Questions About Corporate Worship: “Why Do We Clap Our Hands?”

Kristin, from PrayForMeOnline posed a great question in response to one of our recent articles Worship Leader Make-Over: Defining the Goal of a Worship Leader.   Here it is:

“Reading this post bring a questions that I’ve had for a while to mind… Why is there clapping at the end of worship songs? Who is the congregation clapping for? I understand that God very much deserves a round of applause, but I too often get the feeling that the applause is for the performers. I don’t clap. Do you?”

I like the question for one simple reason.  It made me think about something we do in corporate worship all the time.  Why DO we do it?  Do we do it just because that’s what we do?  There was a time not too long ago, when you would be challenged with a powerful phrase if you advocated something others were not sure about.  Some of you remember that phrase because you’ve been following Christ 20 plus years.  The phrase? “Chapter and Verse!”  “Show me where it says that in the Bible, give me the exact address of where it says that in the Bible.  Give me the Chapter and Verse.”  If it could not be done, discussion over.

Great question Kristin!  Here’s my answer, including the Chapter and Verse!

I agree with you that often times it seems like many are clapping simply because others are. Our culture teaches us to applaud after a great performance (even a poor performance if it’s one of our children!). I have been to many mega-church services where the concert like atmosphere (fog machines, killer sound systems, massive subwoofers, and flashing lights) combine with a superb performance. People naturally want to clap at the end of that. I think many are probably clapping for the performance itself.
With that said, Psalm 47 clearly instructs the people of all nations to clap their hands in praise and worship of God. So I think it can be done both ways. Clapping to honor the Lord is absolutely a biblical practice. Clapping to honor those leading us in worship, although a kind and seemingly encouraging act, can actually be harmful for those leading. The glory, adulation, praise and honor are ALL HIS. He shares it with no one.
If a worship leader receives that honor as for himself (“Wow, they really love us!”) that is robbing God of His worship. In essence, it is taking some of that worship for oneself. That is why you will see experienced worship leaders purposefully direct that kind of thing back to the Lord.
The best thing anyone can say at the end of a corporate time of worship to a worship leader, oneself or anyone else is not:
 “Worship was so AWESOME today. The band was so GREAT!  Your vocals were stunning and I loved that song you did at the end!”   
Unfortunately that is what one often hears.  If that’s what a person takes away from our corporate time of worship they have missed THE point.   The actual performance can be poor, but if our focus is right, this is the kind of thing we should say:  
“As I worshipped today, I was reminded of how awesome and great our Savior is.  I realized once again how much I love HIM, and how grateful I am that He would forgive a rebellious, treasonous traitor such as myself.  I am so unworthy of His sacrifice, and I am moved by His mercy.  Truly, God is Great and I want to live my life to honor Him!”
 Do you see the difference? One exalts the leaders. The other exalts the only one worthy of exaltation.
So, I do clap.  Not always and never for the performers.  We have a merciful, forgiving, great Savior.  If we could each give our lives 1000 times, literally surrendering our very lives to honor Him, it would not come close to the honor he deserves.   So clapping falls short of that as well.  But for some reason, The LORD tells us to do it.”
Here’s Psalm 47 in the NIV:
1 Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.
 2 How awesome is the LORD Most High, the great King over all the earth!
3 He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.
4 He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Selah
5 God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the LORD amid the sounding of trumpets.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm[a] of praise.
8 God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne.
9 The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings[b] of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on February 12, 2011, in Christianity, Contemporary Church Culture, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for this post. I have needed all this clarification for quite some time. I also appreciate the backing with scripture… I hadn’t recalled reading about clapping, but I hadn’t purposefully looked. Tomorrow, as I worship corporately, I’ll clap for the Lord! HE is worthy of ALL praise!


  2. I agree with the comments above. We should not clap the performers, especially after “worship time”.
    I liked what you said, in “As I worshipped today, I was reminded of how awesome and great our Savior is. I realized once again how much I love HIM, and how grateful I am that He would forgive a rebellious, treasonous traitor such as myself. I am so unworthy of His sacrifice, and I am moved by His mercy. Truly, God is Great and I want to live my life to honor Him!” quote.

    It was a real reminder to be mindful of what we do in church … why we do what we do, and is God really getting all the glory?


  3. Thank you for your response. I do clap as a form of worship, in fact I sometimes start the clap. But as I clap I give praises to Jesus for who He is and for what He has done. I know there are many that I have worshiped with who clap just because that’s what everyone is doing or clap because they enjoyed the song. Sometimes I just say a prayer, just a few words, that they will know or be enlightened as to the purpose of their clapping. Thank you for quoting chapter and verse. I know that sometimes the congregation just needs to be educated. God is so good.


  4. Steven Ernest Scott

    I still tear up at what MY Chorus leader did when the congregation clapped. He would point straight up! HE gave the clapping to God!


Don't just stare at the screen, join the conversation!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: