We've been examining the place and practice of bodily expression when we come together to worship God. But how does this get worked out in a local church where people are at different places in their experience, maturity, and understanding of worship?
Recently, I asked the Sovereign Grace Pastors' College students to discuss a biblical approach to bodily expression in the worship of God. One student, Mark Alderton, gave such an insightful answer that I asked his permission to use his response as an outline for this column.
How does a church leader wisely navigate the potentially stormy waters of physical expression in worship? Here are four guidelines.
1. Preach the magnificent attributes of God, centered on the gospel, to raise the affections of people for their God.
Any conversation about physical expressiveness in worship must begin with the glory of God Himself. In much of our contemporary preaching and music we have barely scratched the surface of God's magnificence and splendor. Encouraging people to "sing like they mean it," or "jump higher for Jesus" draws attention to our actions rather than the greatness of the One we worship.
We need fewer impassioned exhortations to expend energy, and many more theologically informed, compelling descriptions of God's nature, character, and saving acts. We need more worship leaders who are able to passionately expound the glories of the gospel that reveals God's holiness, justice, love, mercy and power.
2. Teach on the appropriateness of bodily expression in worship according to the exhortations and examples in Scripture.
As we've seen in this series, expressing our love for God through physical actions is natural and biblical, and it is commanded by God. Paul's appeal was that by the mercies of God, we present our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship." While worship as a physical response extends beyond the corporate meeting, it's vital that we not neglect its importance DURING that time.
Our reasons for expressiveness must be derived from Scripture rather than our own personalities or preferences. Extroverts and introverts, young and old, academics and athletes are called to worship God wholeheartedly in a way that expresses His worthiness and supreme value.
3. Teach also that true worship comes from a heart devoted to God, and that without such a heart, bodily expressions may be noted by others, but God is not deceived.
While emphasizing the importance of expression, we don't want to assume that specific physical responses are pleasing to God in and of themselves. Apart from a heart attitude that treasures God above all else, raised hands, dancing feet, or bowed knees can be a hindrance to true worship, and at worst, an offense to His glory.
4. Make allowances for the consciences of others in our expressions so as not to offend, yet continue to strive for worship that proceeds from "right thoughts in the head leading to right affections in the heart leading to right responses in the body." (John Piper)
In the end, our focus is not to be on ourselves or others, but on God Himself. Such a perspective adjusts both the worshiper who dances to the point of distracting others, as well as the one who remains emotionless as those around him are undone by God's extravagant display of love through the cross.
Whatever our current level of expressiveness may be, my prayer is that others would be less taken by our physical displays and more drawn to worship the One who is worthy of our purest and highest affections.
Next week we'll begin a series on the importance of the relationship between pastor and worship leader.
Bob is featured in a set of songwriter video interviews. Click here to view them.
To find out more about Sovereign Grace Ministries, visit www.sovereigngraceministries.org.