “platform” or position of leadership in public worship must guard their heart against pride and narcissistic tendencies. Often such tendencies are not even perceived by one leading. For instance, a worship leader or worship team member singing a solo can over embellish a worship song with melismatic pop styling (which is something picked up from the current pop music culture), but the reason it’s done in the pop world is to draw attention to the vocalist’s skill and ability as a singer. In the secular world, when a singer sings, it’s all about THEM. All the added embellishment to a melody is just a musical way of saying “Look at me – See what a great singer I am?”, which is obviously not the goal of worship leading, yet it is a common device used in many – if not most – churches. This kind of vocalizing is narcissistic by nature and therefore is a form of self-worship(or at least self-aggrandizement – which puts the focus on the singer and not God) and that is idolatry.

    Typically, worship leaders tend to use their best singers in the worship team in order to make the best impression to the congregation and often they are the very ones whose skill enables them to sing in this fashion. It should be the worship leader’s responsibility to teach and train – and even set boundaries – as to how to lead worship and what kind of platform demeanor is necessary to keep the focus on the music and off the singers. One church I know has a singer who grips a stand mic with both hands and leans into it – Joe Cocker style. This is visually distracting. The singer doesn’t realize that he is drawing attention to himself and by doing so is not effectively leading, but rather is distracting people from focused worship of God.

    Contemporary worship can have a concert feel, which in this culture where so many TV shows feature people on stage, we can so easily let a slickly produced and performed “worship” time slip into concert mode. Some churches use dramatic lighting, fog machines, visual images, elaborate sets and over-the-top singers with the goal of attracting an unchurched audience to the service. That also smacks of a “look at us” mentality when the only thing that should draw people to our church is that God is present there. He can draw people to Himself far better than we ever could. If we humble ourselves in worship, He will show up to claim the glory only He deserves.

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