expressive worship

The Passion of Christ

There’s no question that Christ lived a passionate life. He wept at Lazarus’ grave, he overturned tables when he was angry at the money changers in the Temple, and in anguish he cried “why have you forsaken me?” to His Father from the cross.

Of course, the most passionate act of Jesus, the one we celebrate this time of year, is The Passion of Christ: a love so perfect that he would die for us.

I think that’s a good reason for us to be passionate, too.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and I’ve seen a lot of music presentations in clubs, concert halls, and churches. Whether it’s been an R&B artist, a rock artist, a pop artist, or a singer/songwriter… I find in most cases that the least expressive musicians I’ve seen are those on a platform at church.

I’m really curious to know what you think about this. Is expression wrong in the context of a church? Often I get the sense that it is. I get the sense some people think we are intentionally drawing attention to ourselves if we are expressive. And I’m not sure that’s the case.

Is it a cultural thing? Is it a style thing? Is it dependent on the denomination?

I just don’t understand sometimes why people singing about their girlfriends, a relationship, their pickup truck, dogs, and some beers can be so expressive. And yet we struggle with expressing ourselves about our Creator.

I don’t think He’s freaked out if we move, lift our hands, and express ourselves completely at the appropriate time. Not when it’s a physical expression of our love, our gratitude for His grace in our lives, and in recognition of who He really is.

Sometimes as a “religious” people, we’ve cultivated a culture where expression is frowned upon. What do you think?

Amy Wolter in Cedarville OH on 07/25/11

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Tom Jackson

Tom Jackson, world renowned Live Music Producer, helps musicians and worship teams develop songs into “unique worship moments.” His Live Music Methods help create freedom in the room so your congregation can express their worship more freely and passionately than ever before! Tom has worked with nearly every genre from rock to pop to Christian Gospel, impacting major artists and worship leaders such as Jars of Clay, Casting Crowns, NewSong, Sidewalk Prophets, Chris Tomlin, Francesca Battistelli, Todd Agnew, Phillips, Craig & Dean, Parachute Band, The Martins, plus a multitude of independent artists.

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  1. Bob Brinthaupt says:

    If we don’t give our all to God in leading music at church, then why bother doing it at all? People want to be engaged with the music, drama, or whatever element the church is trying to convey. If we actually realize who our audience really is, (God) then why should we be concerned with what anyone else thinks? Quite a few years ago I realized that I wasn’t giving God my everything when leading the music and it hit me like a two-by-four plank upside the head. I changed my approach right away and it continues to work very well to this day.

  2. Katie says:

    that’s a tough one…
    your feelings might depend on how you were raised. like, i was raised in a tiny, traditional methodist church. if i were to raise my hands there it would maybe be frowned upon and definitely talked about! but then again in some churches i’ve been in, you’re not christian ENOUGH unless you raise your hands! so confusing… so what’s a worshiper to do? Especially we who are on stage… i do think it’s important to take the context into account. you don’t want to go crazy and make everyone else uncomfortable, but you do need to be able to do what feels right. and when we as individuals do what comes naturally to us as worshipers, it reads as genuine to our audience and spurs them on to worship as well. i think it’s important too to use your methods and PRACTICE so that our movement/expression becomes natural and doesn’t come off as canned… i love that moment in worship when i realize i’m not thinking about what i’m doing and it happens naturally-that’s the best!

  3. Jessie says:

    I agree! I am a freshmen at a Christian college and I love the worship. People aren’t afraid to raise their hands and praise God! They put their emotion into it, and the effect is evident. When I go home, however, the emotion isn’t there. It’s like everyone is just going through the motions and not letting themselves be vulnerable to the Holy Spirit moving. I can’t sit down when I go home. I stand the whole worship service. Sometimes people ask me why, and I just say, “I don’t see how you can worship sitting down.” That’s what I think anyway :)

  4. Kendall says:

    Isn’t it funny how we can raise our hands and go nuts for our favorite sports teams, and entertainment stars, but yet we are reserved when it comes to expressing our favor and passion for our saviour? This is a lesson that I learned recently and I will never be the same! I don’t want to hold anyting back from our Lord, as it says in scripture, “I am not ashamed”!

