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Worship’s One Trick Pony

May 20, 2014

So many folks in church today believe “worship” is one particular item. There are praise songs and worship songs, with the difference being the speed and/or key in which the song is being played. The truth of the matter is this: music isn’t the only form of worship available to us!!!  David Manner does a great job of explaining this essential truth. Take a look:

One Trick Pony

The origin of the idiom “One Trick Pony” goes back to the days of the traveling circus. A trained pony or small horse was often used as a main circus attraction. Without any other acts or animals, these small circuses were often criticized as only offering a one-trick pony.

The idiom is now used to identify a person or organization that only does one thing. It often suggests an inflexibility or inability to learn or consider anything new.

Music has devolved into worship’s one trick pony. We have dressed it up, dressed it down, changed its direction and adjusted its speed. We’ve even tried a younger pony. But it’s still the same trick.

Music is an expression given to us so that we might offer it to God in worship. But it is not the expression. Maybe considering the additional worship options below could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.


We defend the Bible as foundational to our theology and practices and yet rarely read its text in our public services of worship. Doesn’t its limited use convey a lack of trust in the very Word necessary to the credibility of our faith?

Worship must begin with the Word. Scripture must be frequently and variously read and allowed to stand on its own. Biblical text must organically yield our sermons and songs rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived language.


Instead of a profound conversation with the Father as an act of worship, prayer is used as a final breath of fresh air before a long service section, to break up a song set when keys or styles are not relative or to discreetly move the worship band to the platform.

Worship service prayer has been relegated to the role of a service utility infielder. It is often plugged into worship service holes as a musical connector rather than a divine conversation that actually gives us a reason to sing in the first place.

Lord’s Supper/Communion

Eleanor Kreider challenges congregations to consider the Lord’s Supper as a foundational element of worship by stating, “Churches will be renewed when the Lord’s Supper, graced by God’s presence and Word, oriented to the living Lord and empowered by the Spirit, is fully restored to the place it had in the early centuries-as the central communal Christian act of worship.”[1]

Two worship actions and interactions are available at the Table: the vertical Communion with Christ through partaking of the elements; and the horizontal Communion of believers unified in identity and relationships at the Table.

The Arts

Clayton Schmit wrote, “We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith. When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[2]

Consider the following suggestions as your congregation begins to expand its understanding of worship and the arts beyond music: drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, hair and make-up, sound, lighting, staging, props and many others. Traditionalism has constricted our lists even when God’s creativity is limitless.

Leaders must be willing to educate, enlighten and encourage their congregations to move beyond music as their only worship contribution. Harold Best offered a timeless challenge to us all when he wrote; Every artistic leader must become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action. The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself. It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’ Be hungry. Be thirsty. Be curious. Be unsatisfied. Go deep. Engage your whole being.[3]


[1] Eleanor Kreider, Communion Shapes Character (Scottdale: Herald, 1997), 15.

[2] Clayton J. Schmit, “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

[3] Harold M. Best, “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.


Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for twenty years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University; a Master of Church Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.


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