worshipers  So I have been packing up my office preparing for a move to a new location – same position and denominational entity, just a different locale.  Turns out fourteen years is plenty of time to build up quite a stash of stuff – some valuable and some….well, let’s just say I have made more than one trip to the dumpster.  Cleaning out desk drawers and files has given fresh inspiration to reflect on the many blessings of these fourteen years of serving Tennessee Baptists in the areas of worship and music ministry.  I have a file of worship bulletins from churches where I have attended worship over these years.  Besides having served nine churches as an interim worship music ministry leader, I have been a part of hundreds of worship services, some as the worship music leader, some as a visiting consultant, some as guest preacher, some as worship conference leader, some as a kind of “secret shopper,” helping the staff evaluate the guest experience, and some just as a worshiping traveler, or more to the point of this article, a traveling worshiper.  All this is in addition to the times I get to actually stay home and worship in the church where I am a member. Looking over these worship guides and reflecting on the many places and people with whom I have worshiped has caused me to contemplate my growth as a traveling worshiper.  It has inspired me to consider other observations from these experiences

Some of these observations include:

  • The musical language used in our churches has become increasingly diverse from one church setting to another
  • In my experience, participation in congregational singing seems to be stronger, percentage-wise, in smaller congregations than in larger ones
  • Participation in congregational singing is stronger in African-American and ethnic congregations than in predominantly Anglo ones.
  • Participation as integral within the total worship service is most prevalent in African-American churches, with outbreaks of singing anticipated during sermon and prayer times as well as designated times of singing praise
  • My own participation level as a traveling worshiper grows with each repetition of visits to a particular congregation, and has grown as a traveler/visitor exponentially in the last six years.  I believe the latter is due to an attitude of intentional participation.

I would like to address this last observation as it has impacted my life as a worshiper, and I believe has implications for others.  Note that in the term “traveling worshiper” the traveling part is the present participle that modifies the noun, “worshiper.”  In other words it is incumbent upon me to be an intentional worshiper first, just one who happens to travel, and thus find myself in many venues where I will be engaged in worship with worshiping communities.  I would note that repetitions of visits to a particular congregation allow me to engage more fully with each successive visit.  Even upon the second visit to a particular church I have a stronger sense as a worshiper of what to expect in terms of musical environment and dress code (I could tell some stories of personal awkwardness whether clad in coat and tie or blue jeans).  Upon a second or third visit I know more about worship space seating arrangements – where one does or does not sit in that particular church. Different churches have different piety and expectations related to physical participation in the church’s worship culture.  It is helpful as a worshiper to know before I go in whether a congregation’s culture is hand raising or fist clinching.  Also, I learn by the second or third visit just how likely it is that anyone will speak a personal word.  As a repeat attender my confidence grows as I know a bit more what to expect and how to participate in the church’s culture.  I find that my comfort level, confidence, and understanding of how to worship with the given congregation in their context grow with each visit.  Even when music expression is unfamiliar or is not the kind of music material I might prefer, opportunity to participate seems more accessible the second or third visit and beyond as I become familiar with the kind of material to be used.  In fact, I find it possible that a first visit to a worshiping church can bring joy in the discovery of how that congregation practices worship.  Intentional participation is an attitude I can bring to the worship event.  It includes a readiness to respond at the Lord’s invitation through leaders and through the call of His Spirit.

Six years ago through a combination of personal health crisis and a period of intense worship study as well as an adjustment in private practice of worship, the Lord did a work of renewal in my spirit concerning how I worship with congregations when I am traveling.  The life-threatening health crisis gave rise to a palpable gratitude for every moment of every day as gift from God – Eucharistic living.  When I walk into a church’s worship where I do not know anyone, I am still not a stranger, nor am I alone.  Although social settings can be intimidating, and by the way, gathered worship qualifies as a social setting, still the fact is that these are God’s people.  I am present first to worship with them as such.  Any evaluation and assessment they may request from me will be best voiced when rooted in some sense of having worshiped with them.  They will be best served if I have joined them in mind and spirit in their worship, even if their environment is nothing like what I worship in regularly.  In other words, it is best for me to engage through intentional participation.  Seeing fellow worshipers as brothers and sisters in Christ is up to me – intentional.

Intentional participation I believe to be a laudable objective for worshipers in all congregations, and is the spirit we leaders need to foster among our worshiping congregations.  To encourage such an attitude we need our senior pastors and all leaders to set the example by intentional participation themselves in all aspects of worship.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship


  1. […] Paul Clark shares some observations on being a traveling worshipper over the years: […]

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