Yesterday, my wife and I engaged in an interesting discussion on the posture of worship. Specially, worship through song. Or rather, corporate worship during weekly church gatherings on Sundays.
The reason this topic came up was because we were discussing that when I (as a worship leader at my church) invite people to stand and worship through singing, that my oldest often times stays seated and doesn’t seem interested. My wife was legitimately concerned with whether or not we, as her parents, should be requiring her to stand and sing like everyone else (even though many others who may have been standing weren’t singing either) no matter if she felt compelled to or not as a believer.
This has long been a question in my own mind as a worship leader and what I should or shouldn’t “expect” of those in the congregation to do when they are invited to worship through song, or prayer, or scripture reading, or whatever else the church may do together in acts of worship.
Do You Feel a Pulse?
I remember back when I was a young 21 year old worship leader at my first church (nearly 20 years ago), which just so happened to be an Episcopal Church. Interestingly, they did not function like your normal liturgical Episcopalian church. They didn’t meet in a large and ancient building complete with stained glass, but rather in an old falling apart movie theatre. The priest didn’t preach with robes and shawls on, but rather in jeans and typically a flannel shirt of some sort (normally red – why do I remember this detail?). I didn’t have a choir, but a praise team complete with some screaming vocals and a killer drummer who had no legs (well – he had legs, they were just prosthetic from the thigh down on both legs – I sure miss that guy in many ways. He was a true friend and amazing musician – RIP Willie). And I didn’t lead worship in button up shirts and khakis but rather in a t-shirt, shorts, and more often than not….bare foot (or flip flops if I wore anything).
Despite the relaxed nature of the church atmosphere there, the people were rather reserved and quiet when it came to worship through song. Which, at the time, really bothered me.
It bothered me so much that I recall one Sunday that I stopped mid-song and proceeded to say and do the following:
“Hey everyone! Do me a favor lift your left hand in the air! That’s it! Now, lift the right hand in the air! Alright, now take your first and middle finger of your right hand and place it firmly against the wrist of your left hand. Do you feel a pulse? If you do, then that means you are breathing and alive and have a heart beat and that you have something to worship God for. So how about it? Can we worship God together?”
I then restarted the song and much to my surprise, it didn’t do any good.
After service the priest pulled me aside and he said, “Brad, I know what you were attempting to do and I get it. Sometimes it’s really frustrating to lead worship and have everyone stare blankly back at you. But you know what? It’s not your job to make them worship. Just love the people and lead by example.”
I felt like a bonehead. But he was right. I can’t force anyone to worship. And being snarky about it with people certainly isn’t going to inspire them to “emote” more during musical worship. Which, let’s be honest, is what I was really after…more emoting. They didn’t have an outward expression that signaled to ME that they were worshipping…as if it should matter to ME if they physically emote during worship. After all, it isn’t ME they are worshipping, but God.
And the Bible is pretty clear, man looks at the outward appearances but God sees the heart and I don’t.
IS There a Right and Wrong Way to Worship?
Which brings me back to the original topic here – as a father, is it really my job to force my children to worship God in a certain way? Should I expect them to emote during musical worship? Or, like with the church body, is it my job to simply love them and lead by example and teach them along the way?
I do believe there is a right and wrong way to worship, but believe it or not, I don’t think it has anything to do with our physical posture. I’ll point back to the Bible verse I paraphrased above again…
1 Samuel 16:7 – But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Is it nice as a worship leader to see people clapping, and smiling, and dancing, and shouting, and singing?
But am I to judge someones worship to be inadequate if I don’t see those things happening outwardly?
I don’t think I can. And I don’t think I should. And I don’t think you should either. The main reason? Because what God is looking for has less to do with our outward appearance, but rather what is taking place in our hearts, in our souls, in the inner depths of our very being.
So if I was to say what the wrong way to worship is, I would say it is to assume that everyone else must worship God the same way that I do and judge them to not be worshipping God when they don’t.
What, then, is the proper way to worship?
The reality is, and I feel this really needs to be said at this point, all that I’ve talked about so far up to this point has been about one small aspect of worship – musical corporate worship, which sadly, the Church often seems to think is the only kind of worship there is. And probably a major reason we put so much emphasis on it in the life of the Church and in our gatherings.
There is SO much more to worship than music. Vastly more. In fact, so much more that I have come to the conclusion that the best definition of worship is this: “Anything we say or do that brings honor and glory to God.”
That means we can worship God in literally EVERYTHING!
I can worship God as I wash my car.
I can worship God as I feed the homeless or serve food at a food kitchen.
I can worship God as I do my job with excellence.
I can worship God as I pray with my children before bed.
I can worship God as I sit and listen to music.
I can worship God as I enjoy the food prepared and set before me by someone.
I can worship God through dance.
I can worship God watching a sunset or a sunrise.
I can worship God gazing at the night sky.
I can worship God alone or with others.
I can worship God shouting and singing
…or in complete silence.
It’s true. My mouth doesn’t have to utter a word and my body doesn’t have to move a single inch to properly worship God. I can sit in the silence and honor and glorify Him in that.
Which is why I have come to this conclusion concerning my children and their physical manifestation of worship during corporate worship gatherings…
It is my job to love them, lead by example, and to teach them along the way what worship is.
I do them (and others) a HUGE disservice if I water the concept of worship down to a 1 hour a week moment where they did or didn’t stand and sing songs and judge them to not be in worship of God almighty if they chose not to emote the way I think they ought to during musical corporate worship.
I shouldn’t do that with them, and I shouldn’t do that with others either.
Trust me, it’s still hard as a worship leader to look out over a crowd and see what appears to be faces and eyes staring blankly back at me. But I cannot see their heart. I cannot possibly know what is transpiring in that moment…in what appears to be the silence of their minds between them and God.
All I can do is love them, lead by example, and teach them along the way what worship is.