Distracting Worship?

Hey Everybody,

Yesterday we talked about “Rock Star Worship“.  Today I want to have a conversation about “Distracting Worship”.

Let me qualify the conversation by saying that my background is from the more Charismatic church … expressive worship is the norm, including clapping of hands, raising hands, shouting, dancing, etc.  All of these are Biblical expressions of praise and/or worship, and I think most of us would agree with that.

Today the environment where I serve isn’t quite as expressive, though it’s not uncommon to see a smaller percentage of people with raised hands.  You can count on Justin (I would link to his blog, but he never blogs anymore) jumping up and down some, and if you lead’em … you can even get that crowd to clap.

Our posture has been one that says “we want you to be free to express yourself in worship, but don’t let your personal freedom become a corporate distraction”.  

Does that make sense?

My question is this.  What distracts you in worship?  The answer could easily vary depending on the environment in your church.  What’s more important – personal expression, because the Bible supports various physical expressions, even if it may be a distraction to the majority of those present?

Honestly, I don’t have a right or wrong answer – I just want to get the conversation started.  Let it rip, folks.

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Fred McKinnon is a Pianist/Composer from St. Simons Island, GA. Checkout the full BIO for more information and a complete bio. Worship Interludes Podcast - This podcast features instrumentals for prayer, meditation, soaking worship, relaxation, study music, and rest. Visit the Podcast page to listen or subscribe. Follow on Social MediaFacebookYouTubeInstagramTwitter

46 comments on Distracting Worship?

  1. Leslie says:

    It distracts me when people are so loud that they draw your attention away from worship and on to them. I remember sitting next to someone that was just screaming amen, praise the lord, jumping up and down and clapping his hands. Now, I’m not saying that he wasn’t genuinely worshiping God, but it was quite distracting to me and those around, and a little uncomfortable.

    Yes, praise God in the way you feel his spirit leading you too. But there comes a point where your “full” expression should come secondary to the worship experience for the congregation as a whole.

  2. Fred says:

    I’ve heard that one plenty of times. Good response. How do we set that “corporate expression” as leadership? How do we define that culture, and even more … how do we “manage it”? (yuck, I hate even saying that!)

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  3. Tyler says:

    Well I genuinely think that we can only choose to let things distract us. True worship is focused on God.

    But I will admit that people dancing distracts me, especially on slower songs.

    Tylers last blog post..Dear Reader

  4. Fred says:

    T – so you’d be a “no slow dancin'” guy?

  5. Alastair says:

    I like to see people expressing themselves in worship. I think there is a lack of corporate teaching on worship itself. Clapping is universal but many people don’t understand why people lift their hands.

    I know it’s been discussed before that you cannot measure the worship based on the expression of the congregation, but to be honest, sometimes I think that stance is an absolute cop-out. I know there is exceptions for sure.

    What is going through my head over the last few days is – what if we had the smallest glimpse of God’s glory while we worshiped? Imagine you got a vision of the throne room and the thousands upon thousands of angels all singing along. Could we just continue to stand there and mumble the words? Or maybe just sit in our chairs in ‘reflective’ position? Would it not change how we worship at all?

    AAAARRGGGGHHHHHH (sorry, just had to get that off my chest).

    Alastairs last blog post..Hurricane Hanna

  6. Fred says:

    I’m completely agreeing with you. I think if we really got that glimpse, our posture would def. change. we’d probably fall on our faces.

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  7. Alastair says:

    Ok, Distractions – went a bit off tangent before.

    1) Big Hair, Ribbons, Tamborines, Flowing Dress, Spinning along the front of the stage. That could be distracting I guess.
    2) People whispering/talking about where to go eat after in the middle of service.
    3) Kids tugging at your leg.

    Alastairs last blog post..Hurricane Hanna

  8. Mike says:

    The “Tambourine Lady” distracts me!

