EXCERPT: If Church Worship Makes You Uncomfortable, Maybe That’s a Good Thing

Anyone who has spent time as part of a local church community has likely struggled with some aspects of the worship. But in this discomfort there is also opportunity.

There is the opportunity to exercise humility in the context of community, for one. When it comes to worship styles and preferences we can go to battle and draw lines in the sand (traditional vs. contemporary, liturgical vs. charismatic), or we can look for ways to listen to and prioritize one other. We may not prefer a certain style of music or way of doing communion, but if others in the community do, this can be an area where we practice sacrificial, deferential love. Knowing the older congregants in the church love hymns and classical styles, a young worship leader who prefers contemporary songs might opt to feature an old hymn and non-electric piano periodically. And vice versa.

This is something Tyler Braun, a pastor and worship leader in Salem, Oregon tries to emphasize:

“I want worship to be unifying and that means valuing various perspectives on congregational worship, trying to incorporate them in ways that fit our team and our church, and teaching the church that part of worship is about serving those around you, not just hearing your favorite song.”

Instead of lamenting that something is not our preference and folding our arms in protest over that, perhaps we can humble our- selves and participate anyway. Perhaps we can be open-minded to the diverse ways God’s people worship him, and not just tolerate but participate in this diversity, learning to love it.

My friend Andrew is a worship leader and told me, “There is nothing like stepping into a room of people, 4 or 40 or 400, knowing that no matter what songs you sing in what keys or what arrangements, they will sing their hearts out.”

What would happen if we put aside our pickiness and just sang our hearts out? This is a definite area of growth for me.

Three years ago when Kira and I started attending Southlands, I complained a lot about the worship. I could hardly bring myself to clap or raise my hands, as everyone else seemed so eager to do. It stressed me out. Sometimes I wanted to just retreat to some quiet corner of the sanctuary and pray alone. Yet I committed to the church and committed to having a better attitude about the worship. I began to see how beautiful it is to set aside one’s “ideal” for the sake of building unity with others, and soon I began to warm up to the worship style. While it’s still a challenge at times, I now find myself looking forward to and being refreshed by the Southlands worship experience, rather than always being exhausted by it. I even raise my hands in worship now, which (as a born-and-raised Baptist) is a big step for me!

The way uncomfortable worship has grown me hints at another of the key opportunities of worship in community: spiritual formation. Worship shapes us profoundly. It isn’t just an atmospheric adornment to the preaching of theology. It is the preaching of theology. The old Latin phrase, Lex orandi, lex credendi, is true. Worship is derived from what we believe and is a poetic catechesis for teaching us what we believe, shaping our habits and loves and longings in the direction of the kingdom of God. Bodily rhythms of worship have profound shaping potential, and a folded-arms posture forecloses that growth possibility.

Often we approach church worship from a posture of cynicism or apathy. Our heart just isn’t in it. And for Millennials, for whom authenticity is a supreme value, nothing is worse that forcing yourself to “go through the motions.” But if Christians only ever worshiped when their hearts were “in it” fully, worship would rarely happen. Sometimes “going through the motions” is precisely what we must do.

The bodily motions of worship—singing, raising your hands, kneeling, closing your eyes—shape us significantly, even when we don’t feel like they are. Committing to showing up and being present and open-hearted in worship is the important thing. It’s OK that we don’t always have the best attitude about it. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit can work with the weariest, most jaded and passionless souls.

Content taken from Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community by Brett McCracken, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187,