I’m not a worship leader. My butt is too big for skinny jeans. My high school piano teacher told me to quit trying to learn. And no one would knowingly hand me a microphone to sing into.
That means that at least once per week I’m lead in worship. And that means that while the worship leaders are up there singing songs and talking and doing their thing, I’ve got lots and lots of time to think down here.
So accept this as a personal lament, not indictment. I’m sharing it while longing, praying, and seeking something I don’t even know exists.
Singing Into Loneliness
Confession: Worship can be a lonely experience. Those 15-20 minutes are often my most lonely of the week. While I can remember times when worship felt communal, for the past several years I’ve felt like I’m standing in a room completely alone. In reality, I’m standing in a church or conference, or youth ministry event, or whatever that’s not empty but often full of people I love… but the experience is often so individualistic– it feels lonely.
There are external, pop Christian cultural things, that increase my loneliness.
- Lighting – Bringing the house lights down and the stage lights up is a psychological isolator.
- People in their own space – Standing in a room with lots of people who have their eyes closed or are in their own personally preferred worship posture has always felt weird to me. Having my eyes open and my hands at my side often makes me feel insecure, as if I’m not doing it right.
- Sound is mixed for a band – I’ve mixed sound a ton. The simple reality is that there is no way to mix current worship music any other way than you would mix for a concert. But when all you, as the worshipper, can hear is your attempt to sing along to the worship leader and the worship leaders voice in a solo’d out way which feels like I’m in the car, alone, singing along to the radio. You might as well be alone.
- You have to participate or it gets way worse – While I can remember significant moments of worship when I stood in silence and took in the worship experience, I’ve not been able to do that in a long time. In fact, not participating kicks the loneliness factor up about ten fold. When I try I’m left feeling judgmental. I notice who is not standing. I notice who is lifting their arms extra high. I start to notice that everyone has their eyes closed in an almost trance-like state. Conversely, fighting judgmentalism forces me to focus purely on me… which makes me even more lonely.
Maybe Its the Pronouns Making Our Worship Lonely?
Lately, I’ve been able to isolate the source of this worship-loneliness-thing for me. Pronouns.
Me, I, you, your, mine. Go ahead and go through a few worship albums. You’ll hear a whole lot of personal pronouns. Since I first noticed it I can’t help but identify it over and over as it’s in all the popular worship tunes.
So many songs focus the worshippers attention on their own personal relationship with God, their personal deficiencies, their need for God, and God’s infinite perfection. Theologically true? Probably. But affirming the insecurities of every worshipper doesn’t feel healthy either.
Actually, in Christ we can work towards conquering these things… we write a new story… together we can become the bearers of Good News. In Christ, we can celebrate our collective overcoming of deficiencies to live life to the fullest.
At the core of the Gospel is the truth that you can’t do it alone! That you need Him and together we need Him. That you can find a new family, a new community. And that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 isn’t singular, it’s plural… on purpose!
The Longing for Collective Worship
Perhaps this is selfish? But as I reflect about the tens of thousands of people who walk away from their faith to find something else I wonder if pronouns make that easier? Eyes closed, focused on self, no one would notice if I just opted out of this lonely experience. Would they?
I know as a worshipper who struggles with feelings of loneliness that I fight hard to stand there, to experience my most lonely moment of the week, and I have to discipline myself to keep coming back each week for more.
It makes me long for something less lonely…
I wonder what worship would be like as a collective experience? I wonder what it’d be like to stand with my brothers and sisters in Jesus and lift our voices in worship proclaiming that I, me, mine are cheap compared to the power of we, us, ours? Would a faith standing together in one voice, stronger together than a solo, be so easy to walk away from? Would a celebration of what God has done this week draw us closer to God than a lament about our inability to be perfect?
What’s the solution?
I don’t have one. Maybe you do?