Encouraging Expressiveness in Worship When It’s Not “Cool”

This is the second clip from an hour plus interview that Tim Smith did with me when I was in Seattle last November. He’s asking me about an issue they’ve faced at Mars Hill Church, but one that I’m sure is common to many churches. How do you motivate people to physically express affection for God when they’re singing his praise, when their default attitude on hearing music is passivity and reservation? How do you keep from manipulating or commanding certain responses that are appropriate to biblical corporate worship? If you want to read more, I did a series on physical expressiveness a while back. You can find Part 1 here.

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6 Responses to Encouraging Expressiveness in Worship When It’s Not “Cool”

  1. Peter June 17, 2008 at 11:02 AM #

    OK, sad, but true. My daughter watched about 5 secs of the clip and asked if I was watching “Beauty and the Geek”. Sorry, Bob.

    Personally, this is helpful to me as we just started a Praise Team to help lead worship and I don’t want to get in the way of people worshiping. I also appreciate the link back to the earlier post. Off to review that now.

    As for the dancing, I liked Point of Grace’s description of “Synchronized Stepping”. :) I don’t really get where people have so much trouble with dancing and other arts. I can see that some dancing is plainly not worshipful, but most in a church setting is. Add in the Biblical references and I just don’t see the issues. I’ve been to Jewish celebrations and they dance. I think Chip Ingram brought up the idea that we are to enjoy life and that the Jews would have a party at the appropriate times, including dancing and feasting.

  2. chad June 17, 2008 at 11:57 AM #

    This goes alot deeper than just people not expressing themselves with hands or other signs of emotion. In many places, people don’t even sing at all.

    I wonder how much of the problem is related to the stoic example of early 20th century fundamentalism, and how church is supposed to be a place of stark reverence.

    Physical expressiveness is something that takes a heavy amount of self-honesty, meaning that you examine why you are doing what you do. It took me years to work through this after a really rough time in church. Part of it is also learning to not judge others in their physical expression. This was harder than learning to express myself again.

    As a church-wide issue, I think that we need to delve more into the social reasons why people don’t express themselves in church but they do at a concert or ballgame. While showing how it is scriptural can provide doctrinal validation, making this a personal practice adds several layers to the instruction.

    Manipulation is something that can be done in a good way, or in a bad way. I ran sound for a worship service of 2000 people for several years and I learned that increasing the volume by just 2-3 db at the right time would dramatically affect the way that people where expressing themselves. I had to be really careful about when I decided to turn things up!!!

    At the same service, we had a group of leaders/pastors that made the decision to sit at the front and encouraged other leaders in their ministries (this was a campus-wide worship service at a college with about 7 different denominations represented) to sit at the front as well. These people really served as an example to everyone else and made others comfortable with expressing themselves physically in worship

  3. Kyle June 17, 2008 at 5:41 PM #

    My wife and I have visited Covenant Life a time or two (We’re from the Midwest), and have seen leadership similar to what Chad described, and benefited greatly from it (the group of pastors was actually up on stage, over to the side). We realized that the pastors were not “delegating” the role of leading worship to a specific person. Yes, there was one person who was “leading”, but as soon as the music started, they stood and “showed us the way” so to speak. They were leading worship just as much as the “leader” was. They engaged with the words they were singing in physical and emotional ways, and their leadership that morning had a profound influence on both my wife and I.

  4. caleb June 19, 2008 at 5:16 PM #

    Thank you so much. These were very helpful reminders to me.

    I have a question. What if bad motives for being physically expressive start creeping in, such as wanting other people to think I’m godly or spiritual? What if it’s considered ‘cool’ to be physically expressive? Would it appropriate just to stop?

  5. Brad Loser June 19, 2008 at 7:40 PM #


    I appreciate the way you ended this section – what we sing, say, think, feel, and physically do when we gather for a time of corporate worship should be an outpouring of what our lives have been living and experiencing all week long. Our lives are a sacrifice of praise – more unbelievers observe our opinion of God during Monday thru Saturday than they do on Sunday. We should our lives in such a way that the unchurched would be shocked, not by seeing someone be physically expressive in a corporate setting, but shocked if they weren’t being expressive. If our gratitude for grace is lived throughout the week and the joy of our salvation exudes from our lifestyle – then physical expressiveness should be expected. I think you addressed this in your book, as well – though it wasn’t addressed specifically to the issue of physical expressiveness. We allow the fear of man to dictate our actions in a corporate worship setting. We do things to effect the way people view us. We are more concerned about protecting the image we want people to have of us than we are concerned about what God thinks about us and our worship. The only opinion that matters is God’s. Thanks for helping to bring clarity to this often avoided issue.

    Brad Loser

  6. Nathan Rutman June 23, 2008 at 5:26 PM #


    Thanks so much for being willing to toe the tricky lines theologically. This is absolutely fantastic!

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