Gauging Response

10 comments Written on November 2nd, 2012     
Filed under: Leadership, Theology
Today’s post is written by Matt Nightingale, Director of Worship Ministries at Redeemer Covenant Church in Tulsa, OK.

I’ve been a full-time worship pastor for over 12 years. My great desire, my clear call from the Lord, is to help people enter into worship. And over the years, one of the definitions of worship that has made the most sense to me is very simple: Worship is our response to God’s revelation. Of course that response can take many forms. Our day-to-day lives of individual worship (see Romans 12:1) are a response to God. And our worship services, where God’s people gather to worship together, are a response to God.

The Covenant Book of Worship reminds us that not only do we respond to who God is, we respond to what God has done. Jewish worship – liturgy, songs and holy days – focused on the Exodus. God had done something spectacular – delivering His people from bondage in Egypt – and the community of faith responded in worship by remembering and celebrating with their lives. In much the same way, Christian worship over the last 2000 years – liturgy, songs and holy days – has focused on an event: the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus. God has done something spectacular – delivering His people from the bondage of sin and death – and the community of faith responds in worship by remembering and celebrating with our lives.

Every Monday morning, I get together with our senior pastor and associate pastor. We check in with each other and pray together, and inevitably we get around to discussing the worship services. Every week we ask ourselves about Redeemer’s response. Was our worship planning effective? Did our congregation respond to God? How do we know?

We’ve all seen the Hillsong videos (or the Passion videos, or the Jesus Culture videos, or… insert whatever vibrant, youthful praise and worship movement you want)… You know, the arenas full of people, hands raised, eyes closed, singing at the top of their lungs. Those people are really worshipping, right?

And then there’s Redeemer on a Sunday morning. We’re a conservative bunch, on the whole. Some people just stand there. Others sing quietly. Some brave souls lift their hands and close their eyes. Sometimes there are moments of robust, unified singing, and other times I can’t really tell how many people are singing along. But you know… it’s not Hillsong all the time. That’s just not our thing. And that’s just fine. We all know that true worship can’t be measured by outward expression. After all, scripture teaches us that “people look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7, NIV).”

The most expressive person can be the most hypocritical. The quietest person can be the most fully engaged. There’s no way to tell from simply observing.

I remember once introducing a new song at a former church. The band sounded great, the lighting was just right, people were really “with me.”  I saw someone watching me, and I thought to myself, “Man, I sound good… I’ll bet that person thinks I have a really great voice.” And then I got to the chorus:

You are the God of the broken, the friend of the weak
You wash the feet of the weary, embrace the ones in need
I want to be like you, Jesus, to have this heart in me
You are the God of the broken. You are the humble king.*

BAM! In one chorus I was revealed as a fraud, utterly barren in my seemingly genuine worship. On the outside, I was looking the part, but on the inside I was a prideful pretender.

On the other hand, I know a man here at Redeemer who looks like a statue during worship in music. He just… stands there. Hands in pockets. Doesn’t even sing. But he continually lets me know that he appreciates our times of worship and that the songs are meaningful to him. And even more important than his affirming words, his life reflects maturity in Christ and produces good fruit.

So how can we tell? How do we evaluate whether our congregations are entering into genuine worship? How can we gauge the response of our people – as individuals and collectively? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

*Lyric from the song “Humble King” words and music by Brenton Brown, © 1999 Vineyard Songs (UK/Eire) (Admin. by Vineyard Music UK)



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10 comments “Gauging Response”

Thank you for sharing my friend! This is so good, so true, and so necessary. And at the same time–don’t we all desire our gatherings to be filled with wonder and true, authentic praise to matter what–may our hearts be true, and our trust in God be authentic. He is at work, even if we can’t see. May we simply desire to have our heart please God and encourage others to the same. Lead on, and keep sharing this story because I know when “worship leaders” are willing to be honest with their stories of worshiping God, it creates an environment for others to truly worship God, too.

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Thanks for sharing, Matt. When people are quiet in Church I think of this verse:
Habakkuk 2:20
“The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Do not worry about it, just keep your eyes on the Lord and also remember, that a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:18-20) and Redeemer is growing in loving one another and serving one another and the community and in the Word. We will keep praying.

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Man looks on the outside…God looks on the heart.  Maybe it’s not for us to judge.  But if you worship well yourself, you will be a genuine model for the congregation.

