How to Worship in the Midst of Grief

How to Worship in the Midst of Grief

Many status updates have been written. Article after article. But it’s hard to put into words the kind of tragedy we are experiencing in our culture.

If you’ve ever experienced tragedy, you know how difficult it can be to count it all joy. To sing. To have faith.

Maybe you received a terrifying diagnosis. Or you lost your job. Or the offering plate passes by as you wonder how you’ll pay your bills. Maybe you and your spouse are disconnected and feel like it’s over. Maybe a family member has died. Maybe Orlando, Dallas or France.

Whatever the case, as worship leaders we need to be sensitive to grief and lament and make it a regular part of our worship gatherings.

Many have a hard time with this. They feel worship should primarily be a place where we celebrate and declare and proclaim. I mean, I can understand. We receive enough bad news during the week. We don’t need to weep, moan and wail on Sundays.

But I’d go so far to say that Sunday morning is the best place for our grief. The presence of God in corporate worship is the best outlet for our anger, confusion and sadness.

Consider the Psalms—the great hymnbook of every generation. Here’s a portion of Psalm 88:

From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.”

That isn’t how the Psalm begins, but how it ends. No happy ending. No triumphant close. It’s just pure lament and sadness.

Why would the Bible include this? It’s actually fairly common within the Psalms to cry out for justice, to weep over transgression, to be overwhelmed by darkness.

I think it’s because King David knew pain. And Christ knows our pain because He lived it. I believe God wants us to know the place suffering has in our fallen world and to show that He is more than able to heal, comfort, bring peace and restore what is broken.

He’s not just the God who heals but He’s the God who is present in our pain. He knows it because He tasted it for us.

The Presence of Pain & the Presence of God

As worshipers, we’re not called to deny our pain for a happy-clappy faith. We’re called to offer that pain to the only One who can do anything about it.

And this a high calling for worship leaders. Every Sunday people are experiencing grief. We have no idea the depths of suffering they are experiencing. And especially in more recent times, hurt is everywhere.

Think of the alternative for our people:

• If not the church, where?

• If not our songs, what songs?

• If not our gatherings, what gatherings?

When we bring our grief into God’s presence we gain perspective. It’s a perspective that rises above the storm. It’s a perspective that sees the Son of Man standing alongside you in the fire.

Circumstances may not change. There may not be a swift answer to prayer. There may not be an instant healing. But you’ll develop a closeness with the Savior that is the sweetest experience on earth.

How to Lead Grieving Worship

What does this mean for you as a worship leader? I can see it affecting a few areas of your ministry:

1. How You Lead – Good worship leading has a lot to do with empathy. Being real with people and knowing where they are. When you have empathy for the people you lead, they trust you and follow you. So lead in such a way that people know you’re real. That you’re a worshiper.

2. Your Song Choice – A well-balanced diet is never just one food group. We receive nutrients from many different sources. The same goes for our song diet. Songs of victory, yes. Anthems of celebration, for sure. But also include songs that speak to suffering and Christ’s closeness.

3. How You Live – Don’t expect people to worship in the midst of their pain if you refuse to. Part of what makes you a great leader is worshiping when it hurts. Your own doubt, suffering and grief make you a believable worship leader … if you’re living it off the stage.

I’d love to hear from you.  

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davidsantistevan@churchleaders.com'
David is a Worship Pastor at Allison Park Church in Pittsburgh, PA.