    Seriously, though, I get distracted when people *aren’t* raising their hands, clapping, dancing, crying… When they just stand there, or are barely singing, I think that something is wrong. I know that’s part and parcel of where I worship – pentecostal churches tend to be a little more ‘out there’ than most. But it can be obvious in any environment when people are not entering into worship.

    I get distracted when the sound guys are not paying attention! A couple of weeks ago I spent a whole song just looking at the sound booth because they had muted my acoustic, and didn’t unmute it when I switched to it. Grrrr… It’s good your’e worshipping guys, but you’ve got a job to do.

    Other than that, little really bugs me. I don’t look at the screen, and little mistakes in music that I hear are things I know most of the congregation won’t, so I don’t let them bother me.

    Oh yeah… broken strings….

  9. Billy Chia says:

    When I slow-danced in Jr. High the teachers always told me to “make room for the Holy Spirit.”

    I’m not a big fan of focusing on “not being distracting.” That takes the responsibility away from the individual worshiper and puts it on other people. People get distracted for all kinds of dumb reasons and it’s a slippery slope.

    “I couldn’t worship I was too distracted by the slow song dancer.”
    “I couldn’t worship I was too distracted by the guy raising his hands at the wrong time.”
    “I couldn’t worship I was too distracted because there was no keyboards in the band today.”
    “I just could worship I was way too distracted by lady with a flower in her hat next to me. The hat was so ugly it just ruined my whole worship experience. And I tell ya, I could’ve worshiped just fine if it’d hadn’t of been for her.”

    I’d rather focus on worshiping through distractions. How do we offer our hurts, frustrations and life problems up to God in worship instead of letting them be a indifference to us entering his presence corporately?

    It’s the individual’s responsibility to engage in the corporate body – not the responsibility of the body or pastor or worship leader to cater to them.

    Billy Chias last blog post..When It All Falls Into Place

  10. Fred says:

    Alastair … yeah, kids climbing your legs can get distracting for sure.

    I used that exact same response while we talked about this at SSCC … I said “to me, and to others, they feel awkward and distracted when they just sing out and lift their hands, and everyone around them stares at them”. Sometimes, the “LACK” of physical expression can be distracting.

    For the other stuff (media, sound guys, etc) … I agree, but my main focus in this concept is within the body of people that our worshiping … within the “congregation”.

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  11. Nikki says:

    Coming from a childhood where church was a place to be quiet and listen. Please no talking, no “amen-ing”, no raised hands, and definitely NO dancing/jumping/shouting…I sit now and wonder if those Church-goers really knew Our God. Did they understand that yes, He is glorious and powerful but He is also fun and exciting!?! He is pleased to see His children love and worship Him. So what distracts me is to see people not blown away by God – to not just want to throw their hands in the air and shout His Praises. I don’t know about you but when I think of how incredible our God is, His Plan, His desire for our lives and love, I am torn from falling on the ground or jumping for Him. It truly saddens me to see others with glazed eyes, yawning, and checking their watches. Your worship should not begin or end on Sunday; however you are blessed to be surrounded by others that are worshiping our amazing Father. He will blow you away when you let Him in!

  12. Fred says:

    As usual, great points. I agree … I say “if that distracts you, then CLOSE YOUR EYES”.

    At the same time … maybe we (as leaders) don’t cater to them … but we do have a responsibility to create an environment where the people can all come together and worship, and an environment that makes that “easy”.

    Or do we?

  13. Fred says:

    YES – I can feel your passion for His Presence just in reading your comment. Bring it!

  14. Russ says:

    This is a tough one for me, because I really feel like we (as humans and maybe more in the west) tend to view worship as an experience that fits into our convenience and individual preference, as opposed to an experience that brings us together and unites us as one.

    Usually our musical times of worship are shaped based on finding the overlap of the most common of people’s individual preferences. We cater to the most popular individual preference. And then we build a gathering around that. Is it wrong? Not sure…but I will say that it is kinda backwards.

