I had hardly finished speaking the words of benediction one Sunday morning before a man from the congregation appeared on stage to ask me why so many of the songs we sing in church use plural pronouns like “we” and “our.” Referencing a chorus we sing often, “It’s your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise,” he said that the words “we” and “our” felt cold and impersonal, disconnected from “my” relationship with God as an individual. “Why not change the words to ‘my lungs’ and ‘my praise?’” he suggested. “The worship,” by which he meant the musical portion of the service, “is an intimate time for me, when everything and everyone else fades into the background, and it’s just me and God in the room.”
I must admit: pronoun criticism was new to me. But the reality was that “always me and God; never we and God,” was just another manifestation of a familiar misconception about the purpose of corporate worship (i.e. communal, public, Sunday-morning gathering of believers).
Pervading the church today is this subtle yet destructive idea that we gather together only to worship alone.
Like any illness, a “just-me-and-God” mindset in corporate worship presents with certain symptoms. It may come out verbally in well-intentioned statements like, “I sing and clap in my heart, not out-loud” or “I worship without concern for what other people around me might think.” At other times it may manifest itself in non-verbal signs like the habit of singing with eyes glued shut (to tune everyone else out), the leadership’s decision to brighten the stage while darkening the sanctuary (so people are not insecure about others watching them sing), or a family who habitually arrives late and leaves early (to get only the parts of the worship buffet that are most appetizing). In some instances, certainly not all, these may be signs of a “just-me-and-God” misunderstanding that, for all its pure-hearted intentions, falls woefully short of the biblical vision of corporate worship’s purpose.
Scripture speaks of both vertical (to God’s glory) and horizontal (for the edification of others) dimensions to our public worship. For example, in Ephesians 5:19, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to love and strengthen one another in the faith by “addressing one another (horizontal dimension) in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord (vertical dimension) with your heart.” It is a strange statement, when you really think about it:
Paul is saying, in effect, “Sing to God… to one another.”
Practically speaking, that means prioritizing others’ edification above our own. That lens may inspire or temper certain outward expressions of worship when we go to church. A person who is prone to silent reflection may be, out of love for his brother and a desire to spur him on, stirred to sing his praises out loud. One who easily dances with abandon may be, out of concern for her unbelieving sister, tempered to be still. The person who is not particularly fond of clapping along with the music may choose to do so simply to encourage others to offer their own enthusiastic praise. And members who arrive late and leave early may be challenged by the truth that their actions impact the whole Body.
As for the kind man who so eagerly approached me that Sunday with a pure-hearted desire for greater intimacy in worship, I suggested he sing “we pour out our praise” as an authentic affirmation of the fact that when we worship together, we do so out-loud and as a community, for the expressed purpose of edifying one another.
Although there is also a time for “I” and “my” songs, we should never worship together, alone. Instead, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). One sure way to do that is to sing to God… to one another.
Ryan Brasington is the Worship Pastor at Rio Vista Community Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
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