I apologize for the click-bait title. I hate click-bait with a passion, but it felt appropriate because it seems to be a frequent question; "How do I get my people to be more responsive?" I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another:
And you look out into the congregation to discover they were replaced with extras from a zombie film. So what gives? Don’t they know how much prep work you put into the service? Don’t they realize WHO you are singing to?
If you clicked on this article I imagine it was for one of 2 reasons- either you really do want a quick fix for this problem (sorry, there isn’t one, but I will give you 3 steps on how to work towards a solution), or you thought to yourself ‘this guy really thinks you can MAKE people respond physically in worship? I can’t wait to read his article and tear it apart in the comment section!’ Either way, I hope that you keep reading, because I genuinely do believe that these 3 things can help bring about a change in culture within your church and your people.
STEP 1: Point your people to Jesus
I’ve heard it more times than I can remember; a well-meaning church member or fellow worship team member comes up to me after the service and thanks me for ‘leading them into the throne room’. While I understand the sentiment, and there were times in the past I would use this terminology, it’s completely wrong.
In the Old Testament the people of Israel could not enter the Holy of Holies and stand in the presence of God for themselves, they needed the high priest to serve as a mediator to enter on their behalf. The priests would be in charge of carrying out the sacrifices for the purification of the people of Israel and for themselves, and this needed to happen over and over because of their fallen, sinful nature. However, once Jesus died on the cross, taking on the role of both priest and sacrifice, He made a “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). And because Jesus now stands as the great high priest who lived a sinless life, the sacrifice to purify us has happened once and for all (Hebrews 4:15, 7:27).
We can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence ONLY because of the atoning work of Jesus- worship leaders could never hope to fill this role. The best possible thing we can do is point our church family to the beauty of the gospel and the beauty of the savior we worship. As worship leaders we aren’t the spectacle, we are the tour guide- we should not strive to be what holds the attention of the church on Sunday morning, we should be pointing with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength to the only One who is glorious enough to hold our gaze for all of eternity.
So if you walk onto the platform on Sunday feeling the stress of needing to lead your congregation into the presence of God, REJOICE! Because it’s already been done by the someone who is far more able to do it.
Or if you walk onto the platform thinking that you hold the power to draw people into the throne room, humble yourself before the Lord and repent of trying to elevate yourself to the level of Christ. Let us never try and take credit for a work we could never accomplish.
STEP 2: Teach them WHY, not HOW
Scripture is full of examples of physical response to worship;
However, do your people know that these verses exist? When you encourage them to be physically responsive in worship, do you just tell them what to do, or do you take time to explain why we do it? I work in a heavily-churched area with many people who grew up in denominations where physical expressiveness was frowned upon. If you’re shepherding people like this it becomes all the more important to teach them lovingly and strongly what God asks of us in worship.
Conversely, if you’re in a church or area where people are already physically expressive it’s important to teach them what God’s word says about it. If all they know is ‘this is the part of the song where I’m supposed to raise my hands’ then we’re no better than a zumba instructor leading the spiritual macarena on stage. Physical expressiveness can be a huge blessing to the church body, but can also be a distraction when it gets out of hand (no pun intended).
Whatever your role is within your church, when you step onto the platform you are taking on the responsibility of shepherding and caring for your people. Don’t be tempted to resort to guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation to get the response you want to see- instead teach them why we respond the way we do, and point them to Jesus so they have something to respond to.
STEP 3: Pray For Your Senior Pastor
This one may come as a surprise to you, but I truly believe it’s one of the greatest things you can do for the health of your church’s worship. I began feeling convicted of falling short in this area a little over a year ago, and have made an effort to step up in it since then. Think about your senior pastors week in comparison with yours;
We carry our own kind of stress and responsibility with us each Sunday, but our senior pastor carries more. Paul tells us in James 3 that “...(those) who teach will be judged with greater strictness” and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out the biblical qualifications for a pastor or elder. It’s a high standard to held to.
Your senior pastor needs your prayer, and you need to pray for him. Why?
Because for as much as you can point people to Jesus, he can and should do it even more. For as much as you can teach the body during the time of sung worship, he can and should do it more in his sermon. For as great as the congregation thinks you are (or aren’t) they’re often holding him to a higher standard.
So pray for your senior pastor. Every week. Put it on your calendar, set a reminder in your phone, write it backwards on your forehead so you’ll see it in the mirror- do whatever it takes to make it a priority, and know that the enemy will do whatever he can to keep you from it.
Pray that he will preach the gospel boldly and clearly. Pray that God will remove anything from his message that could be a hindrance or distraction from the gospel being proclaimed. Pray that he will fall more and more deeply in love with Jesus and that the scriptures will remain fresh and new for him each time he goes to the word.
Because when these things happen, when the pastor preaches clearly and truthfully, it stirs the hearts and minds of the church. And when our hearts and minds are stirred towards Jesus allowing his word to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) then we will see our churches begin to change. When we dwell on Christ’s word, His character, and His commands, we will see Him for who He is and we won’t be able to keep ourselves from worshipping Him. This is true, lasting, biblical change for your church. It may not look how we expect or want it to look, but we will see it. It won’t happen in 20 minutes of singing, but you may start to see it over 20 weekends of gathered corporate worship.
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.