Blasphemy! If You Want the Congregation to Worship More, Try Singing Less

Worship is fast becoming a topic we avoid at all costs.  Much like discussing politics, discussing worship preferences and style, the should and should nots, the rights and wrongs, is not polite conversation.  It can and has led to all out war.  Challenge the status quo and you may have the same charges leveled against you that they leveled against Jesus: “Blasphemy…He is worthy of death!”

I believe that most of the battle stems from a lack of understanding about what worship really is.  Many people mistakenly believe that worship is the singing of a song.  It isn’t.  Read the Bible from cover to cover and you will discover that far from simply singing songs, worship is a life laid down.  I wrote about this in an earlier post called “When Did Worship Become the Singing of a Song?”

Having been a corporate leader of singing for 20+ years, I know that singing songs to the Lord can be a vehicle that helps us lay our lives down.  It can also get in the way of doing that.  More and more, I think it is getting in the way, hindering true worship.  Of course, I haven’t been to your congregation.  I have visited 30+ church services over the past 3 years, in three different States.  Everywhere I’ve been, there seems to be a doubling down on singing.  To make more room for it, we have stripped the service of most everything else, except the sermon (which is getting shorter), the offering, and the blessed announcements!

But has this increase in singing led to a church that is increasingly laying its life down for the Savior outside the service?  I am talking about the big picture.  Are believers who live in North America, consistently laying down their lives more, picking up the cross more and following Jesus more, now that we sing so much? I think the answer is a loud NO.

So what is the answer?   Here’s my suggestion:  If you want the congregation to worship more, then……….. sing….. less. Instead of singing six songs with the band, sing three or four.  Use the extra 10-15 minutes to incorporate other elements into the corporate worship time.  What are some other elements that help us live for God outside of the gathering?  I’m glad you made it this far!

How about a time  of communion that actually explains the Gospel?  Or, the reading of an extended passage of scripture that supports the theme of the singing time, and authoritatively challenges us to live for God?  A well thought out, written before hand prayer of confession that the entire congregation says together?  All of those elements and many others, remind us of what is real, and what matters.

The point I am making is this: if we want the congregations we lead to lay their lives down (worship) more and more outside of the service, singing one more song, however well executed, is not getting the job done.  Many worship leaders mistakenly believe that if they just get better players, better gear, better singers, more time, THEN the congregation will sing more.  They may, but that shouldn’t be the goal.  If worship is not the singing of a song but rather, a life laid down, we need to focus on those elements that help the congregation live out their faith Sunday afternoon through Sunday morning.

Now, let the battle begin!

For more thoughts on worship, see our post titled: “So You Want the Congregation to Sing More?  Try this” or our series called “Worship Leader Make-Over”  For a thought provoking challenge, see the results of our polls regarding singing, in our “It’s Official, People Don’t Want To Sing So Much In Church” post

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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 August 16, 2011, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture, Prayer, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Your posts about worship are always challenging. As a worship leader myself (currently not engaged in leadership), I welcome those challenges. I agree 100% that worship is more than singing. And I like the idea of adding other elements in the service. We attended a church for a while that had communion every Sunday. That was different for us. But it was very meaningful. This church also had a shorter music portion than we were used to.

    On the other hand, I wonder what would happen if we dared try to worship without a sermon? *gasp* But there were no “sermons” in the New Testament church. At least not the way we do them today.

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    • I think many churches have abandoned the sermon already! I often hear the claim that the churches during the New Testament period did not have sermons. Websters defines a sermon as “A religous discourse given in public, usually by a clergyman.” Clearly, when Christians gathered together during the period the New Testament was written in, they had these public discourses. The faith was taught to the believers, and the elders who did the teaching, had to be skilled at teaching. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly like what we have grown to expect. At the time of Justin, we are told by Justin himself, that the church had a long tradition when it came to their gathering. Someone would read from the “Memoris of the Apostles” and then the leader of the group would stand up and exhort those present to live by those things they had heard.

      If we designed our services to have no teaching time in it, I think we would categorically be missing the mark. We would have strayed to far from the Scriptures and from early church history. Of course, many churches are doing that, in a way. They no longer teach the scriptures, but make up their own teachings. The result is a very unhealthy body.

