Beyond Clapping and Shouting in Church

Annual special gatherings at our church each February have given a taste of what worship might look like if we accepted God’s invitation to more freely express our worship to Him. Recently, there has been unusual energy in the singing. Many, especially guests, are not shy in worshipping in outwardly expressive ways.

The first night of worship this year was especially fervent. My 10-year old daughter had never heard or seen anything like that before. As worship concluded, she turned to me with a sparkle in her eyes and said, “Daddy, this is how church should be every week!”

She had caught a glimpse of the intriguing possibility that church worship could, at times, be fun as well as reverent. I want to feed and guide that feeling, not squash it. I am ashamed to admit that I have squashed it by suppressing instead of expressing my emotions in worship. But I am ready for change.

Based on responses to “Clap and Shout in Church,” many readers are ready too. Still, we hesitate. One reader wrote, “The only person in our service who does this is mentally challenged!” Well, it is surely a kindness of Jesus that mentally retarded persons can enjoy expressive worship, but why can’t the rest of us?

We know what’s in the way: fear of what others will think, fear of distracting, fear of wild emotionalism, fear of being irreverent. How can we overcome these fears to worship freely in Biblically appropriate ways?

I am learning that open and reverent worship is a natural result of seeing God as the treasure. Raising His treasure value in our minds is not done by repeating theological facts during the service. It is done when each of us becomes much better acquainted with Him by reading Scripture well for ourselves, becoming growing learners.

Here’s an example of the status quo. We usually assume that Jesus did miracles mainly to prove that He is God, not considering that Jesus might be showing us a lot of other stunning things about the kind of person He is and how He interacts with us. If we assume that Jesus is flashing His “God card” every time He does a miracle, then we stunt our growth in knowing Him. If reading Scripture that way is a habit, then our worship becomes more of a duty-driven reaction to a few doctrines about Him, or perhaps a mere emotional reaction to the music.

Here’s a sample of how it could go, drawing from what I am learning. While reading       John 17, I notice that Jesus says to the Father, (vs. 23), “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” Wait Jesus, run that by me again. The Father loves us as He loves You? Wow, I never noticed that before. So the next time we sing something like, “How Great the Father’s Love for Us,” my most reverent and natural response will be to joyfully worship the Father with all my being, body included. Worshippers doing this together are unlikely to distract each other or worry what others are thinking.

Our children are watching us. Many of them will decide not to worship the way we do now. That could be good. It depends on what drives their worship. They might decide that expressive worship requires drums and electric guitars. Or, the Holy Spirit might lead us and them to rich, vibrant worship by showing God as our treasure.

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4 Responses to Beyond Clapping and Shouting in Church

  1. Clarence says:

    Stephen, Because of some changes that have been implemented in our church over the last year or so, and more are coming down the pike, I have been reading over your piece on, ” Beyond chapping and Shouting in Church” with renewed interest and concern.
    I guess we will have to agree to disagree on the “intrinsic connection” between contemporary music and the (come as you are dress style) that seems to go hand in hand with CCM music, and “the outward expression of emotion to God in church worship,” that you feel is a “normal response to the presence of God who is our treasure.”
    Let me try to illustrate my point by relating my personal experience in fundamental churches, where I have held membership in over the last 50 plus years. All of the churches were medium in size. All were good churches, not “perfect,” but good. When it came to congregational singing, it was always robust and uplifting. And why shouldn’t it have been? If hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” and Holy, Holy, Holy can’t lift your spirits, what will? During the more than 50 years of being a part of congregational singing did I ever, personally, see hands going up and down, or any other kind of body movement like we see today when CCM music is played.
    So I ask the question, why? Are believers more spiritual today than they have been over the last 50 – 60 years? Has the age of technology deepened the biblical understanding of this generation? Is the text of the Getty song, In Christ Alone, richer and deeper theologically than, say, All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name? I have to confess, I am frustrated and at a loss as to why this physical display of emotion is becoming the norm where contemporary music is played and sung?
    Because of my ignorance, I have sought the help of “musical experts” who have written and lectured on the subject of contemporary music. I’ve read and heard men like Frank Garlock,
    Tim Fisher, and Dr. Ernest Pickering address the issue of contemporary music and its short comings. When all is said and done, I’ve come away with the understanding that CCM music is very unwise to bring into the believing church. As one preacher said a long time ago, ” If it reaches your foot before it reaches your heart, it’s the wrong kind of music.”
    What makes it hard is, there are good men on both sides of the issue. BUT, as for me and my house, we’ll stay with what has stood the test of time, and will continue to stand…….traditional music.
    Thanks for listening to an old man ramble. I enjoy the chance to dialog with you.


  2. Clarence Buzzell says:

    For those who may read these comments, please know that this is one man’s opinion and not meant to be taken as a rebuke to those who differ. Most of us would agree that history has a way of repeating itself over and over again. Forty years ago, tongues became a hot button issue in believing churches. Looking at the charismatic movement, many believers felt there was something missing in their lives. In comparison, the worship service in fundamental churches seemed sterile and bereft of emotion. Soon the shelves in Christian bookstores were filled with books on tongues, and pastors were having to revisit the biblical place of tongues in the church. Thankfully, after a few years, the tongues issue went away. However, the harm that was done to believers, and some churches, was devastating. Here in 2013, individual believers and Bible believing churches are once again questioning the seeming lack of enthusiasm in their worship services. This time around, churches are filling that seeming void with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and a “dress-down” code that makes worshippers look like they’ve just come from a backyard cookout. I would submit to you that, maybe what we need is a good old fashioned, Holy Spirit, revival of our hearts. if that is so, that will come, not by loud drums, guitars, hand held mikes, and vocalist tapping their toes and slapping their thighs to the beat of contemporary “praise” music. What we need is a congregation of humble believers, whose sanctified hearts and ears are open and receptive to the preaching of God’s infallible word. A congregation that will preach the word and live the word. A congregation that is willing to spend and be spent, as Paul says.


    • Clarence,
      Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt comments.

      I share your concerns about disturbing trends such as sensual music and dressing down in church worship. However, I don’t see an intrinsic connection between those trends and the outward expression of emotion to God in church worship. The trends of sensual music and dressing down are exactly that—reactions to pressure from popular culture with no Biblical affirmation. By contrast, outward expression in worship is a normal response to the presence of God who is our treasure, a response that is repeatedly affirmed in Scripture.

      It’s true that outward expression in worship has been abused. I am persuaded that a Scripture-nourished focus on God as our treasure is the best antidote to that abuse and at the same time the most powerful motive for free expression to God. I’m further persuaded that a more engaged approach to Scripture will bring more vibrant worship and the Holy Spirit revival of which you wrote.

      Our children, like my daughter, (and many of us), hunger for emotional connection to God as well as intellectual understanding. Our response to that need matters. I am asking that we be open to what God invites us to do.


  3. Nancy Koesy Parker says:

    A thought: Perhaps if we allowed ourselves to be more expressive in worship, we would encourage others who also want to be more expressive but share the reservations and concerns you mention. And, above all, an important question: are we quenching the Spirit because of a fear of man?


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