Rediscovering Silence in Worship

The March/April 2012 edition of Worship Leader magazine highlighted the often overlooked element of silence in our worship. This has been challenging for me as a worship leader in my local church as well as for me in my personal times with God.

The Problem

Today’s world is so noisy and jammed full of sound. Everywhere you go there is sonic wallpaper providing the backing-track to life: walking through the supermarket, standing in the lift, in the local coffee shop, the TV on in the background, the CD player or radio in the car . . .etc .

[bctt tweet=”Everywhere you go there is sonic wallpaper providing the backing-track to life” username=”mattmcchlery”]

Now think of the typical church service. Another one-and-a-half to two hours filled with non-stop sound. The worship team plays some fantastic songs that everyone sings along to, the guitarist plucks quietly in the background as the notices are given, warm synth pads fill the space as the communion table is prepared or as the preacher gets prepared, then the preacher’s voice breaks the silence for the duration of the sermon, finished with the latest Christian music CD being played in the background as we have tea and coffee at the end – sound familiar?

It’s as if silence is ‘bad’. Indeed, radio DJs know that silence is ‘dead airtime’ and is the signal of death for a radio show!

The Theory

Ok. I’m not saying sound or indeed music is a bad thing. I personally love it! That’s why I spend time and energy working with the church band, perfrecting the songs we will sing on Sunday and many hours writing new songs for the church to use as part of the worship service. I own literally hundreds (not quite thousands – yet!) of CDs. I live and breathe music. Indeed the Bible has numerous examples of how music is good, useful as part of our worship and helps us to give praise and honour to God. But the Bible also has numerous times when silence and stillness is as important, or even more important that the times of singing and activity.

[bctt tweet=”The Bible also has numerous times when silence and stillness is as important, or even more important that the times of singing and activity.” username=”mattmcchlery”]

On a personal level, there is so much to plug into in the mordern world, I need to pause and make a conscious effort to unlpug and be still. To listen to what God has to say! I think of it like a radio wave: God is continuously broadcasting, but if I don’t turn the dial and tune in to his frequency I won’t hear him. I know how important it is to ‘be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) But I am so often and so easily distracted. I need to quiet my soul and give more space to actually hear what God is wanting to say to me. This also rings true for my songwriting. I need to be silent before making new sounds.

On a corporate level, when thinking about which songs to sing on Sunday, the flow and rhythm of the lyrics, the feel of the songs, how they will add to the theme of the sermon. Another important thing I will now consider is how to try to fit more periods of silence into the service. Silence can be a very powerful form of worship – a time to hear from God! We should not just be going to church to make a lot of noise that we fling in God’s direction and not wait around for his answers. Worship is a two-way thing.Yes, our job is to give worship to God, but we should also give space for Him to respond. Then we can respond again in turn. Our relationship should not consist of shopping-list prayers but a dymanic fluid flow from one to the other and back again. Revelation and response. As Elijah discovered, God’s voice is often found in the slience:

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. (1 Kings 19)

[bctt tweet=”Silence can be a very powerful form of worship” username=”mattmcchlery”]

Getting Practical

Ok, so how can we give space for people to be still, to be quiet in our worship services? Here are a few ideas I am going to try out in the next few weeks:

  1. Flow from a really quiet and meditative song (even maybe finishing with the last verse in acapella with no instruments) into a time of slience

  2. At one point, explain what we are about to do ‘wait, listen and be still so we can hear from God’ and then simply sit and wait on God quietly together. (I will also be prepared to be open to hear what God is saying through the congregation – have a mic for testimonies / prophecies etc)

  3. Sing a song as a solo. I know that technically this is still ‘sound’ and not silence, but I think this could filfill the stillness part of what I am hoping to achieve. To give people time and space to contemplate, to meditate, to consider the words of the song being sung.

Over to You

Do you have any other ideas as to how we can incorporate silence into our worship? Any more practical or theoretical suggestions / ideas? Please feel free to share them in the comments section below. I look forward to your ideas and will hopefully try some of them out too.

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