My family and I attend a church where ear plugs are available at the entrance to our worship center. I’ve never used the earplugs at church but I probably should to preserve my long-term hearing. I know many of you, due to the previous two sentences, have already condemned the church I attend. Let me help by giving you some more ammunition. In addition to the high decibels, each worship song is usually accompanied by a surprisingly sophisticated light show keeping in movement to the vocals, guitars and drums. Occasionally the fog machine is working so hard you can’t see all the way across the worship center.
You might think anything would be acceptable in such a rocking environment. Recently, however, something happened during the worship service which clearly distracted a majority of the people. I will refer to this woman as the “crazy worship lady.” This middle-aged woman only stood about 5’ 4” but her worship packed a disproportionate punch. For unhindered movement she spent the worship time in the middle of the aisle. When the lyrics mentioned “falling before God” she would actually fall on the ground. When a lyric spoke of God being “our everything” she would intensely look around at everyone else making motions that seemed to convey, “you, yeah you, you with me?” Most people didn’t make eye contact hoping she would leave them alone.
When the lyrics moved toward Jesus being victorious she seemed to literally go crazy. She moved her head every which way making her hair look like it was caught in a pulsating blender. She surprised me by having pretty impressive air-time as she jumped up and down during the “Jesus victorious” song. I was surprised, furthermore, to hear her muster enough volume to yell words not on the big screen which I could hear over the loud vocals, guitars and drums. It sounded like she was trying to tell someone something in the middle of all the falling, jumping and hair shaking.
After about ten minutes of this behavior a couple of the burly ushers moved into position close to the crazy worship lady (they obviously don’t call them ushers at a church like this but you know what I’m talking about). The ushers didn’t do anything except keep an eye on her and we were soon seated for the sermon. I was waiting for her to doing something crazy during the sermon and even had a plan in my head how I would help out if she needed to be tackled. She sat calmly during the sermon.
The sermon ended, we gathered our kids from the lower decibel children’s area, and headed back home. En route my wife asked me the question we both knew was coming, “What did you think about that lady?” I knew what she was talking about but just for fun I verified by asking, “You mean the crazy worship lady?” She laughed a little and it was clear we were talking about the same person.
My response was already formed. While watching the crazy worship lady I knew instantly what I thought about her actions. I was able to answer my wife immediately. Before I give you my response, however, I want you to know a little bit of my background.
I started my “religious” life going to a Roman Catholic church. My earliest memories of “worship” come from the mass and from a surprisingly skilled nun playing the guitar and singing while we joined along as best we could. From there my family attended a very traditional small town Methodist church. We typically sang through a collection of about 25 hymns. I don’t remember ever singing the 3rd stanza. We always sang 1, 2 and 4. If you are reading this and about to write a hymn don’t spend too much time on the 3rd stanza, everyone will skip it for some unknown reason.
I then went to college and God rescued me from my sins through my risen Savior. The first church I went to as a believer had a blended worship style. Sometimes we sang hymns traditionally, other times we sang hymns which had been “modernized”, but more and more we would sing the newest stuff from the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene. A lot of those early songs I fell in love with would now be a cheesy embarrassment if sang in my church today.
I went from the large-gathering CCM’ish scene to my first church out of college consisting of 20 people. I was in Madison, WI and the pastor was a relative of the family so I felt obligated to check it out. The worship pastor, campus pastor, executive pastor and senior pastor were all the same guy. Many times our singing would be accompanied by a karaoke-style tape.
From there my job moved me to another state and another church. This church had a lot of great things going for it but had a background many people today would consider strange. The older people in the church, especially, still thought it was of the devil to watch a movie, listen to any kind of contemporary music and dance. When the church eventually added drums to the worship team many of the key families left the church.
The Lord then led me to Dallas Theological Seminary. I’ve overheard Chuck Swindoll say he feels the closest to heaven when singing, “It is Well with my Soul” in the Dallas Seminary chapel. Every chapel service consists of one and only one hymn usually sung a cappella by 400+ people. During my seven years of seminary (slow learner) our church had a symphony. Yes, you heard me correctly. Violins, oboes, trumpets, trombones, and timpani we had it all. In addition to the symphony stood the 100 member choir belting forth 1, 2 and 4 stanza hymns.
Ok, stay with me. I’m getting very close to answering my wife’s question. What did I think about the crazy worship lady? I have one more experience I first need to get off my chest. I’ve been reading through the newest edition of Christianity Today. I came across an interview with T. David Gordon regarding his book Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns. Dr. Gordon makes the statement contemporary worship music should only be permissible if it will prevent a church from splitting. He then goes on to say the reason churches are not hymn-only is due to a lack of musical education. If a church wants to rediscover deep worship they need to re-educate their people away from pop-culture music to a deeper ability in joining the musical excellence found in hymns.
What about the Crazy Lady?
I would primarily concede Dr. Gordon’s arguments if we were gathering to worship music. We do not, however, gather to worship music. Let me say that again. When the local church gathers together for communal worship the object is not music. The local community gathers to collectively worship a living triune God.
My first response: annoyance. How could this lady be so selfish? She doesn’t even know she’s so distracting. The angry faces from people all around her made it clear I wasn’t the only person initially annoyed.
As I looked over again to the crazy worship lady I was convicted. Why am I not like her? Is my primary interest sounding good and looking normal? This lady had gathered together with a heart prepared to give right allegiance to her living God. She was ruined by a massive God. She couldn’t stand upright and sing about His greatness. It was as if Isaiah was falling on his face right before my eyes (Isaiah 6:5). When singing the “Jesus Victorious” song I was watching David dancing in the delight of the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14).
I had to ask myself, “If I was Jesus what would I think of the crazy worship lady?” I thought of the Moravian missionaries leaving their comfortable surroundings proclaiming, “May the lamb who was slain receive the reward of his suffering.” I was watching a woman give Jesus the reward of His suffering. She cared more about God than her surroundings.
I turned my gaze to heaven with tears running down my face and let Jesus know He’s victorious in my life as well. Years spent studying Greek, Hebrew, Church History and Systematic Theology continue to bless my soul. The Crazy Worship Lady, however, helped educate me toward the heart of worship.
My response to my wife, “In short, I thought she was great. We need her in this church.”
I hope your church has at least one crazy worship lady. Maybe you’re that lady? What do you think?