child singing in pewOver the course of a year I have the privilege of joining many different congregations for Sunday worship. I have to say that I often wonder if people know why they are in a worship service in the first place. I should quickly say that this is of course not the case in every situation, but more often than not there seems at best to be a vague comprehension of why we have gathered. The blame for confused behavior should not lie completely with attendees, as I am pretty sure that pastors, worship leaders, and other church leadership over time have unintentionally contributed to, if not engineered this problem. The problem is one of non-participation, especially in the singing of worship songs. On an optimistic note, it seems some leaders are now recognizing and addressing the issue. I cannot help but think those who have previously contributed to the problem, but have had a change of heart, might best serve the body by admitting such, even drawing attention to specific ways previous actions may have contributed to weak theological understanding and practice of our worship in Christ. Our purpose in this article is not to belabor those issues, but I did want to at least call attention to the opportunity biblical introspection might provide for leadership by example. Confession is not only good for the soul, it serves the larger body, and reminds us our hope is in Christ, the one true worship leader.

Some indicators that people do not grasp the purpose of worship:

  • Expectations are self-focused “What will I get out of this?” “Do I like the music/sermon/atmosphere, etc.?”
  • Priority desire that music be performed for me to enjoy, or to inspire me, rather than provide opportunity for me to participate in praise and worship made holy in Christ, and serving His Kingdom.
  • More interest in techniques that will hold our interest than giving our attention and energy to fulfilling acts that help gather up the worship of all creation (see below).
  • Half-hearted attendance patterns for gathered worship events.
  • Inattention to leaders and/or fellow worshipers throughout a worship event.
  • Lack of hospitable atmosphere for regular worship attendees and/or guests

As mentioned previously, misunderstandings of the purpose of worship may have been engineered where these symptoms exist. However, I often hear these leaders express concern over the very issue of non-participation, which seems for some a starting point from which other routes of motivation are implored. Thinking may go like this:

  • People seem disinterested, so let’s engage them with videos and lights and things that they see and like in other contexts
  • Worshipers are not singing, let’s play louder to make it feel like more are involved, and use microphones for lead singers to get the sound out front
  • Visitors do not know older songs, let’s create simple hooks and dress them with instrumentation for interest.
  • Worship theology goes over their heads, just stick to a theme for the day and make everything about that one theme
  • At best people will give an hour or two to attend church per week, we better keep it moving and exciting for them or we’ll lose them

In these scenarios my initial tendency is to lean on the leaders to foster transformation of the attitudes that are most problematic. Most often change begins in and with leadership. I must wonder as well, however, what might happen if mature and maturing worshipers in the pew began to take their song back. As a worshiper in modern worship I admit to being confused at times as to whether I am suppose to sing along, or listen to a performer present a song. This is especially the case when words are projected for an entire song anyway. In a spectator culture our tendency is to sit and listen, but what if we in the pew changed that by presuming the opposite? What if our default setting was to join the singing? Give me the words, and an idea of how the song goes, and I am in! This might help our leaders to know we are locked and loaded and ready to sing. Good leaders need good followers who are in the ready position. If singing, rather than spectator silence, were our default setting it might also build the confidence of our music leaders to expand our repertoire of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to include more robust expressions of theological truth, doxological breadth, and evangelical proclamation.

So, if I am not coming to worship so I will feel better, or get a spiritual fix, then why should I invest the time? Theologian, James Torrance helps us better understand:

God made men and women in his own image to be the priests of creation and to express on behalf of all creatures the praises of God, so that through human lips the heavens might declare the glory of God.[1]

There is a liturgical dilemma, however, in that men and women have fallen short of the glory of God. We are incapable of worshiping in the pureness of life required by the purity of God.[2] Whereas in the Old Testament the High Priest was himself a sinner entering into an earthly Jerusalem sanctuary that was only a pale copy of heaven itself. Jesus is our High Priest, sinless without spot and enters the eternal heaven, sits now at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us.

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Hebrews shows our worship is in Christ, the eternal Savior and Lord. He calls us brothers and sings in our midst in our worship (Hebrews 2:11-12).

Worshipers, do you have a song? YES!! It is Jesus! Let us shake off the notions of temporarily feeling good or better, and embrace the eternal worship in Christ. Let us join the everlasting song and crown Him Lord of all!!!

[1] James Torrance Worship, Community, and the Triune Grace of God, 1.

[2] Christopher Cocksworth, Holy, Holy, Holy: Worshipping the Trinitarian God, 151.

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


  1. […] Paul Clark discusses some of the confusion surrounding worship in the church and how that leads to a lack of participatio…: […]

  2. […] Worshipping People Take Your  Song Back […]

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