  5. Scott says:

    I completely agree there is a culture in the church that frowns upon expression. I work with soloists and groups at my church, and the most difficult area we try to balance is trying to keep the focus on Christ while still being expressive. I attribute some of it to the whole prophet not being regarded in his home town. We’ve had acts come to our church and they captivate the congregation and lead them to worship, but if a homegrown artist tries the same thing, they’re sometimes looked on with disdain. I tell the people I work with to make sure what they do in a worship service is done from a heart of worship and that it’s Spirit-led. Then I tell them the Holy Spirit can lead in rehearsal too when you’re planning what to do with a particular song. I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel strongly enough to comment on this one.

  6. Stephanie Reeves says:

    We act out of and express what we believe, don’t we? If we believe to our deepest core that when people encounter us, they are meeting up with Christ in us, our demonstration of that belief comes alive in a way that can be seen! In daily life, that might look like taking a meal to a sick friend or just speaking kindly to a neighbor. On stage, that might be lifting my hands to the God who healed me or reaching out for a God that SEEMS far away in my circumstance. OR turning to face the audience(congregation in this context)and say, “Let’s tell our Father what we think of Him together. Will you join me in that this morning?”. Webster defines expression as: “something that manifests, embodies, or symbolizes something else”; “an act or product of pressing out”. Christ wants to communicate something to others as He walks with us AND as he manifests (expresses) Himself IN, THRU, AS us! He’s pressing Himself out in us – so others can see it. Stage is a powerful “demonstration location” 4 us!

  7. Chelsee says:

    Wow! I totally agree. It seems like we think that if we do anything but sing or play, then we take away from God, but in reality, some extra things can help others worship and/or listen better. Some things may take away, but others help in a really awesome way.

  8. Andrew says:

    I agree Tom. I think that the bible is really clear on how God likes to be worshiped – with EXPRESSION! I like how you said God doesn’t freak out if we lift our hands – because that’s the truth. It’s people who freak out. But for some reason no one freaks out when Justin Bieber expresses himself…
    I think it’s abnormal if we are really careful on expression at church, but totally expressive outside, as if God was the One who least desired expression.
    I believe whole heartedly that people who have been forgiven much love much…and who cares if you’re from any certain denomination, forgiven people are expressive people – because love isn’t passive, it’s passionate. (PROOF: The Cross)

  9. Jimmy dooley says:

    Tom hit the nail on the head! Basically my question is what the heck is our problem as Christians people? We should be the most excited expressive people in the world & unfortunately its quite the opposite, we are so dead in emotion, which I think is wrong. I’m including myself in this also a few months ago I spent one night watching a bunch of secular artists perform then I watched some videos of myself at some churches I sang at & the thought hit me, how boring? God kind of shook me up and showed me if you want people to watch you & be excited about what you do youve got to make it exciting first & I realized I wasn’t. I say to people who can get excited about everything else in this world but call themselves Christians & can’t get excited about God, shame on you. We must quit worrying about all the religious do’s & don’ts & let the life of God show through us again, great article Tom

  10. Hope says:

    I agree with you, Tom, and am equally perplexed by the lack of evident passion for the One who gave it all. From the beginning of my journey, God has led me to a place of expression. At first, it was surrendering my pride and truly focusing on God rather than those around me. ( illuminated at a DCB concert, thru the song “undignified”) To some extent that element remains, but additionally, it is about expressing adoration and longing and deeply felt gratitude (think “the more I seek you” – Kari Jobe). The church I lead at was def not accustomed to expression when I began 4 years ago, but over time, there is growing freedom in worship. At times, my authenticity has been questioned by church family members, which hurts, but is really of no importance. As for distraction, I have a theory that the ones who are distracted by expression are those who are resisting the Spirit’s nudge to let go and worship like David. :)

  11. Timothy says:

    People onstage at church should definitely be permitted to express themselves. I don’t know if planning out a service like you would a show is the right thing, but people should feel free to be themselves. My church seems to be better at allowing this than most, from what I hear anyways. The musicians know they are free to do whatever they need to. They’ve raised their hands, made the O with their arms for Happy Day, knelt in prayer (one actually accepted Christ during service one week), stopped playing altogether… but as they felt they needed to, not because someone planned it. Just out of worship. I think that’s the way it should be. Occasionally “moments” can/should be planned, though. We just had a rap this Sunday during the song Death in His Grave. It caught every single person in the room off guard but helped open them to what God was about to do. Very good questions, though.

  12. Jessica says:

    Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. Isaiah 52:9 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD. 134:2 Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. Psalm 149:3 By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. Hebrews 13:5 Rejoicing in The Lord!

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