I’m currently reading Andrew Peterson’s new book, Adorning the Dark. It is a fascinating inside look into his songwriting process and the journey he has been on the past couple of decades. I have been amazed at how much I am relating to his songwriting process.

I’m amazed because if you know me at all, you know that I am no musician, and I certainly don’t consider myself artistic in any way. However, as I read of Peterson’s songwriting experiences and struggles, I realized how similar they were to my sermon writing process and struggles. I am strangely comforted by his book.

Buried in a footnote was a point that I can’t get out of mind. Peterson made a passing comment about how a church audience is usually not very expressive. In other words, immediate feedback is limited or non-existent. He then provides a footnote to expand his thought:

I’m not trying to guilt anybody, but I’m going to take this moment to provide a little Public Service Announcement on behalf of my singer-songwriter friends who usually play in churches: dear audience, we need you. A concert is best when it’s a two-way street. We don’t want you to clap and shout because we’re arrogant, but because we’re human and need your encouragement. It’s not easy to stand on a stage and bare your soul to a room of strangers, especially when that room is mostly empty and you feel like a giant failure, so when song is over, remember that you have a great deal of power to bless the people on the stage with a heap of love and kindness, just by clapping joyfully as soon as the song is over and not after two seconds of awkward silence, during which time the artist dies a thousand deaths. 

“Yes!” was my first thought when I read that footnote. Preachers, like musicians, do better when they are confident that their message is connecting, and people are tracking. We are human. If we look out and see blank stares for the entire message, we fight mental tangents and struggle to stay focused on the sermon. We are wondering what we are doing wrong.

As I think about this point, I can imagine some of the arguments:

Well, maybe the message is terrible and boring.

Preachers and musicians should speak to / play for an audience of One!

If I clap, we are praising man and not glorifying God.

And I’m sure there are many more.

It’s true, some sermons are duds, and some songs just do not connect well. We all have bad days. But is that enough of a reason to withhold encouraging interaction? Perhaps if the audience interacted more, the preacher / musician would preach / play better because they know what connects best with their audience?

It is also true that we should seek God’s approval and not be so focused on if man approves the message or song. However, does that preclude people from expressing gratitude and agreement when a sermon or song glorifies God?

Finally, pride is a real struggle for many people. Actually, it is a struggle for everyone – it just manifests itself differently. Could it be that the same sin some are worried about in the preacher / musician is the same sin that keeps one’s hands from clapping or a voice from agreeing? Would it not be better to trust that God is dealing with the heart of the pastor / musician and express your support rather than assume the worst and withhold encouragement / interaction?

So, on Sunday….maybe you should clap after a song or after a good point the pastor makes in a sermon. Perhaps a hand should be raised. Maybe a hearty “Amen!” should be spoken. If so, you could glorify God and be an encouragement to His servants at the same time!

And men, lead the way on this. Some people equate stone-facededness (made that word up) with manliness. That’s just not true. Visibly responding to a sermon point or song not only encourages those on the platform, but it also encourages those around you. 

What do you think? 

  • Is interaction merely a cultural issue? 
  • Are we guilty of pride if we want people to obviously agree with our singing / preaching? 
  • What are the benefits and pitfalls of immediate interaction with a sermon or song?
  • What would you add to this discussion?

5 thoughts on “Clapping in church…or at least nodding your head (and dozing does not count).

  1. Good post. I can relate. I often wonder if anyone is reading my blog, as there are so few comments. The same is true when I teach or preach. Sometimes someone will tell me that they appreciated something I said but they didn’t click “like” or show any obvious response during the actual lesson or message. It is encouraging to know that something I said or shared was helpful or meaningful to someone. I need to remember to be more expressive. But I also like to go directly to the person who was an encouragement and thank them in person.

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    1. It’s a difficult topic, isn’t it? On the one hand, we don’t want to preach/teach for the praise of man. We definitely don’t want to do that. However, on the other hand, encouragement or assurance will embolden even the timidest of speakers! You do often send words of encouragement – which I appreciate!

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  2. It’s an interesting or unconventional topic; I had, honestly, never thought of the concept of clapping after a collectively sung song in church. Goodness knows I am the kind of person who just politely claps during a sporting event, if anything, so perhaps how much even more less demonstrative at church — but it’s good to consider it from a different perspective.

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    1. I appreciate you reading the blog and commenting! I understand that not everyone is an expressive person. I just want people to feel like they have “permission” (as if it is needed!) to respond to a song or sermon point. Us Baptists are typically reserved – too afraid to be called a Charismatic, probably. 🙂

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  3. Being brought up in a “traditional” Lutheran church and family we never shared much emotion or intimacy for that matter. We were Very reserved, stoic, guarded,and didn’t share physically (hugs) or verbally (words). Then I was exposed to other Christians (friends, families, and churches, some charismatic and others non-traditional) that were very open and expressive. It was a stretch for me to get comfortable w/ clapping, hand-raising, moving, praising God out loud, etc., and it is still a struggle. But as I became more comfortable I found out how enjoyable honest sharing together from the heart can be. I would love for our church to become more responsive & expressive but at the same time don’t want to push people beyond where the Spirit is leading. With my training in teaching / coaching I have often thought about having people stand up and “practice” raising hands, clapping, and saying “Amen” or “Praise the Lord”. Many of us have no problem “high fiving” a fellow Badger or Packer fan but would be do the same as a Jesus fan? Thanks for sharing.

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