By my count, during my time in vocational ministry, I helped lead around 3,000 weekend worship services, and for approximately 2,937 of those I wondered “how are we going to fit everything in?”
So many of the services were a scramble—from opening song to closing prayer—to transition smoothly between moments, every minute accounted for, all the while feeling the spectral presence of the children’s pastor whispering do you know what it’s like when we have to keep the kids entertained this long?!? Because of this so many of the services I led were some version of “stand sit stand sit listen stand leave.”
It wasn’t until I left full time ministry and became a participant in the pews that I realized how rushed this all felt, and how the noise of the service was stacking on top of the incessant noise of my day-to-day life. The more I’ve thought about it, the more convinced I am that creating spaces of silence and stillness in a worship service is one of the most powerful, counter-cultural and Biblical discipleship tools a pastor has in his or her toolbelt.
Here are three ways creating moments of silence in your service will transform your church.
Silence Creates Space for God to Speak
Obviously, God can and does speak through music, sermons, and announcements (I guess. I kinda stopped listening to those once I wasn’t on staff!). But let me ask you a question: Do you believe that God speaks to your people, or does he only speak through church staff?
I ask because if how we run our weekends is a part of the discipleship experience, what are we telling the congregation when the only way they can experience God is through someone else’s words? What if we created moments between songs and encouraged people to pray about whatever God is doing in their heart at that moment? What if at the conclusion of our sermons we entered a time of prayer and encouraged people to ask God “what are you saying to me right now” and then gave them space to listen? What if we just sat in stillness for 60 seconds, simply because it’s a radical, Biblical thing to do?
Silence Combats an Unseen Cultural Idol
I’m not breaking new ground by saying we’re a world addicted to noise, and that this addiction is harming us. A fascinating study of birds living next to a noisy gas plant found the birds were more anxious, more distracted, and thus had unhealthily high levels of hormones that were literally making them live shorter lives. Ever felt like one of these birds?
When we create services that are wall-to-wall sound we are unconsciously bowing down before the Idol of Noise. We are unknowingly telling our congregation that noise is good, silence is to be avoided, and stillness is 1. Uncomfortable and 2. Unimportant in their spiritual journeys. If you think I’m exaggerating, try an experiment this Sunday: Have your entire congregation sit in 60 seconds of uninterrupted and total silence and notice how strange it feels.
Most pastors get that part of their purpose is to reshape people from a worldly way of living to a godly way. What if part of the “renewing of our minds” was by letting our minds rest for a moment?
Silence is Very, Very Biblical
Here are just a few of the things the Bible says about silence and stillness:
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” – Exodus 14:14
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.” – Zechariah 2:13
The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. – Habakkuk 2:20
We see silence modeled by Jesus, as he retreats into a desert for 40 days before beginning his ministry. He regularly retreats from the crowds either by himself or with his disciples. And then there’s the powerful story of Elijah, who can’t hear God in the raging, noise-filled disasters, but then when things are quiet, there comes a still, small voice.
God commands silence because it’s in silence that we drop our pretenses and get honest with him. It’s in the silence we feel the anxious thoughts bubbling beneath the service and surrender them to God. It’s in the silence we look outside ourselves and contemplate how right there, in that moment, God is with us.
So pastors, find times of stillness and silence. It my feel strange at first, but you might just see your community begin to transform as you collectively are still, and remember that he is God.