    Corporate worship isn’t about expressing yourself to God individually, based on your own personal experience. It’s not about standing out in your freedom. It’s about losing your identity in a group of people who are all losing their identities and melting into God. Sure it takes individuals to do that, I’ve written recently about how individuals are so important to our corporate gatherings, THEY ARE.

    But at the same time, we’ve done a great job of teaching people that they need to express themselves in worship that we’ve neglected to teach them that the corporate time of worship isn’t about THEIR individual response to God, but about the body’s response to God as a whole.

    I know, I know, that might be semantics, but I really believe that WE have too independent of a view during our worship gatherings.

    There are things that are distractions. But to who? Is this a question about distractions to me as I worship in a group? Or is this a question about distractions to the whole as we all worship as a group? Are they the same? I don’t know, but as you can see from my long ramble, I’m wrestling with it.

    Good though provoking post.

  15. Fred says:

    I can tell you’re wrestling with it just like I am.

    I quote you:
    “We cater to the most popular individual preference. And then we build a gathering around that.”

    Response I’ve heard:
    you cater to individual preference? Since when? Shouldn’t we cater to what the BIBLE SAYS TO DO?

    My response:
    True … the Bible says we should worship in these ways … but it also says that we can “be all things to all people”.

    I hear what you’re saying about losing our individual identity to the corporate identity … but I don’t know if I can grasp it … how? How do we make it “corporate” when “corporate” is composed of “individuals”?

    This could go on and on …. and I’d love it.
    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  16. Jan Owen says:

    I agree that “this or that can be distracting” can be a cop out – as a leader I get TIRED of hearing excuses. I agree that if we could get a glimpse of God we would fall on our faces. We would not be at all concerned with those around us.

    HOWEVER, I consider myself to be a mature worshiper – after all I’ve led for 14 years and been on stage helping lead for 23….SO, with that said, there have been things that just seemed were done in a way that drew all eyes or ears to that person and that – to me – can be distracting. When I’m leading and someone does this and I notice it distracting the congregation then I get distracted. This happened recently. We had someone – with a good heart – REALLY going against the flow LOUDLY. What happened is that they sort of hi-jacked worship. They didn’t mean to, but no one else could compete. No one else could clap. Everyone stopped and looked at them, etc. We would have had to have been deaf not to. I felt like I was trying to lead worship while someone was boring a hole in my head! I couldn’t remember the words anymore and I coldn’t lead the clapping at all. I’m sure I looked more than a little pained. 🙂

    So – realistically – this can happen even when our intentions are pure. Corporate worship is just that – corporate – something we do TOGETHER. If we were singing “You are My King” and someone was running around the worship center yelling the lyrics we would all agree that would be somewhat inappropriate for us worshiping together in that moment.

    So I think that we just need to remember we are worshiping God TOGETHER in corporate worship. For instance, I will dance around the room at home (I used to be on a liturgical dance team – yes seriously), but I refrain just a bit on stage for fear they will cart me off. 🙂 Seriously, I know it would distract people and I don’t want to interfere with their conversation with God. In that moment I “prefer” them to myself.

    Sometimes though I do go in on Saturday nights when I’m alone and dance across the stage ALL I WANT.


    Jan Owens last blog post..10 Years Ago……

  17. Fred says:

    Times like that makes me want to abruptly stop the song, look at the person out there, and say “are you finished”? ….

    Well, not really .. but … maybe.
    (God, help me)

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  18. What distracts me as a worship leader is the pastoral part of leading a team during a worship service. Sometimes my own mind distracts me when I am listening to make sure our instruments are in synch. Doesn’t happen often, but once in a while.

    Im wondering if there are any churches out there who are incorporating Worship Flags? Our church has had a flagging team for several years. It began during the Charismatic renewal years, and now we still have a core of intercessors who still want to flag. They have some of the old paperwork with the Bible verses that might be interpreted to support either raising the banner, or lifting a wave offering, or interceding. Could anyone comment? The other churches in our area let this practice fizzle out over time, so it was a “seasonal” practice. For our intercessors, the desire to worship in that way still exists.
    What does anyone have to say about this? Some people in the church find it very distracting. Others find it beautiful. So, for now. for a season, we have laid them down in the interest of reorganizing.

