What am I supposed to do with my hands during church music?

As a Music Pastor, I spend a lot of time with other music pastors. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job; connecting, praying, and sharing ideas with others who have been called to lead their body’s musical expressions in worship. It’s extremely important to me to get together with other leaders and discuss what works in contexts outside my own. Because of this, I’m in a handful of Facebook groups and lunch groups, and a similar question continues to come up:

“How do I get the people in my church to be more expressive in worship?”

I’ve heard many possible remedies for this interesting “problem.” I recently read a Facebook suggestion where a worship leader asked his band members to “do it even if they don’t feel it.” I’ve sat in a lunch where the leader, in frustration, talked of the hours he spends in prayer for his people, that they will lift their hands and close their eyes. Entire lunch hours have been spent discussing just how to get people to let their bodies do the talking during the 20 minutes of church music.

But I’m gonna be real with you right now…
I don’t care.

Outside of anything unbiblical or distracting, I would never ask a band member or church-goer to express worship in a particular way, on stage or off. I’m not motivated here by a fear of being disingenuous or inauthentic, but because I honestly don’t care what they look like during worship.

I feel that it is my responsibility to teach our church, first and foremost, what worship is, and then base ALL expressions of worship on the answer to that question. Worship, according to Romans 12, is offering ALL of life as a living sacrifice to God, constantly living for His glory. According to John 4 (and throughout the New Testament), there is an indifference to place and external forms of worship, instead we’re called to worship “in spirit and in truth,” and to honor God with our hearts(1).

Worship definitely takes place in the form of singing in a gathering congregation, but I’d go so far as to say that what that looks like externally is not equal to the worship that is actually happening, and the two are likely not even comparable. Is the person swaying, with hands lifted, singing at the top of his lungs more worshipful than the person sitting in their chair, not singing, no emotion showing, but reading the lyrics as we sing and confirming in their heart what the song is saying?

I’ve met people who are some of the most outwardly expressive “worshippers” you’ll ever meet, but they live day-to-day giving no regard to the glory of God. Conversely, I also know those who are not outwardly demonstrative in expression during church gatherings, but their lives are consumed with worship. Why in the world would I teach outward expression instead of “spirit and truth” worship? Why would I instruct my bass player to express worship in a specific way, when bringing his talent and time to the body is every bit as worshipful as any outward expression could be? Rather, I want every cameraman, ProPresenter operator, audio tech, greeter, nursery worker, and band member to see their work in the body as a piece of their spiritual act of worship.

I will admit, walking off the stage after a really good outward response feels so much better than walking off without one. But as leaders and pastors, we have to remind ourselves that the emotional response is not our goal or our measuring stick.

I am in no way saying that emotion or outward response during music is bad, it’s just not the target and shouldn’t be preached. But if we preach the Gospel, God’s people will respond in worship… maybe even during music and with their outward expressions.

But if we preach the Gospel, God’s people will respond in worship. Click To Tweet

To the church body:
Do not allow the way you express yourself during a song define your “act of worship,”but rather “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”(2)

To other pastors and leaders out there:
let’s consider this word from D.A. Carson as we shape our focus:

“Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset… If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.”(3)

(1)Matthew 15
(2)Romans 12:1 (ESV)
(3)Carson, “Worship By the Book”