A common frustration expressed by worship leaders is something along the lines of “they (the congregation) just aren’t that that into it”. It’s frustrating for the people who think through, pray through, and prepare for leading those services. We look out at the congregation and see a majority of people looking sleepy, peppered with those few dear souls who are always “into it” no matter what song we sing.
Why is this? I am increasingly convinced that the main reason our congregations appear to be disinterested and don’t participate in corporate worship with the level of enthusiasm that God desires and deserves is because the people who are up front don’t model it. This isn’t the only reason, of course. But I think it’s the main reason.
It’s a very rare thing for a congregation to go beyond what they see up front. I wrote about this phenomenon a year and a half ago and I said that “what they see is what you get”. In other words, what the congregation sees modeled up front is what will be replicated. Disinterested musicians/pastors results in a disinterested congregation. And vice versa. If the congregation sees people up front who are engaged, expressive and enthusiastic, it will spread.
People need to feel safe, or else they pull back and hold back. People need to feel blessed, or else they remain reserved so that they don’t rock the boat. People need to see it modeled, or else they don’t know what they’re missing. Sunday after Sunday the congregation comes and looks straight ahead. And most of the time they see musicians, pastors, ushers, sound engineers, acolytes, and worship leaders who “just aren’t that into it” either.
Before you look out at your congregation and get frustrated, look in the mirror. Look at your worship team. If you all are not modeling it, you have no reason to expect to see it in the congregation. The ball is in your court.
Let’s get real practical. We’ll start from the bottom up:
- Is everyone singing? If not, whoever isn’t singing is sending a message that singing is optional. That dude in the eighth row who just doesn’t want to sing now has his excuse: the bass player isn’t either.
- Is your singing heartfelt? It’s one thing to sing. It’s another thing for our singing to flow from our hearts. We should be affected by what we’re singing about if what we’re singing about has affected us. If the fact that God has reconciled sinners like me to himself through Jesus Christ doesn’t affect me, then I shouldn’t get too excited when I sing. But if that truth has affected me, it should show in my singing. Half-hearted singing is a waste of time, and if you and your team model this kind of singing, you can probably expect it to be the norm in your services.
- What message is your body sending? There are so many encouragements and commands in Scripture for us to express our worship of God with our bodies that this should be a settled matter (see the end of this post). But it isn’t and probably never will be and that’s a tremendous shame. In the context of a relationship, physical expression is not only normal, but it’s healthy. When physical expression is absent, something is lacking. Still a sad number of Christians can’t bring themselves to express their love for God with their bodies. Those of us who are up front have a responsibility to model what this looks like. If we don’t model this, we can’t expect to see it.
So to the commonly frustrated worship leaders out there (myself included) who look out on a congregation that needs to grow in worship, I would say that we need to get our own house in order first. If and when our up-front example to the congregation changes, we’ll begin to notice a difference around the room.
(For your own reference, here are some helpful scripture references dealing with different physical expressions of worship.)
- Clapping: Psalm 47:1, Psalm 98:9, Isaiah 55:12
- Lifting hands: Nehemiah 8:6, Psalm 28:2, Psalm 63:4, Psalm 134:2, Psalm 141:2, Lamentations 3:41, 1 Timothy 2:8
- Dancing: 2 Samuel 6:14, Psalm 30:11, Psalm 149:3, Psalm 150:4, Ecclesiastes 3:4
- Kneeling/bowing: Genesis 24:26, 48, 52, Nehemiah 8:6, 2 Chronicles 20:18, Psalm 5:7, Psalm 22:27, Psalm 66:4, Psalm 72:11, Psalm 95:6, Matthew 2:11, Revelation 5:8
- Lying prostrate: 1 Kings 18:39
- Shouting: Joshua 6:20, 2 Samuel 6:15, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 20:5, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 33:1, Psalm 33:3, Psalm 42:4, Psalm 47:1, Psalm 66:1, Psalm 71:23, Psalm 81:1, Psalm 126:2, Psalm 126:5, Psalm 132:9, Isaiah 12:6, Matthew 21:9
- Smiling: Psalm 34:5
- Jumping: Acts 3:8