    Jamie Burnsides last blog post..Final Creative Project for ICEWS – Song w/Mp3

  19. Fred says:

    For me, personally, flags have generally distracted me … mainly because I’ve nearly been beaten over the head with them more than once. I’m not quite sure I see the clear Scriptural correlation … maybe it’s there. Typically a “banner” was a flag … like the banner or flag we’d carry into battle … is there Scripture for where it’s used in the context of praise and worship? Maybe so … I’d be interested in knowing this myself.

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  20. Russ says:

    @Fred, I guess I would answer the “how” with this question?

    What is it about an individual’s own extreme expression of worship in a “corporate” environment that makes it distracting?

    Is it the expression itself? Is it the person’s motives (heart)? Is it our own motives or heart?

    I’m sure those all play a part, but I’d answer “no.” It’s the fact that someone is doing something that everyone else isn’t. They might as well, sign up for a slot during the offering and do it as a “special” act of worship? I’m partly joking.

    But the bottom line of my wrestling is that…I’m leaning towards feeling more “right” about everyone singing together in a worshipful way then some people singing, some people dancing, some people knitting, some people daydreaming…heh.

    Don’t read this as me saying diverse worship expressions don’t have a place, they do. But again I go back to the original thought. I think true worship is based on loving the Lord God with all of you and then loving your neighbor as yourself. I believe that in a corporate sense it means that we put the body first and our preferences last.

    I don’t know. I just don’t know.

  21. Mom says:

    Gosh there have been many responses to this question! As a member of our Praise & Worship Team, I realize that I have to fight against allowing NON PARTICIPANTS to distract me! When the Holy Spirit is moving and the majority of your congregation is deeply involved in worship – to see some in the back chatting and laughing about something grieves me because they are missing out on the provision of God as well as an opportunity to give Him the praise He is so worthy of within a corporate body where that praise is magnified! I have learned not to look at those and know that in the throneroom there should be no distractions – everything should become “shadows in the light of Him”.

  22. I haven’t read all the comments yet so, forgive me if I missed something.

    What distracts me: (not saying it is wrong, just distracting)
    -loud singers NOT on stage(probably why I don’t sing unless it is loud) even if they are decent, if they stand out in the crowd it is like all I hear
    -people who APPEAR to be moving way more than the music would suggest (they make me want to check and see if they are listening to something on their iPod that is different from the music in the house)
    -song lyric pray-ers (I dunno why, but it is SO distracting for me, I start to laugh)
    -bad mixes (as a sound guy, I am def. TOO critical of this, but if it sounds bad, all I can think about is what I would do different. 90% my problem.)
    -bright rooms (If I can see, I start looking around, hard to focus in.)
    -RF interference in my in-ears (that one was for you Fred.)

    Travis Pauldings last blog post..Get In The Game Intro Video

  23. If our hearts aren’t right, and we aren’t regularly taught and reminded of not only who God is and why we worship, but what worship is and how to do it, any of us can and will find ourselves distracted by a great number of Godly, Biblical expressions of worship, which should still be encouraged, because God tell us to do them. Apart from those, however…

    I do find bright rooms distracting at times – or, if not exactly ‘distracting’, at least a minor barrier to focusing my attention…

    Expressionless faces (and someone doesn’t have to be going wild to have an expression, but you can usually tell if someone is engaged or not) singing or saying something that should have their whole heart behind it SERIOUSLY throws me out of passionately pursuing God during worship (which is why I close my eyes so often) – my heart says, “WHAT? Are we not worshiping the same God? My God’s AWESOME!”

