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Clapping in church...or at least nodding your head (and dozing off doesn't count).

(This was originally posted on December 18, 2019)

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 are 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 or interaction is usually 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.

Honestly, we are usually 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!

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?

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