Dr. Tim’s Worship Tip of the Month – November 2010

Worship Tip of the Month | Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Breaking the Sound Barrier in Worship

Not many people know about the 3000 islands of Lake Victoria in Uga2elimmnda. Fewer people have visited them, and even fewer go out to share the gospel with the thousands of people out there. There are lots of good reasons for this: polluted water, hippos, crocodiles, not many can swim and years ago thousands of people afflicted with AIDS were sent out there apparently to die. When they died they left behind hundreds and thousands of orphans and widows throughout the islands. But in the middle of this sad scenario, a bold evangelist built an orphanage on one of the islands – with the help of a great missions group out of Hood River, Oregon. He built 16 homes and put 10 AIDS orphans in each house with an AIDS widow over each house. In one year’s time, all the kids (ages 3-14) got saved and filled with the Spirit! Jesus showed up on this remote island of Uganda.

Maryl and I were privileged to boat out to this island in 2007 with our nephew, Brent Earwicker, a young missionary who, along with his wife and two children, has now given his life to the islands of Uganda. We boated up to the island in the early evening. Though it was too dark to see anybody, we could hear 160 young voices singing a beautiful song of welcome to us from the beach. Once we landed we were surrounded by sweet children who eagerly escorted us in the dark to our huts for the night. We hunkered down under mosquito nets and the noise of bats overhead, for our first sleep on the island. The song floated through my head ‘help me make it through the night’ as I thought ‘if I can just make it to the morning’. I fell asleep.

But before the sun came up, I heard the drums. Hundreds of yards away but as clear as if they were right outside our hut, I heard the voices. Amazing, crystal-clear, young and exuberant voices, singing praise to Jesus with total abandon. It was 5:30 in the morning, not an adult in sight, and these children were singing the loudest praise I have ever heard in my whole life (without a sound system!). The first morning I laid in my cot and wept as their voices came like refreshing waves of joy over and over me. I remember thinking ‘This is it. This is heaven. Pure unadulterated worship. Pure joy. Pure abandonment to Jesus.’ Like a little child…

Later I walked among them during these morning times, and they were so intent on their worship of Jesus, that they didn’t even to seem to notice me. Such focus, delight, devotion – I was humbled. Children getting up on their own accord before the sun, before breakfast, before their chores, no one telling them to do it, singing wholeheartedly, loudly and joyfully! I tried to think of one scenario back in the US where this might occur. Sadly, I was unable to envision it back home. This one moment on a remote island of Uganda has ruined me for life. I came to ‘bring Jesus’ to the island, but He was already there, singing, laughing and dancing with His kids, beckoning me to join in the dance. The story goes on as these children are now evangelists to the other surrounding islands, singing, preaching and living out the Gospel everyday to the poor and needy. The song goes on.

Then we came back to ‘reality’ in the US. The worship leader was amazing to watch as he sang, laughed, and even twirled in delight, worshiping his Lord and Savior for twenty-five minutes before an appreciative congregation. The band was tight and played with exquisite excellence. All the elements of a successful worship experience were there, including great lighting, good song choice and mix, sharp video images, vibrant worship team. You could walk away that day thinking ‘what a great time of worship’, unless you happened to look anywhere besides the platform. Out in the congregation of hundreds of people, a few were singing quietly, many were sipping lattes, most were smiling approvingly, some standing, some sitting.

This whole scenario has given me grave concern for the state of worship especially in the United States.  While there are some churches who are experiencing a full worship experience with total involvement in the congregation, they seem to be the exception today rather than the rule. Historically, the church has always gone through periods of time when the music and worship was left to the ‘professionals’ and the average congregant would observe from afar. Now there seems to be a cultural barrier arising in America that many people have gotten comfortable with in their worship experience – I call it ‘vicarious worship’ or allowing others to worship for you and feeling good about yourself because others had a great worship time with Jesus.

As my wife and I travel around the world giving worship seminars and working with varied worship teams, pastors and congregations in various nations, we consistently see the passion and pervasive desire to worship God in church after church and now island after island. Looking at these situations it gives a person great hope to believe that the ‘glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea’. (Habakkuk 2:14)

But in many churches, the congregation is getting quieter and quieter while the platform is getting louder and louder. While this is not a treatise on volume in churches, surely the celebration of our Lord’s presence among us should have moments of great joy and voluminous praise.

The exhortations throughout the word of God to worship and praise Him was never to the elite few or a select group, but rather to nations, congregations, whole gatherings of people, poised to respond appropriately. Consider:


Psa 98:4 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. KJV

Psa 100:1 A Psalm of Thanksgiving. Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! NKJV

Psa 96:1 Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! Sing to the LORD, all the earth. NKJV

Rev 5:13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!” NKJV

Rom 15:11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”  NIV

God is raising up a nation of kings and priests, (Revelation 1:6) a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) that we (collectively) would proclaim the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. His goal and His delight is a nation, a kingdom of priests, everybody, lifting up holy hands, bending the knee, confessing His name wherever and whenever they gather.

