This past week, Hans, my cousin and the Site Pastor for our location, shared a note on the city about changing our seating arrangements on Sunday mornings. The change: starting this week, we are going to rope off our outer sections and ask people to sit in the two center sections until they are full and then unrope the side sections. One of the main reasons behind this, though not the only reason, was to help foster greater participation of our congregants, particularly during times of congregational singing. Our team (my self included) feels that moving everyone closer together helps people remember that they are a part of something much bigger than themselves. They will hear one another singing and it will encourage them to sing out all the more.
When Hans announced this on The City (our online community and communications tool), we had some honest and committed congregants agree in our comments section that there are times when the participation in our worship service is less than stellar and that it can at times feel downright disheartening to try and worship in such a cold setting.
I love my job. I love singing to God. I love watching others do it and helping others do it. So, I responded to these comments with an aim to share just a few thoughts, but as usual, my long-winded nature got the better of me and it turned into a small treatise on Congregational Singing as it relates to participation. As I wrote it, I thought, this could be a blog post. So, I decided to post it here as well for all to see, all 10 of you who read this.
Here it is:
We are all in this together, working toward a goal to maginify Christ each time we gather, and when we do this, it sometimes (or maybe often!) means we have to work against things like our musical preferences, our backgrounds, our attitudes, and other hang-ups. In a time where we are supposed to be united around Christ, the Adversary wants nothing more than to divide us.
Let me encourage you all with some specific things to remember that I have come to learn as a worship leader.
1. People usually have their reasons for not participating. Now, God is always worthy of our worship, so there is never a “good” reason for not participating. That said, people may be coming through our doors who are lost or hurting or feeling far from God. Lifting their hands toward God might be the last thing on their minds. Getting through the door may be all their spirits can muster. Also, many people come from different backgrounds at our church, where they may not have experienced the type of congregational singing we have at the Chapel, and they may still be trying to adjust. Others may have less understandable hang-ups that are more petty in nature, but there is a whole spectrum of reasons, and it helps us to be understanding of our brothers and sisters while still leading by example in these times of singing together.
2. Worship is for God, not us. Though no one can say that a powerful time of congregational singing isn’t extremely edifying to the soul, we must remember that the focus is always God, not us. Granted, when we see others aparently not worshiping God, it is easy to let that affect us, even drag us down, but we must remember that regardless of how much we “feel” the presence of the Lord in a space, we must endeavor to keep the focus on him, not how the worship “feels.” That said, I am with all of you—I want the Chapel to be a place where exhuberant, joyful singing is the norm rather than half-hearted or empty participation, but this needs to be because we recognize that He is worthy of our worship, not because we want to feel a certain way when it’s time to sing.
3. There is only so much the pastoral staff and worship leaders can do. The rest is up to the Spirit of God and the hearts of his people. Let me affirm what Hans said, that it is our desire as a team across both locations to lead you in a worship service that is dynamic and encouraging, that is centered around the Word of God and focused on exalting Christ. We are going to make mistakes. We are going to have successes. At the end of the day, we are going to do everything we can to help you all grow spiritually and worship fervently individually and corporately. We all need to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of His people to accomplish His mission for our Church, and as He does this, authentic worship will happen! I promise you. If the only time our congregation “worships” is on a Sunday morning, I guarantee you that no matter how much participation there is, we are missing the point if we are not exalting God to the world during the rest of the week.
4. There are different postures in worship, but the most important posture is the posture of the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b is in view here: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” What we need to care about most is the heart. We never truly know what is going on in the hearts of those who seem to be disengaged. That said, I will not use this verse as a blanket excuse for not participating. After all, if we can yell and clap and dance at an LSU football game but can’t muster any type of emotional response to the King of Kings who gave himself for us, then this IS an issue of the heart. But, as a worship pastor, I want a congregation of pure-hearted people who serve the Lord daily much more than I want a congregation of people who clap, sing loudly, and raise their hands but don’t do a thing to serve the Lord.
I would ask that you join with me along with the rest of the pastoral staff in prayer for hearts to be kindled and our passion to burn brightly for the Lord. May that be borne out in our lives lived daily for Christ and as we gather together to celebrate His grace each Sunday!