    Can’t think of many others… I think I’d like to see a follow-up blog, however: what ENCOURAGES your to worship God? Hmm… maybe I’ll post that one tomorrow? 😉

    That’s two biggies…

  24. rhoy pamparo says:

    skimming through the comments, it seems pretty evident that most of the distractions are on a personal preference basis. if you’re not focused on God, then you will be focused on other things such as distractions. great post!

    rhoy pamparos last blog post..We Believe Quicktake by Rhoy Pamparo

  25. I can usually close my eyes and worship no matter what…but when I lead a few things are distracting. If I’m not clean before God…I am distracted and not worshipping as I should or could. Sin is a big distraction for a leader or anyone in the seats.

    I was at a service though twice where a lady insistd on sitting in the front row with flags. No one else had any…but during one song she got out one flag and did all these certain motions. On the next song she started waving both flags all over. You could see everyone just watching her and very distracted. The stage wasn’t high off the ground so your only choice was to see her. That was distracting.

    Good question Fred!

    Jennifer Griffins last blog post..Nasty Church Trend

  26. One more thought before bed, as it relates to the hypothetical questions Fred faces (in response to Russ): what one is called to do as an individual is quite often different from what one is called to do as a group, particularly in the Bible. For instance, Biblically we are called – as individuals – to turn the other cheek, but the Bible gives clear examples of – as a nation – of measuring out capital punishment (i.e. – the death penalty) and examples of God-endorsed wars. Is it quite possible that we are, as individuals called to be all things to all people, but as a body of believers our primary goal is, first and foremost, to build up believers – though not losing an awareness of the ‘less mature’ among us? Maybe…

    Shannon Lewiss last blog post..What encourages YOU to worship?

  27. Fred says:

    Rhoy –
    I agree with your statement … but .. I agree, the idea is to be focused on God … but sometimes, the DISTRACTIONS hinder us from focusing on God? Is that right?

    I can try my hardest to focus on God … but it can be very hard if there is something very distracting going on.

    For the Kingdom,
    Fred McKinnon

  28. Fred says:

    Well, I was going to take your suggestion and let today’s blog be about what encourages us to worship … but I see you beat me to it …

  29. JonWesley says:

    Ours is a more traditional backgrounded (is that a word?) Southern Baptist Church. Typically there is a little side to side sway, an occasional raised hand, but NEVER dancing. (I think it’s in the bylaws somewhere! 🙂
    I have always encouraged personal worship. If a member wants to clap, they are free to clap, preferably in time with the music. I have also encouraged the choir and band to be free, and have even suggested they clap or move a little in order to “give permission” to the congregation.
    I think it ultimately boils down to that old standard: sing it with me- it’s a heart issue.
    It is sad, as a leader of worship, to hear someone want to clap as an offering to God, only to be stifled by those who hold the string s of what is and is not proper. Are we not ALL children of God? I’m just sayin”…

  30. rhoy pamparo says:

    hey fred! i totally understand and i don’t want to be a hypocrite to say i don’t get distracted because i do. but we do have to try harder not to get distracted.

    its almost like driving early morning against the wind while rain is pouring down heavily. your child is crying hysterically and your wife is trying to call you to find out where you are. it can be very distracting but we really try hard to focus on the road even though its tough to see what’s in front.

    wow, i almost confused myself with that! i hope it made sense. God bless …

    rhoy pamparos last blog post..Understanding the Romans by Rhoy Pamparo

  31. O.k., this is from the point of someone in the congregation.
    First, I was raised in a traditional church.
    When God became real in my life, it really changed how I worship. Though it did take a couple of years to actually feel free enough (read: not worry about what other people were thinking about me). This was still in a fairly traditional church.

    Thankfully, where I go now it is more “free spirited”.

    Now, if I am distracted, it is my fault. That’s not to say that some things aren’t distracting to me.

    *stepping on soapbox*

    It kind of rolls into with one of my biggest pet peeves, when people say:
    “Worship was good today, I like that song” or “I didn’t like…” I know all of us have heard it.
    I just want to bop these people on the head!

    Too many people focus on what they like or don’t like, when the real issue is, are we here to worship God or not?

