September 18, 2015

Worship Disruption or Participation?

Psalm 100

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

—  Romans 12:10

As a pastor, I have the privilege of leading worship on a regular basis. When I do, I find that worshipers assume that the things going on “up front” are the most important. So people tend to sit quietly, unless they are asked to speak in unison or sing together. With that assumption, if anyone speaks out or makes noise when people are “supposed” to be quiet, that person is considered a “disruption”—whether the person is a young child or, say, someone with an intellectual disability.

Each year around Christmas and Easter, I often lead worship in the neighborhood of group homes where our daughter lives. The 36 residents who have severe multiple disabilities are invited to attend, as well as family members. Many of the residents vocalize regularly, especially when they are excited about a group event like this. As the worship leader, should I be upset that worship is constantly “disrupted” by the vocalizing of residents? No, instead I need a different understanding of worship.

Worship is not just what is happening “up front”; worship is the sacred time a group of people set aside and dedicate to God. Conceived that way, the vocalizing of residents during worship is not “disruption” but participation!

Love includes honoring another’s participation in worship. Whose participation is God calling you to honor?

Teach me, Lord, out of love, to examine my assumptions about life and worship, and to hear the joyful praise others give you. In Jesus, Amen.

About the author — Mark Stephenson

Rev. Mark Stephenson is the Director of Disability Concerns for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously he served in two congregations in Michigan. He and his wife have four children.

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