The first church I went to was in Miami Beach Florida. It was mostly a group of young Jewish believer who knew how to practice community and grace in a way that I had never seen before. I gave my life to Jesus there. It was during the worship time while the music was playing and the people were singing in a decidedly messianic fashion. The narrow storefront church was filled to capacity and everyone was participating vigorously in the service.
The next week at church I remember wanting to sing along with the same gusto as everyone else, except I didn’t know the words. I don’t think we had an overhead projector back then, but I seem to remember that we just had to learn the words as we sang them…learning them by heart. There was another thing that was quite different than my church today- hand held instruments. Some people brought their own fancily designed embroidered bells and tambourines, others borrowed the ones in a box as you came in. Since I barely knew any of the songs, I thought a good way to participate would be to grab an instrument from the box. For the next several months I would be the “unofficial” percussionist on the wood blocks. I had never done anything like this before, tapping away on beat and even adding an extra whack here and there. I don’t think I was any good, but no one seemed to mind.
Fast forward to today in our church. We don’t encourage people to bring their own music makers. First off, we think that it’s a bit distracting and attention gathering. Unlike my Miami Beach days when everyone was playing something in that small storefront church one or two wood block players or tambourine shakers would really stand out. In our church it’s the worship team and singers up on the platform that help lead the rest of us in song pointing us to the Lord. And they are pretty good at it…which is the second point. Rarely have I heard someone who brings a tambourine to church really sound good, keep beat and add to the experience. My guess is that they probably wouldn’t make it on the worship team so this is an easy way to bypass the auditions.
I know some of you may be thinking, what’s the big deal…let em shake that thang. And I would if it worked. If people weren’t looking their way, thrown off by the beat, and instead were encouraged by their enthusiasm…maybe I’d reconsider. But the bigger issue is one of being willing to lay down your tambourine at the altar and not press the issue. If the tambourine or anything else is connected to who you are as a worshipper, that’s not good.
Back to Miami Beach…One particular Sunday I came into worship and realized that someone had taken the wood blocks out of the instrument box before me. I felt a little lost, a little out of place. This was my comfort zone. I didn’t know the words…now I didn’t have any way to worship. That morning was a turning point because I began to sing, I put my hands together to clap and realized that worship wasn’t dependent on my music maker, but on me.
How about you…do you need a certain kind of music to worship? Do you like tambourines? Does your churches’ worship team encourage you to connect with God when you sing?