Are You Not Ready to Worship?

1I always cringe when I hear worship leaders begin a service by asking the question “are you ready to worship?” The hope is that the congregation will respond with an enthusiastic “yes!” and everything will go swimmingly. But the reality is that the answer to that question might actually be a resounding “no!”, but no one really feels comfortable admitting it.

Most people don’t come ready to worship God on Sunday mornings. It’s true. They couldn’t find anything to wear, and before they could get out the front door, their dog puked all over the new carpet. Then their toddler decided to pour her chocolate milk all down her dress when they pulled out of the driveway. On the way to church, they got in a fight with their spouse over who forgot to start the dishwasher last night. When they get to church, they really don’t feel like talking to anyone, but they get stuck in a conversation with an extrovert who really wants to talk about her home renovation nightmare. They drop off their screaming chocolate-milk-covered toddler in nursery, and feel like the worst parents in the world. They make their way into the sanctuary, where the music has already begun and the first thing they hear is the worship leader asking “are you ready to worship?” This, of course, makes them feel guilty, because they really just feel like terrible parents who forgot to start their own dishwasher, and who have dog-puke-covered carpet waiting for them at home. But they’ll sing along and try to muster something up so people don’t judge them.

A better question would be “are you not ready to worship?” Are you feeling distracted, discouraged, spiritually dry, emotionally spent, or condemned? Did you just have a fight on the way to church? Are you feeling lonely as you sit there all by yourself? Are you annoyed by something right at this moment? Did you forget to eat breakfast? Did you yell at your kids literally six minutes ago?

Most people are somewhere on the spectrum of “not ready” when that first song starts up. My extreme example certainly won’t apply to everyone, and there are of course some people who are ready, well-slept, prayed-up, and right there with you from the first downbeat. But even the most spiritually disciplined Christians will find themselves assaulted by the pressures, concerns, bad traffic, and far away parking spots of the world between the time they leave their house and the time they sit down in their pew.

So worship leaders can’t approach their congregations with the expectation that they’re “ready to worship”. And they certainly shouldn’t ask them that out loud!

Worship leaders should approach their congregations with the expectation that they’re probably not ready to worship. (But they shouldn’t say that out loud either.)

A worship leader who’s aware that his/her congregation is most likely filled with people who aren’t exactly fired up and ready for the kind of epic worship we see in those online worship videos will present a congregation with the gloriously good news of a great and faithful God, a gracious Redeemer, and a generously outpoured Holy Spirit, instead of a guilt-inducing pressure to hype something up that isn’t there to begin with.

Because it’s God who initiates worship. Not us. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6). God speaks, God shines, God reveals, and then we respond. Not the  other way around. God’s revelation of his glory is not dependent upon our worship of him. God’s revelation comes first. Our response comes second.

So don’t start a Sunday service with the response. Don’t expect distracted people to be ready to go on the first beat of the first song. Start by letting God shine in his people’s hearts. Again. And again next Sunday. And again the Sunday after that.

That’s what the people in the pews – as distracted, disjointed, and disgusted by dog puke – need from their worship leaders. Don’t expect them to be ready. Expect them to be needy. Let God shine, and then let them respond – not to a question from their worship leader – but to the glory of their Savior.

12 thoughts on “Are You Not Ready to Worship?”

  1. Mika Edmonson, the pastor at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan asks his congregation, "Are you ready for the Gospel!" says:

    Each Lord’s day Mika Edmonson, the pastor at New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Michigan asks his congregation, “Are you ready for the Gospel!” It’s a great question! We are always ready for Good News!!!

  2. I really love this. I remember hearing pastoral staff a few years ago say things like, “If people came ready to worship it would really change what happened. We wouldn’t need as much time spent in worship. How can we encourage people to come ready to worship?” What backwardness. God has come so far towards us. When we but turn to Him, he’s ready to flood us with His presence.

  3. I think a more honest question for the congregation could simply be “Are you ready to sing your hearts out?” That is the most important test most worship leaders use to assess if the congregation IS worshiping. It is also what most worship leaders actually mean when they ask the question. Are you ready to sing?

    “Are you ready to worship” isn’t a fair question IF one is only talking about the band and the song. For example, I might not be ready to sing, but I am ready to receive communion and that is worship. I might not be ready to sing but I am ready to repent of my sin or offer a prayer and that is an act of worship. I might not know the new song, or even like it but I am ready to hear God’s word and that is also worship. I think we do a disservice to the people of God when we frame worship as primarily a song we sing. I think we do this all the time without really thinking about it.

  4. Thanks Jamie for another good one. Our engagement with God flows from our understanding of who he is and what he has done, so that’s where our gathering should start. By only quibble is with the terminology of “worship”. Perhaps one of the problems in our gatherings is that we’ve made singing the kickstart to “worship”. If you want to use the term “worship” to describe what we’re doing in our gathering, then at the very least, corporate worship begins from the moment we are gathered, not the moment we start singing. And everything we do must be understood as aspects of worship. But I think one of the problems with the way we approach church is that we think we go to church to worship. I prefer to tell our congregation that we have gathered to hear from God, engage with him, encouraging one another and all with a view to prepare for a week of worship when we leave (Rom. 12:1-2). Of course it all forms part of our life of worship and there is a corporate dimension to the worship that happens in church. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find worship as the primary aim of our gathering.

    1. Our senior pastor often begins the call to worship by reminding us that we are joining a worship service already in progress around the Throne. I just love that.

      1. That’s pretty cool. I’ve heard that sometimes, but it definitely hasn’t been the norm. We do sometimes get reminders that this is part of something much larger, but it always helps to be reminded.

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever quite heard that question from the leader. I have come across one “sing it like you mean it” and one “we’re going to sing that one again like we mean it” (yes, seriously). However, most of the time we’re encouraged to praise God without that question. I think some of the worship leaders have realized exactly what you said – not everyone walking in the doors is ready to switch gears into singing mode.

    I appreciate the church we’re attending now and several I’ve attended in the past where there’s quiet music playing in the background – nothing that you can put words to. Sometimes this is accompanied by a dimming of the lights with reminders on the screen about why we’re gathering. Sometimes there’s just a note in the bulletin to take this time to quiet ourselves and prepare our hearts. (usually ignored and people do a lot of catching up, but it’s there 🙂 ) I know I appreciate this because it gives us a chance to stop and reflect. The lights come back up in the whole room when we’re ready to begin and stay up during the service.

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