“When it is silent, we get really uncomfortable.” These are the words of one teenage girl addressing the worship leader of a summer Christian youth camp, according to a story told by John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries. After a time of worship, this girl went up to the worship leader concerned that he was not strumming his guitar in between worship songs.
If you have ever attended an evangelical service, it is likely you have experienced this worship practice. During worship, the pastor or worship leaders have a moment of prayer, and all the while there is usually some sort of emotive piano part playing in the background. The deep tones theoretically make the “transition” into the next worship song easier. The never-ending music makes the prayer a little less “uncomfortable.” In other words, it means we don’t have to deal with silence. We can ride our emotional high from the very first song through the whole service, thus coasting through what might otherwise be uncomfortable moments of reflection and introspection.
I believe this story is reflective of a larger issue in our modern view of worship, (regardless of denomination). The issue is that we, as post-Emergent Church Worshipers, seem to view corporate worship as dependent upon our emotional response to it. Furthermore, I think worship in the evangelical church has become far too self-absorbed. We never see anything but a polished show and we are never left in silence. We leave little room for our God, instead crowding our stage and our hearts with smoke machines, slide projectors, and the smooth riffs of the flannel clad.
It might seem that I am about to launch into a diatribe about everything that I feel is wrong with modern worship. And, yeah, don’t get me wrong- I certainly could offer suggestions on what we should do to change the format of worship in order to properly present ourselves as we gather corporately before God. However, doesn’t everyone have ideas about ways worship could change for the better? Everyone wants to refocus worship around what they think is important, around the parts of worship with which they are more comfortable. Take, for instance, the following two suggestions: “Hey, worship leaders, make your worship practice engaging and modern, add some guitar (or a Mandolin!)” or “The true service is always done in Latin (or better yet, in Syriac!).” Such points I may or may not agree with, and for certain churches, they may very well be true and proper. That said, I believe that a list of “do’s and don’ts” is not what is needed to renew our worship or our hearts. Maybe strumming between songs is acceptable, and maybe it’s not. Serious, prayerful consideration of these questions though, is always necessary.
We cannot know God absolutely or sufficiently solely through our intellects. Yet, Jesus beckons His followers to worship God in spirit and in truth. Therefore, we must strive to know the truth of the Unknowable God by the Holy Spirit. Thus, practically speaking, we must attempt to structure our worships around this concept of not being able to know God fully, that we might be able to draw near in spirit and in truth.
I believe that the only way to do this is to accept our inability to comprehend God, to confess that He is beyond our intellectual grasp. By meditating on Scripture, consulting with others in the body of Christ, and prayerfully meditating on those things, then and only then may we begin to do justice to this sacred thing called worship.
Also, there remains another thing. There is something I must confess. I am the girl who was uncomfortable in the silence. In point of fact, I am not the actual person from our original example. But like her, I have spoken with worship pastors. I have demanded that the worship of God conform to my expectations. I confess that I have been that girl.
I confess I must reevaluate my approach to worship. Also, I pray that others who worship the King of the Universe can learn from my reexamination of how I praise God. While I certainly would not forbid strumming in the house of God, I would nonetheless like to suggest that we have nothing to fear from silence. We are communally welcomed into the house of God to be still and to know.
It is my hope that as we turn in repentance, confession, and adoration towards the marvelous God we claim to worship, we will see ourselves taking up less space in worship, so that the presence of the One who made our very souls may arrive and fill the discomfort, fill the brokenness.