Recently, I heard a pastor quote the great evangelist Junior Hill saying, “I’m writing a book right now. It’s called, 500 Hymns You Can Sing Sitting Down.” The congregation laughed, and the response made it seem this group would be willing to buy that book if Bro. Junior ever really decided to write it.
This is something I’ve been thinking about more and more lately… mainly because it is something that has changed about worship over the last few decades. Humor me while I reminisce a little.
When I was young, we sang a good bit more music in the services of our church than most churches do today. And we sang as much sitting down as standing. Today, we seem to sing less, but we always stand. As a matter of fact, I can’t tell you the last time I saw a worship leader start a service without asking the congregation to stand. And most often, once the worshippers are up, they are never seated until the music portion is over.
This can present a problem for senior adults and small children – and sometimes people in between. Ok, let’s try to answer the question – Should our congregations always stand when singing?
Well, in my humble opinion (which I highly regard), the answer is – and should be – no.
What does the Bible say?
There are plenty of references in scripture about posture in worship. Many times the posture of the worshipper is much more dramatic than standing – it’s face down. The one obvious occasion when the word of God brought people to their feet is found in Nehemiah 8. They all stood that day – but not because Ezra had instructed them to stand. It would be wrong to say that we stand because the Bible tells us to stand when we sing… It’s not true.
So why do we have our people stand all the time? I think many leaders have people stand because it makes them move physically and the leader assumes it encourages more participation. That may be true to a point, but it doesn’t explain why we automatically have people stand all the time.
So, here are a few thoughts to help this conversation along. I’d love to know what you think, too.
- Not everyone can stand all the time.
In any given setting, there will likely be people who cannot stand for a long time. And it’s not always people who are older. And, when everyone is standing, it makes sitting down seem awkward. It can really affect an individual’s experience if they feel like they are standing out because they can’t stand up.
- We ask because we can’t think of anything else to say.
Often, I think the leader defaults to this instruction as a way to break the silence. That’s not a good enough reason. As leaders, we should think about the flow of the service so thoroughly that we have a great sense when sitting could be effective and reflective and when standing would be appropriate and meaningful.
- Avoid standing when teaching a new song – at least at first.
Many years ago, I figured out one of the fastest ways to frustrate my congregation was to have them stand as I taught them something. There’s something about standing and singing. Something unfamiliar is annoying to a congregation. Trust me on this one.
- Mix it Up.
If you start the service with a more reflective prayer type song, let them be seated through the song. Or you can start a song one way and finish it another way. I have found starting a song with the people seated – especially if the verse is a solo – and then standing them later in a building part of the arrangement, can be very effective. The reverse is true as well – if well planned and purposeful.
- Trust Your People.
As the leader, you can give the stand up or sit down command whenever you are prompted to – that’s always true. But sometimes you can trust your people to make the choice by not giving any instruction at all. Let the individual worshipper make the choice. In some settings, the freedom to respond individually may allow each person to make their own worship posture choice. If that isn’t the case in your church, you would do well to direct your congregation one way or the other so individuals won’t feel “wrong.”
I would challenge any worship leader to give this subject some thought. Ask some trusted worshippers in your church. Ask other pastors for their opinions about this. You might be surprised.
Don’t be afraid to have people sit when they sing. As a matter of fact, if you haven’t done so already, make the effort to observe how your people respond when you give the direction to stand. They might be telling you something already. You just haven’t heard them yet.
Sitting. Standing. This aspect of your leadership, thought out and purposeful, can have a great impact on your worship gatherings.