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Matt… spot on bro.!! And I also loved the graphic 🙂 I apologize for the length, but you really got me thinking…

As a fellow brother in Christ, pastor and worship leader -and sometimes triple A personality!- I want action. I like so many in the body of Christ, want to -see- results, action. Hey, we’re Americans. We want to know we’ve “made the sale” and are effective in our work. But I fear one element often missing is our own admission (repentance and re-thinking needed here…) of impatience. Regardless of what we think we discern among our local flock, we are often (o.k., I am often) quite impatient at what seems an immaturity factor. When it comes to worship, it’s all over the map. Some respond (or don’t) to X, others to Y and our own imperfect discernment as well as impatience sometimes causes us to move outside of faith, hope and love regarding what -looks- like stellar or shriveled fruit. Just sayin’. Fruit of the Spirit comes as we trust and obey regardless. Brilliant post, thanks so much! Now, the direct answer to your q here? Over the long haul… not short-term immediate responses but rather seeing His work of maturity in those joining us in worship, this is the ultimate (imho) thing to consider. Quick fixes are usually like patching Chicago potholes… over and over and over again and no lasting change. -Glenn

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Excellent article, and great comments from intelligent people. I agree with Roxi… it’s probably not for us to judge. However, it is our job to discern, and lead appropriately. And Glenn’s right, as always… we want it (NOW!) but I believe our Lord is faithful, and appreciates our faithfulness, even if the results take time to show.
Good stuff, people!

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Thanks  for the reminder, Matt.   Growing up in an A.G. church the outward expressions were never lacking.  In the ECC churches I have served in, the responses are all over the map.  My Dad is stoic in his response in a worship service, but if you look close enough you may see a tear trickle down his cheek.  I have also seen people raise their hands and wave them in exuberance as habit and even at the most unusual times (making me wonder if they do the same thing to whatever song comes on the radio, or to Happy Birthday, or whatever the song may be).  People can see when we are being authentic as leaders and I liken it to asking the Holy Spirit to take the words I am singing or speaking and chaperoning them to the ears of people and allowing their response to be truly from the work of what God is doing in them.   I am encouraged when people respond and try hard not to measure how well it all went by the “reaction” I see.   I was leading worship at our conferences Pastors/Staff and Spouse retreat about a month ago.  The first night was interesting because I sensed a very tired group of people and they seemed to have a hard time “letting go”.  My band was discouraged that night, but I had to remind them of how hard it was for these leaders of the church to get away. They had just arrived and needed time to settle in.   However,  in the next three sessions of the retreat, we saw the walls come down and had a very sweet time of worship.   In a Sunday service setting, we see the very same thing and are often not given a whole lot of time to allow people to let go of the distractions of the week.   It is difficult to switch the channel and enter worship mode.  I hope as time goes on in my ministry and as I am able to teach more about worship, that people will start to prepare (even the night before) to come and worship.  Something powerful happens when we gather corporately to worship.  Thanks for your post!  Lisa

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i agree it isn’t wise to look at “the outward appearance” to judge people’s response of worship.  i do long for and ask Jesus to encounter us in such a way that we MUST respond with all of who we are – which includes our physical bodies, whether that is kneeling down or raising hands or even…smiling! (gasp!)  and yes, sometimes the most appropriate response to God and what He is doing in my heart is to stand in stillness.  
Lord, we long to worship You in spirit and truth.  be glorified in us and in our worship!
thank you for your post, matt!

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As I was watching the end of a Cold Play concert on TV with my son, the last song was a nice slow song and the audience was waving the hands, “lighters” and flags in the air. I asked my son what are these people thinking about as they do this. He said they are caught up in the moment. As Christians, we have something to get excited about, someone to raise our hands to, someone to praise – a God who loves us, who sent his son to die for us and to defeat death. However, we need to be sure we are also not caught up in the moment. A lot of Christians confuse getting emotional during worship service with getting close to God, not that they are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes people judge their and others Christianity by their emotional response.

Recently at our early church service, the substitute worship leader told us that she couldn’t her us. There were several reasons she couldn’t hear us, the first was it was first song, and most people aren’t there until the second song. The second and probably the real reason was that the sound from the band was very loud. I couldn’t even hear myself. One of the last songs we sung in the service was a very soft song where the band was playing very softly. We could hear each other and it actually became a corporate worship moment as opposed to just an individual worship experience.

I know that worship leaders probably want their congregations to be “Hill Song” congregations, but it’s good that you recognize that we might not all worship like them. I think it is very important that each worship leader tailors the worship to their congregation and if there are more than one Sunday/Saturday service, then the worship needs to be tailored for each one. The worship leader needs to listen to the people from each service and modify the services accordingly.

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I just LOVE your honesty, Matt! I’m so grateful for who you are — don’t know what else to say.

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It’s hard to NOT want to see outward reaction, because when we encounter God (especially through the arts), something SHOULD change, and that should affect our demeanors. The trick is realizing that not everybody reacts the same way, but in ways unique to their personality and heritage.

So I think the way to tell is because we actually know the people we lead; one of my guitar players is a great example. Like many of my volunteers, he’s an introvert, and while standing on the platform playing, he’s not always the most visually expressive. But I know him well enough now to know when he’s really engaged because I can see subtle changes in his face, in his body language – it is there, but he’s not raising his hands or dancing or whatnot. He’s engaged in a way that’s free to his personality. In a frantic world, when people in our context are able to quiet down and listen, THAT is when they seem to start engaging, and I can see it because they start to relax a little, let their guard down.

I think when we realize that freedom looks different from person to person (culture to culture; what does the good news look like HERE), our understanding of response itself changes and should lead us deeper into friendship with the people we serve …

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