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  2. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” We can see from this quote that there is no better way to communicate than through example. So, if worship is a life laid down (and I agree it is), then, as worship leaders, the most effective thing we can do to encourage our congregations to do so is to, well, lay our lives down.

    I know this strays from the point of this article, but I think it is worth mentioning, because another factor in encouraging the congregation to worship more is trust in the worship leader (not to mention trust in the Lord). Singing, while not the whole point of worship, is a powerful way to help deliver the truth of God’s Word more deeply within our hearts. However, it is also a difficult thing to do for most people, as singing also involves bearing one’s soul, placing their hearts in a vulnerable position. If we are seen by the members of our congregations as people who live out our faith – not merely singing about it – then they will more likely trust us to lead them to that divine but delicate place.

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    • Hi Paul! Great comment, thanks for sharing it! I think you bring up a good point about the congregation trusting the leaders.

      Everytime I hear that quote from Assisi I cringe a bit. I understand that we have to live out our faith. We have to walk the walk, not simply talk the talk. I get that, and I agree with it 100%. But that is not even close to being enough, at least when it comes to communicating the gospel. A whole generation of Christians has been raised to believe that all we have to do is to live out our faith in front of the lost. We have been told that the need to actually share the message of the Gospel is not as important. It has to be both, and if one is more important than the other, as Assisi seems to imply in his quote, clearly the proclamation of the Gospel is what matters most. Thankfully, in the real world, we can live out our faith and share it with words. We don’t have to one or the other.

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  3. Wow. I appreciate this blog! It’s becoming more apparent to me that the church at large doesn’t know the difference between praise and worship. Some research will show that praise can be achieved by anyone; it is an outward boast of appreciation to Christ. Now, to worship, you MUST have a relationship with Christ achieved ONLY by maturity in the Holy Spirit. John 4:24 – God is a Spirit and they that worship Him MUST worship in SPIRIT and in TRUTH. In the O.T. and N.T, worship defined in Greek and Hebrew always alludes to kneeling, bowing, reverance, and lying prostrate. Here’s the gotcha! – In the N.T., intimacy is implied. Worship unto God [Proskuneo] is defined as kissing/fawning in addition to the other postures for worship. I could go on but to reference one of your points, if worship is defined as kissing, fawning, kneeling, bowing, lying prostrate, and reverencing…how achievable are these things with elaborate singing, dancing, and music demoninating the service??? Singing can be a vehicle into worship, but in and of itself it’s PRAISE. Now, how many services have you been in where the “Worship Team” has actually ushered in an atmosphere of worship and the worship experience was cut short to go on to the next selection??? Wow!

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  4. Good article Jim. I would take things a step further though. It’s time to start thinking about worship beyond the walls of the church. I hear many people talk about worship being more than singing, but all the solutions seem to still be talked about in the context of Sunday morning.

    As I worship leader I’ve always tried to get people to come with me as I live out a lifestyle of worship in serving the poor, meeting needs, taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. We are so good at talking about it, and so bad at living it.

    A true worship pastor is a shepherd that leads people in a lifestyle of worship. Unfortunately, today we call people who are great musicians worship pastors, when they aren’t really pastoring anyone. We’ve let individuals skate by on their talent, when in effect life change isn’t happening because someone writes and performs good music. I agree that singing is a great way to worship, unfortunately it’s the main way the church provides worship.

    This is an uphill battle though. I’ve found people are reluctant to change, and live this stuff out. Granted, not everyone is reluctant but most are. Most want to listen to the story, instead of be the story. It’s a weary pursuit as a worship leader, and one that most aren’t forging ahead on.

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    • HI Kevin, Good point!

      I agree with you about taking it a step further. If worship is a life laid down, then when and where do I lay it down? Durng the 30 minutes I groove to the band and sing songs at church? Surely it can be done there, but clearly that is not how scripture views it. Very few people understand this or even care about it. At times, I think the battle is lost.

      I have read many, many, many advertisements for worship pastor positions. I have been stunned to see what most churches want: A good musician who can read music and knows how to run sound, or some variation of that. No wonder it is out of control.

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