Engaged in worship!

Do you have any sort of measuring stick to determine how engaged in worship your congregation is in during the time of music in your church? Is it hands raised, eyes closed, swaying? Is it loud, enthusiastic singing, or a "holy hush" sweeping over the congregation? Do you get goose-bumpies? Does your senior pastor quit whispering to neighbors or thumbing through his Bible and join the worshipers? Are the veteran "worship critics" actually singing?

Some thoughts and observations from my own life:

When I was as laddie, I saw the movie of "Tobacco Road", which included scenes of church services in the poor rural South. I saw something I had never seen in church: people raising their hands and shouting "hallelujah!" I had already learned to love the Hallelujah Chorus; and the idea of being able to express joy in church seemed absolutely wonderful.

As a teenager, as I played the organ for services, sometimes the people would sing with exceptional fervor, or loudness, or joy. It felt good to be at church.  The good singing was a bellwether to me, that church was really happening.

As a young adult, I had heard of something called a "Pentecostal" church. I'd never encountered one, but I heard they said "hallelujah", and liked to worship God. At the air base chapel in Sacramento, an elderly man raised a hand during a hymn, while people looked at him with frowns. Later, he said "amen" during the sermon, upon which an usher came to escort him out.

And not long after, I began serving God in churches where people worshiped God with an intensity that seemed to set the place on fire; and I became "one of them." It was us versus "the churches", which meant the mainline churches staffed with pink liberal seminary ministers, or the Babtus, which thought we were "of the devil." This was hilarious to me, especially since it was Sudden Babtus friends who led me to the Lord.

On occasion, I was really put off by aggressive-bully worship leaders, typically a youth pastor, who would stop the singing and tell the people, "You're not worshiping."  Never "You're not worshiping God", just that they weren't worshiping, whatever that meant.  I think what they meant was that they could detect that many of the people weren't serious about their purpose, or were too shy about expressing themselves.  Since they knew the youth pretty well, this ploy often worked; but I'm not too sure what the older people thought.  Perhaps they felt "convicted", too.

And now, I'm music minister for one of those mainline churches, the oldest, red-brickest, with the tallest belfry in town and a real bell with a real rope attached to ring it! And at breakfast the other day Pastor leaned over and said "the people seemed to be engaged in worship this Sunday." Yes, about five of them raised their hands halfway up, and one was sort of swaying. But what is true engagement in worship? How can we sense it or know that people are worshiping God and not just acting holy?

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When strongholds in peoples lives crumble and the Holy Spirit actually is allowed to operate in the church. Things like that will usually not happentil the spirit of man is broken. When it does, stand back and watch the transformation in the church.

Ah, yes -- the "engagement" may be visible through its effects, not necessarily at the moment of singing.  Brokenness may not be observed at the moment it happens, or may even be seen as the reverse of what is expected (why does he have his head down during the happy songs?)

Amen and Halleluiah!!! Also--when we as a church become 'all in'---not just during 'worship time', but all week long.  When we stop complaining about our government and leaders and begin praying for them---When our giving as a church and as individuals far exceeds what any church budget expects---I think that's enough out of me for now.

Is it really fair to decide? I mean really, does it have anything to do with volume or animated movements? Those are fine and good, but can you or I really tell if people are worshiping? Jesus told the woman, "we worship what we know...true worshipers will worship in spirit and in truth". I'm not sure me, little ol' song leader on Sunday morning, is the only one who contributes to that. In fact, I'm sure I'm the least contributor.

But I do like to hear my congregation engaged - when they're singing and getting "into" the songs, I think I've done what I'm supposed to do on Sunday morning - produce an environment that is conducive to their participation.

This is sort of an "exploration" discussion -- to learn what various people consider to be "engagement in worship". 

Doubtless every leader wants their people to be more involved with corporate worship, whether they are just observing, or singing, or playing an instrument.

I tend to see strong congregational singing and a willingness to engage in a variety of subjects as indicators of healthy engagement in worship through music; but I'm the last person to pronounce some sort of judgment as to whether an individual is worshiping God or merely going through motions while actually worshiping some idol in his or her mind, or just drifting until they hear the postlude. 

I've heard pastors, during their sermons, seem frustrated when they look for response, saying things like "Amen, walls!" when perhaps the people are thinking deeply about the message and don't wish to pronounce the usual affirmations and amens. 

An ancillary question might be asked:  "How do you respond as a leader when the people seem to be responding in a way other than what you expected, or a large portion seem to be uninvolved?  Do you plow on faithfully, trusting God and not appearance, or do you stop and discuss the song [perhaps it is going over their heads], do you change the selection or direction the music and text are going -- what are some of your responses?  I'm not looking for some perfect how-to as much as mere exchange of ideas, feelings and experiences.

Whether Christian music or secular, look at the really successful songs, singers and songwriters.  Often the song they are remembered for is something intimate or folksy or refreshingly honest in some way, as opposed to their big gutbuster 150-dB thundermusik pieces.

"How do you respond as a leader when the people seem to be responding in a way other than what you expected, or a large portion seem to be uninvolved?  Do you plow on faithfully, trusting God and not appearance"

Yes. Maybe I should do otherwise at times, but it never feels right.

We had a memorial service today for a good ol' boy, and the song before the sermon was the song with "know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" -- to be able to exercise discernment.  Tough stuff, that discernment.

Gained through experience. Good judgement comes through experience. Experience comes through bad judgements.

Good books in general, and the Bible in particular, give us vicarious experience of good and bad judgments, so that we might decide against a bad judgment we thought of making.

This is a great topic to dicuss and I like the comments thus far. I guess as leaders we can tell by what we feel on our spirit, besides how loud people are singing, or clapping, or lifting hands. It blesses me to hear folks singing, and even the ones who can sing very well.

Yea, it's very much a feeling thing. We can't judge any deeper than that on a wholesale level. I certainly feel blessed when they respond.


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