WHAT’S GOING ON OUT THERE? WORSHIP VIEWED FROM THE PLATFORM

hands-worshiping2 I have spent many Sundays on the platform of a church sanctuary looking out over a congregation that has presumably gathered for worship. Some Sundays as the people sang, as love for one another was verbalized, as Word was preached and response was made openly I thought the ceiling would surely open and heaven’s glory itself would fill the room. Other Sundays I have wondered if attendees had undergone some kind of hypnosis that robbed them of all enthusiasm and just left body shells to stand in the pews. From the platform perspective I often think I have a sense of what is or is not happening in worship. Perhaps this is the case from a strictly performative, participative, or evident enthusiasm standpoint. In other words, sure, I can evaluate whether people appear to be singing, praying, listening, lifting hands, or responding to invited actions or not. The truth is, however, that such actions in themselves do not guarantee worship of the heart or engagement of the spirit. Nor do such actions necessarily indicate that the participant is acting in response to the presence of God. All the same, I personally prefer to see some evidence of enthusiasm in the open responses persons make in the worship environment.

I have spent many Sundays on the platform of a church sanctuary looking out over a congregation that has presumably gathered for worship. Some Sundays as the people sang, as love for one another was verbalized, as Word was preached and response was made openly I thought the ceiling would surely open and heaven’s glory itself would fill the room. Other Sundays I have wondered if attendees had undergone some kind of hypnosis that robbed them of all enthusiasm and just left body shells to stand in the pews. From the platform perspective I often think I have a sense of what is or is not happening in worship. Perhaps this is the case from a strictly performative, participative, or evident enthusiasm standpoint. In other words, sure, I can evaluate whether people appear to be singing, praying, listening, lifting hands, or responding to invited actions or not. The truth is, however, that such actions in themselves do not guarantee worship of the heart or engagement of the spirit. Nor do such actions necessarily indicate that the participant is acting in response to the presence of God. All the same, I personally prefer to see some evidence of enthusiasm in the open responses persons make in the worship environment.

Our subjective worship evaluations based on enthusiasm as we experience it fall woefully short of an encompassing sense of the Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise. Our long-relished glut of emphasis on intimacy without proper perspective has left us with little sense of the magnitude of Him with Whom we claim such intimacy. I fear such excesses, certainly including my own, have too often been simply based in a small view of God. What if it were otherwise? As Will Willimon points out,

When we come in contact with the Divine, we experience ambiguous feelings of wanting to face the mystery and also of wishing to flee from it……Even the incessant clearing of throats, whispering, coughing, rattling of gum wrapper, and aimless activity that usually goes on in a congregation on Sunday morning may be a direct, if unconscious, attempt to avoid getting too close to the mystery. Protestant clergy have been accused, somewhat ungraciously, of being infected with “diarrhea of the mouth” because of the constant chatter and irrelevant commentary with which they fill all empty spaces during Sunday morning worship. Perhaps their chatter shows their nervousness during times of quiet or unplanned breaks in the action of the service—times when the “numinous” has a way of intruding.[1]

Not that silence is the only means of encouraging contemplation of transcendence, but it does seem to imply “other worldly” to simply remain quiet in our fast-paced, fill every second with sound and stimulation world. Basking in the mystery of a transcendent sense of Holy Other might well prove uncomfortable, especially for those of us on the platform. We might be left looking at a room full of people wondering, “Why don’t they do something?” Indeed, this is our inclination. As one who has tried merely a moment’s silence inserted in a service of worship in a Baptist context before, I can testify the impulse to move is a heavy burden. Perhaps we need to think differently as to what worship looks like, as if we could really know for certain. What’s more, perhaps we need to more deeply and prayerfully consider our expectations in worship, and know that the true work of holy worship occurs in the hearts of those worshiping in spirit and truth.

The churches’ worship provides opportunities for us to enjoy God’s presence in corporate ways that takes us out of time and into the eternal purposes of God’s kingdom. As a result, we shall be changed – but not because of anything we do. God, on whom we are centered and to whom we submit, will transform us by his Revelation of himself.[2]

[1] Will Willimon Worship as Pastoral Care (Abingdon Press 1979) 79

[2] Marva Dawn A Royal Waste of Time (Eerdmans 1999) 1-2.

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

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