Praise without Pressure

Whenever I go to a place where large groups are singing together, I feel a lot of pressure from the people who immediately jump up and run toward the stage to wave their arms around and compete to see who can sing "I love God, I love God, I love God, I love God" the loudest. Generally I'm one of the few people still sitting down, hearing the music and singing, but quietly, without a lot of show.

Music is one of the most personal parts of worship, to me. It's one of the most direct ways God can reach me, sending me the words of songs at just the right moment, whether it's on the radio on my drive to work or through the organ while I'm slogging through Episcopal hymns, or in the middle of a concert with a thousand screaming disciples all around me.

I always feel like people are looking at me and thinking "Well, he can't be very faithful" when they see me letting the music wash over me and feed me through the roots, like a plant. And I wondered if my youth group felt the same way. So on our mission trip this last week, I gave them the following permission:

"When you sing, react to the music the way you react to it. If you need to sit still and let it wash over you, then sit still. If you need to jump and dance, then jump and dance. But don't feel any pressure. You're not proving to me how faithful you are by being the first one on the floor with your arms up. And you're not proving it to God either; He already knows."

Several of my students came and thanked me for this little talk afterward. I'm suspicious of youth ministries where faithfulness seems to be judged by sheer enthusiasm, which can be faked, especially in the presence of great pressure from people we see as more faithful than ourselves. And if worship becomes a competition to prove to the other worshippers that we're just as devoted as they are, what good is it? Worship is for God.

I strongly recommend that we as youth ministers offer our students this permission in plain words. Don't hope they'll get the message if you imply it; say it straight out. It will give our students more room to explore how God reaches them in worship, and what they need to do to be open to that experience.

1 comment:

Esther said...

Hey, I hear you on that one. That's a very wise perspective to take. I myself used to always give in to the pressure of what I thought I was supposed to do in worship to look okay. Really, I prefer to hold still and pay close attention to the words I am singing. That's a very freeing way of putting it.

Of course, sometimes I would like to be a little more enthusiastic and it irks me that my denomination does not agree with much enthusiasm in worship.