Last week I posted the first article in a series on Fragmented Worship. Too often we treat the Greatest Commandment as a buffet. Rather than bringing all that we are under Christ’s lordship and provision, we engage Him with only the parts of our being that feel most natural to us. When asked to worship with a part of us that feels unnatural, we often excuse ourselves by saying “I’m just not wired that way.”. In my last post, I argued that when we worship with only part of ourselves, we’re not only disobeying the commandment, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Today, however, I’d like us to focus on some of the barriers that prevent us from worshipping with our whole heart.
First of all, I should say I’m not an expert in this area. I think people often assume that because I’m a musician and a former worship pastor, that I’m primarily wired to worship God with my heart, and that’s just not the case for me. I have had many experiences of wholehearted worship, and I do to tear up in worship or when reflecting on the scriptures from time to time, but for the most part I tend to worship with my mind and engage God in that way first. When my mind is engaged in worship, my heart will follow, but it seldom goes the other way. I think recognizing that about myself has helped me to lead others better.
One of the questions that comes up most commonly in my worship workshops is, “How do we get our people to engage in worship?”. Usually what’s meant here is the “heart”, and the implied context is through singing. It’s a grave mistake to think that worship is only singing. It’s an even graver mistake to equate worshipping well with how well a person worships with the heart. But the question still stands: How do we as pastors and worship leaders help those who aren’t “wired that way” to engage their heart in worship? Or to put it another way, “What are some of the barriers that prevent people from worshipping with their whole heart?”
3 Common Obstacles:
Sin: The first obstacle that comes to mind is sin. I know from personal experience, that it’s impossible for me to worship with my whole heart when there is un-repented sin in my life. When there is I am more conscious of my own guilt and shame than of God’s mercy, grace and love so I cannot and will not open my heart to Him. I recognize that this is between me and God, and that it’s my responsibility to keep a short list of sins and regularly confess them and receive God’s forgiveness. The trouble is, I’m human and I’m proud, and sometimes I need a little help with this.
This is partly why I am such a strong advocate for having a prayer of confession and assurance of pardon every week as part of corporate worship. This is part of pastoring your people well. I’m planning to write a longer post just on this topic alone, but for now let me say that you should be doing this every week. Before entering into (or continuing very long in) worship, ask your people to pause as you corporately confess your sins to God. Pray a corporate prayer of confession, then give them a moment to silently make their own confession, and then end with an assurance of pardon from scripture. Assure your people that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”, or use one of the many other assurances from scripture. If you really want people to worship with glad and joyous hearts, give them something to celebrate. I can’t think of anything worth celebrating more than God’s grace and forgiveness.
You may feel uncomfortable doing this at first, but this is one of the kindest things a pastor can do for their people. Bring them to the throne, help them confess, and assure them of forgiveness. And every time you do this, whether you realize it or not, you are both proclaiming the Gospel and allowing people to enter into it.
Trust: A second common barrier to worshiping wholeheartedly is trust. It takes a tremendous amount of trust to come to church. People in our culture are naturally and understandably suspicious of churches and pastors. When people show up at your church, they are giving you a sacred gift of trust. When we place such a heavy priority on people’s emotional response to worship, there is a temptation to abuse that trust and manipulate people into some kind of emotional response. We tell unnecessarily personal or tragic stories, or use overly sentimental sermon illustrations, or sing songs that go on and on about a sort of intimacy with God that many people never experience, and that may weird some people out. It’s fine preach, sing and share stories naturally, thoughtfully and with authenticity, but when they’re done manipulatively, people feel abused and trust is broken.
Be patient with people. Teach them well. Preach the Gospel. In time, as the Gospel does it’s work in the hearts and minds of your congregation, their hearts will open with thanksgiving and praise. Be patient. Don’t abuse their trust by trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit and rush things along.
Noise: I’m not talking about microphone feedback or the volume of the sound system. I’m talking about internal noise. People come to church with so much chaos going on inside. Whether it’s social or financial pressures, family strife, personal crises or whatever, people do not show up to church ready to worship.
In a perfect world, I suppose they would. They’d get up before sunrise, pour themselves a coffee, open the scriptures, and spend an hour in quiet contemplative prayer before getting dressed and gently asking their cherubic little darlings to please get dressed and get in the van for church. Well, this is planet Earth, and it doesn’t happen that way.In my house, getting everyone dressed, fed and out the door, makes hostage negotiations with armed terrorists sound like a day at the beach.
Many of your people show up to worship frazzled, harassed, hopeless, angry, discontent and often hanging by a thread. You need to take a moment to welcome them, remind them why they’re there, care for them, pray for them, and then give them a moment of silence to pause, to pray and collect themselves before worship. It’s impossible to worship with all your heart until you’ve taken a moment to silence all the noise in your head/heart first. Give them time to do that.
Remember, the Heart is only part of who we are. And while it’s important to engage the heart in worship, it’s not the be all end all that we make it out to be. Our goal is to help people through planning and leading worship to worship with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. If you can’t seem to engage the heart of your people, try starting with one of the other three.
I’ll try to offer some more suggestions on how to do that in Part 3, next week.
I look forward to reading some of your thoughts in the comments below.