So there is a vested interest for the Prince of the power of the air to keep his dominance of the airwaves. He comes to steal, kill and destroy our faith and our lives. He steals our voice by creating an environment where only the best voices sing. Often, we end up silently and passively listening to others have a great worship service, feeling good for them, but not allowing ourselves to be heard for  various reasons like fear of rejection, ridicule or embarrassment. He kills our worship by encouraging a critiquing spirit, a critical spirit, where we end up judging the ‘value’ of what we are singing by our musical taste or preference. He destroys our worship by numbing our senses and jading our spirits through intense media-saturation. He wants a silent church, a passive church, a bland church. A silent congregation is the death-knell of the church.

Martin Luther fought hard for the priesthood of all believers, and we should contend today to release all believers in the wholehearted, passionate worship of a living God and not be content with just a great platform presentation of worship. We should look throughout our whole congregation and encourage all to participate in this collective expression of praise and adoration. We need to join our voice with the abandoned orphans of Uganda

Here are some ways to re-engage and keep our congregations involved in the holy and wonderful privilege of worshiping Jesus Christ.

1.      Teaching on worship (2 Tim.4:2) We find that many congregations haven’t even had basic teaching on worship to help them understand their part in the act of worship. Within the context of teaching, give the congregation not only examples, but ample opportunities to collectively experience and express their worship. (singing, clapping, lifting hands, etc.)

2.      Modeling worship (1 Pet. 5:3) All leaders (pastors, elders, worship pastors, worship teams) in a house of worship should be leading from an ardent heart fully devoted to Jesus. This comes from their personal ‘river’ of devotion and delight at home. You can’t fake this (for long). We don’t tell people how to worship as much as we show them. (‘better felt than telt’) Taste and see that the Lord is good.

3.      Instructing during worship (Col.3:16) A well-planned and strategic exhortation in worship times can go a long ways. Sometimes people get distracted, just ‘coast’ or sing mindlessly. A word in due season can bring everyone back to a focus on Jesus and their part in what is happening in the service. This should always be positive, not rebuking (leave that up to the prophets).

4.      Allow for participation (1 Cor.14:26) Do something that everyone can do together: read a scripture out loud together; speak a word of encouragement to each other; arm in arm or holding hands sometimes helps. Always keep the altar open to those who need the opportunity to come forward to receive more in the service.

5.      Prepare the room for a sense of physical connection. Consider keeping the lights slightly up in the congregation so the sense of separation from the platform is lessened. Some churches are long and narrow, so your connection is oftentimes to the back of someone’s head. Consider turning your sanctuary sideways or at least angling the pews or seats for better visual communication between people. Sometimes just walk down into the congregation and lead from there. Make eye contact with the back row frequently.

6.      Blended worship (Eph.5:19) We have a lot of ‘camps’ of worship out there especially in our culture. That’s why the simple wisdom of ‘psalms, hymns and spiritual songs’ should prevail:

Psalms: songs from the word of God

Hymns: songs of man’s composition

Spiritual songs: spontaneous songs from the congregation and individuals, filled    with and governed by the spirit of God (this was a most common practice of the      early church)

Let all things be done – for edification or building up of the church (1 Cor.14:26)

7.      Engaging, thoughtful and provoking worship (Ps 47:7) Choose songs that speak what God is saying to the church, songs that speak to your heart and instruct the mind. Allow for personal and corporate expressions of praise after some songs, keep the music going and give the people opportunity (with instruction) to speak or sing personal words and prayers to Jesus.

May your church be filled with the high praises of our God and may we join our voices with all believers around the world, breaking the sound barrier in our churches as the holy nation, the royal priesthood, the chosen generation and proclaim His praise who has brought us out of our darkness into His marvelous light!

Dr. Tim Smith

President of SongSmith Ministries (songsmithministries.com)

Director of Worship Without Borders (wwob.org)

2 Responses to “Dr. Tim’s Worship Tip of the Month – November 2010”

  1. Greg Strubhar Says:

    Tim, I share your experiences with Ugandan worship! I’m also “ruined” for passive, non-worship! I had the opportunity also to go to Uganda to “bring some worship and praise skills” to a congregation there. You know who went home having recieved the most instruction don’t you!
    Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I read another brothers comment on this article defending mocha sipping worship services. I know that I have recieved great inspiration from listening and watching others praise but… “PRAISE” by definition is active and audible! Your suggestions for improved and more ingaged praise in our churches are right on the mark! Thanks again and keep up your good work!
    Greg Strubhar, Redmond Oregon

  2. BarbaraJean Says:

    Tim, this tip of the month is so incredibly moving. It brought tears to my eyes. I can just hear those precious children. You expressed my heartfelt desire to see the Body of Christ engage as one in exuberant, thankful, dancing, knee bending, hand clapping, arms waving, singing, expressive worship to the One we come before with humble awestruck adoration for the unbelievable sacrifice that was given on our behalf… all for LOVE!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.