Everybody, Shoes Off

Published on February 9, 2017 by Paul Ryan  

Do you imagine your youth swinging from the rafters? A pastor recently used this image with me. He was commenting on the youth service at his church, and he explained, “Our youth worship is really energetic and fun; we’ve got them swinging from the rafters.” I immediately thought, “Are they monkeys?”

Of course not. But that’s not to say that they’re not up for some monkey-business. Our youth love to have fun – and they’d love to have more fun in worship.

This is worth bearing in mind. Far too often in worship we fail to be playful. We miss out on the child-like joy of being sons and daughters of God. We take ourselves too seriously; we fail to laugh, dance, greet each other with high-fives…

But I do have a concern. Sometimes our efforts to be playful miss the mark. Our fun fails to be an authentic response to who God is and becomes, rather, unfitting for his worship.

One example of this occurred the last couple years at Convention. On a few occasions during songs of praise the youth bounced beach balls back and forth.

I’m not sure what the purpose was. Perhaps it was a way to motivate participation or free them from their physical inhibitions. I don’t know. But it made me uncomfortable. It seemed like fun for fun’s sake – an entertaining diversion – and not a response to the character of God.

Remember who it is we worship. God is the great “I Am” who said to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). This is the God who thundered from Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:16-20) and struck down two of Israel’s first worship leaders (Leviticus 10:1-3). God’s holiness evoked in Isaiah the cry, “Woe is me!” (Isaiah 6:5). God’s presence led the twenty-four elders in Revelation to bow in fear (Revelation 19:4). This is the God before whom we are commanded to worship with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12 :28).

Worship in reverence and awe does not mean that we must always approach God somberly or feel trapped in a particular style or formality of worship. By no means! But I do believe that the character of God calls us to approach him soberly, fully attentive to who he is.

So I wrestle with how bouncing beach balls honors God. I don’t see how it celebrates God’s greatness or contributes to a sense of reverence and awe. It strikes me out of place in the worship of God Almighty.

I do believe that there is much room in the freedom and grace of God to be playful. But as we worship let’s be mindful of who it is we worship. Let’s wonder with creativity and reverence how we might bring him the praise due his great name.