    I trust our worship leader to create a set that glorifies God (and goes with the flow of the message), my part is to worship God.

    *stepping off my soapbox*

    dorothy (vicar of vibe)s last blog post..WAREHOUSE Wednesday: pink inc. inspired set design

  32. Swodeck says:

    inauthentic worship distracts me. i’m not a fan of flags, banners, horns (shofar), dancing, etc. however, if the person doing these is authentic in their worship. it’s all good.

    that is not necessarily the unofficial stance we take as worship leaders (i am one), however…well, you know.

  33. Damon Medic says:

    You got me thinking!

  34. Jeff T. says:

    Great post, man. From my perspective, anything that draws attention to you instead of God is inappropriate (unless of course you’re praying etc.). I notice this when I’m in a church that’s sitting down for a slow song and 1 or 2 people stand up to worship. I think the key to congregational worship is that it’s just that – congregational. The more unified we can be, even on a practical level, the better.

    Jeff T.s last blog post..Church Guest Bands & Staff Communication

  35. brewster says:

    the obvious distractions include: Flags, tambourine, or the elder statesman running laps. (i to grew up in a charismatic background). However, the most distracting worship is a dead heat between the dancer and bad sound/notes.

    brewsters last blog post..People Matter Most

  36. Ed Schief says:

    Fred, I have the solution to everyone’s frustrations. The answer is on my blog.

    Ed Schiefs last blog post..The Worship-ometer

  37. Travis says:

    Hey Fred – just wanted to drop a line to say thanks for your encouragement. Appreciate your blog, the discussions and your obvious heart for worship and Christ exalted in all things. Trusting God to continue in empowering you for Spirit-filled, dynamic ministry in the years to come. t.

  38. kim says:

    As a worshiper, I’m easily distracted. I distract myself with things rattling around in my head. External things that I’m not used to distract me. A cute baby on the shoulder of the guy in front of me distracts me. Corporate worship means I’m surrounded by other people, and people are distracting. Maybe that’s just part of the joy of worshiping together…stepping onto holy ground with the kid down the row who brought matchbox cars. Who said we have to be focused, trance-like, for 30 minutes in order to have worshiped? 🙂

    As a worship leader, I can’t take responsibility for erasing every possible distraction from the room. Maybe I can learn to know the culture of the group I’m leading, and find the delicate balance between creating an environment that is not completely unfamiliar, while also, over time, leading them forward, deeper in worship.

    Which always brings me to the question… what IS forward progress in worship, anyway?

    Thanks for asking the original question. Good to think about.

    kims last blog post..The ones I love. Fall 2008.

  39. Ed Schief says:

    Kim – loved the line “…stepping onto holy ground with the kid down the row who brought matchbox cars”

    Ed Schiefs last blog post..The Worship-ometer

  40. Emery says:

    Great stuff.
    I sometimes get distracted when someone in the congregation sings so loudly that it feels like they are trying to lead. I try to get over it but when the music slows down and some random person keeps the chorus going and going. awkward. I feel like the worship leader has the authority and anointing to lead. I lead worship but when I’m not leading I want to be led by the person who God has given the authority to lead.

    Emerys last blog post..Daniel Bashta

  41. Peter Park says:

    Great question. It sounds like our church is a lot like yours. Nothing distracts me as much now. I get excited when people get expressive. It means they’re not afraid to look like a fool for God. Awesome.

  42. Chris Stout says:

    Well as tech director at my church these always distract me:
    1. Lights being to bright.
    2. Wrong words on the screen.
    3. Background locking up
    4. The same camera shot the entire song, or two, or three.
    5. Still looking for the pastor so I can mic him up
    6. Last minute video’s, pictures, slides.
    7. Lights being the complete opposite color of the slides.
    8. Looking for my wife to see if she made it on time or needs help with the kiddo.

    Ha ha, am I overly critical?

    Chris Stouts last blog post..Getting ready for Live!

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