The Importance of Creating Space in Worship

If you are like me you listen to a lot of music. In fact, music is everywhere. You can’t walk into a restaurant, store, or watch a simple TV show/ commercial without hearing music! Also, if you are like me certain types of music inspire certain types of moods or desires to do particular activities. For example, I listen to rock music when I run or lift weights because it motivates me to push my limitations. But… I wouldn’t listen to rock music if I were trying to relax because it heightens my senses and inspires emotions/ behaviors that are counterproductive to relaxation.

Music influences us more than we think… and every individual is exactly that… individual.

Our church music is no different. The types of songs and the way we present those songs can influence the individual. One of the reasons I think Hillsong and Bethel continue to be the driving force in worship music is because they’re not afraid to let their music breathe. As you listen to their music you aren’t bombarded with a “wall of sound” or driving forces that make you want to do everything but soak in the message they are presenting. In fact, I like watching live videos of each of those groups leading worship because when the camera goes across the stage I am often surprised by the amount of people playing so “little.” They have mastered musicianship, and they are both good at creating space in their arrangements.

How about us? Do we “overplay” and cram our arrangements so full of everything that the message is lost in the composition?

In American culture we tend to want to cram every nook and cranny of our lives with stuff, with white noise. Silence, calm, and stillness are avoided at all costs. And it’s reflected in our worship music. Now, in no way am I endorsing a far end of the spectrum approach to how we construct our worship services, but I would like to suggest that those of us who put the weekends together be intentional about creating worship space. Below are a few thoughts I have on this subject. Let’s think together!

It’s okay to linger.

I was convicted one time when playing a song that said,

We won’t move until you move.

But immediately after singing that portion of the song we rushed into the next section and then to the next song so we could keep our “flow” going. How hypocritical of me… in actuality I was moving along and I expecting the Spirit of God to keep up with me!

Where in our planning of sequence and flow are we allowing space for the spirit of God to guide our worship and influence our actions?

I’ve learned several things over the past few years and one of the most meaningful and worship sculpting things I’ve learned is: to linger is to listen. Lingering is good! This is something I’ve been working on as well. I call it “marinating.” Good things come from “mariniating” and lingering. We just have to make sure it’s not lazy, meandering, and uninspired lingering.

As you plan your service try to put yourself in the position of those that will be attending. Should they have to stand for 30 minutes? Should they have to read the lyrics on the screen for the entire service? At what point should there be a natural pause in the conversation?

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who either wouldn’t allow you to get a word in, or when you were speaking they were so busy thinking about the next thing they were going to say that you could tell they weren’t’ hearing a thing you were saying? I think we do that to God with our worship at times. The songs we sing make promises and covenants, express emotions and confess sin, and ask questions… but we don’t give the Lord time to talk back and respond to us!

There can and should be deliberate, prayed about moments in your worship set where you allow everyone to take a breath. Let’s give the Holy Spirit a chance to say something now and then. Be intentional with the lingering moments, making them musically beautiful.

Don’t feel like you have to talk in the empty space.

The word “Selah” appears 71 times in the Psalms, most interpretations point to it meaning “pause and think”. Once again, we’re not as programmed for this in America as in other cultures. Pausing is typically seen as wasted space or indecision. Have you ever just paused in silence during worship? If you have then you know what I’m about to say is true… people have no clue what to do! People stare at you wide eyed like you’re a caged animal at the zoo.

Why does silence make us so uncomfortable?

Psalm 146:10 says,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

Why are we doing all the talking? We are domineering and creating a one-sided conversation while asking God to speak to us through our lyrics and our singing! It seems counterproductive! In fact, a few pauses in the lyrical content can greatly enhance our worship experience, allowing congregants to have time to contemplate where they are and who God is to them in that moment.

Our worship is a conversation between us, the congregation and the Trinity. It’s not much of a conversation if one person is doing all the talking.

I think being sensitive to these opportunities or places, as well as the sonic space, is vitally important and it represents how our posture and heart should be towards God. So many times worship is rushed, cloudy, and even confusing and our “talking” isn’t doing anything to clear it up.

Not talking in empty space and giving the Lord the opportunity to fill it is very important in experiencing ekklesia (beyond church as usual). We must make time to stop, listen, and be led. No talking, ad-libbing, or clapping. Just listening.

Less is more.

We’ve all been there. Rehearsing for the worship service and it’s just not working. The music isn’t what we hear on our favorite worship albums. We’re not sure what’s wrong with it, but we know something is up. The musicians on the team are playing parts that sound great alone, but together, the music just sounds messy. It sounds less like music, and more like a “wall of noise.” Or maybe you’ve had the “loudness war” where everyone on the team keeps turning up, because they can’t hear their instrument in the mix. Does any of this sound familiar?

We’ve all been there. It’s a struggle I had for a long time with a youth group worship team I led and played in. Then a brilliant musician and friend showed me something I’ll never forget. Spatial Awareness. A very simple concept that makes a huge difference in the sound of a band.

Just because I have 10 musicians on stage doesn’t mean they all have to play all the time. This goes for vocalists as well. When we arrange the music for the weekend we need to pull each song apart to see exactly what makes it go, eliminating every piece that isn’t vital.

I heard that Chris Martin of Coldplay once said that they consider a song “done” not when they’ve added all they can, but when they’ve taken away everything that isn’t necessary. Hillsong is good at this. Their arrangements typically focus on just a few key sounds, eliminating redundant tones. In other words, the creation of sonic space is also important to the overall feel of the worship service.

I understand that the term “space” can mean something different to every person, but the discipline of taking a moment, a breath, during worship can add a beautiful, even deep, dimension to your worship experience. I challenge you to try to add some “space” this week!

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