When People Don’t (And Won’t) Sing Along

One of the most fascinating events in American politics is the annual State of the Union address. The pomp and circumstance is higher that night than almost any other night in the nation’s capital.

The president arrives to thunderous applause from both parties, and finally begins his speech when the hoopla dies down. Once he starts, the real fun begins. After every point, the members of congress from his party stand in loyal and heartfelt applause. The opposition party, however, remains seated and firm in their disapproval. Only when the president says something non-partisan or fairly neutral will both parties stand in approval.

Believe it or not, many churches look like this on Sunday morning.

The worship leader stands up to lead some songs. There might be an initial display of unity, but once the songs start, the real “fun” begins. There are those in the room who sing along to every song and do so with enthusiasm. Then there are those who will only sing along if the song meets their criteria. Then there are those who, in protest, won’t even stand.

I’ve seen this up close. In the same church where I encountered an opinionated craft guild ambassador, I also encountered members of the congregation who, for various reasons, refused to stand or sing during the songs I led. It was a not-so-subtle act of protest and was something for which I was completely unprepared.

While not on such a large scale, from time to time I’ll still encounter people who refuse to sing, or just remain seated, or maybe even leave the room. It’s not common, but you see all sorts of things when you’re in ministry. This is a hard one to deal with. Here are just a couple of thoughts:

Remember that building trust takes time
People will follow you if they trust you. Building that trust takes time. For some people in the congregation, it will take them half of the first song to realize they can trust you. For others, it takes longer. You won’t build those people’s trust in you by forcing it, by demanding it, or by showing them your frustration in not having it. It will take weeks, months, and years. Some may never trust you, but that’s why this next point is important:

Don’t make it about you
If you’re leading worship and notice people not singing and/or showing their disapproval, you have to be very careful not to take it personally. Keep leading, press on, don’t get distracted or discouraged, and look at those people with as much love as you can muster. Only God knows what their issues are – whether they’re judging you, will only worship God on their own terms, or maybe they’re just immature – and you can’t allow yourself to get defensive as if it’s all about you. It’s usually not. And even if it is, you’re not the one to do anything about it. You have to keep going, be faithful, and pray.

Go to your pastor
If there people who won’t sing along, and if it’s the same people consistently, you need to mention this to your pastor. The pastor is the main worship leader of the church, and this is something he needs to pray about addressing.

Any president who stands before the Congress for the State of the Union address knows that there will be some people who will be with him the entire hour, and others who won’t be with him at all. The same could be said of worship leaders on Sunday morning, but hopefully with less pomp and circumstance

The big – really big – difference, of course, is that during a State of the Union address, all eyes are on the president. He is analyzed, examined, the star of the show, and the one everyone is coming to see. When and whether people stand up, sit down, applaud, or protest, is all up to him.

Thank God that I am not the star of the show on Sunday morning. My job is to help people fix their eyes on the Lamb who was slain, the Savior of the world, the image of the invisible God, and the one before whom one day we will all bow our knees. But here on earth, and on Sunday mornings, when and whether people stand up, sit down, applaud, or protest, is not up to me.

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