Worship Leader Q&A: What Steps Invite the Skeptic Back?
*Editor’s Note: Not everyone who comes to church is convinced that the worship songs are true. Songs about God’s goodness and faithfulness strike some people as a mismatch to their experience. Recently I got to host a conversation with four worship leaders about how to lead people in worship who are skeptical about God or the church. The four worship ministers were Corey Scott of Springfield, MO; Dave Stovall of Franklin, TN; Luke McCoy of Marion, IA; and Shawn Frazier of Murfreesboro, TN. For additional excerpts from this conversation, click here.
Q: Sometimes Christians can get cynical about God and his goodness. What are some steps that a cynical Christian can take in order to be able to worship wholeheartedly again?
Luke: It’s helpful for the congregation to know the stories of the people on the platform. We’re walking through struggles just like they are. So, when they hear a guy on the platform who’s going through divorce sing about the faithfulness of God, it’s almost like it breaks down their walls too. There’s an authenticity that communicates we’re all in this together. So maybe that’s an important step—to know that none of us are perfect or have perfect lives.
Corey: I would lean toward encouraging people to take some steps and just try. You may not feel like trusting God in worship, but try. I think often we have to act our way into emotions. We all have to do that. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 explains that God will sanctify us through and through—body, soul, and spirit. God redeems the whole person. That means I have to yield everything. At times, it can’t just start in the heart with a heartfelt connection with the Lord. Sometimes it begins elsewhere—for example, in my mind or by putting myself in a bodily posture of humility before God. Eventually it gets to my heart.
The truth is, God loves effort. Sometimes I don’t feel like being kind to my children, but I do it. I don’t always feel like keeping my mouth shut when I should. I don’t always feel like handing off a guitar solo, because I want to do it. Yet I believe it’s okay to put forth effort and activity which helps lead me into a heartfelt expression of worship.
Luke: Yeah, sometimes it’s about committing to worshiping God whether we feel it or not. When our senior pastor died, it helped us as a congregation to sing songs like, “Yes I will.” “The Goodness of God.” “Another in the Fire.” We were declaring, yes, we will worship. These were songs of commitment. It was a matter of declaring God’s goodness regardless.
Shawn: I was thinking about the word obedience. Surrender as well. When you choose to obey whether you feel it or not, many times the feelings will eventually follow. It reminds me of one of the principles of Celebrate Recovery: the system works if you work it. You keep being obedient to take steps and a lot of times you’ll see it all work out. It’s the same with intentionally taking steps of obedience whether the feelings are there or not.
Somebody who is skeptical or cynical toward God can also come in, find community and relationships, and heartfelt worship can be nurtured that way as well. Discovering the love of Jesus in a loving community can help people have helpful conversations and find healing.
When you choose to obey whether you feel it or not, many times the feelings will eventually follow.
Q: Are there any worship songs that seem to meet the skeptic where he’s at?
Dave: Jon Foreman has some really raw songs that hit me while I was going through doubt. “Your Love Is Strong.” “Learning How to Die.” I just needed to hear something super raw, not super peppy. I needed some songs with some sorrow. Some of the hymns do well with that. For example, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” I was skeptical, but I longed to not be skeptical, but I didn’t know how. It helped to sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.” It was honest, earnest prayer. A more modern worship song that does this is “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes. He says that he’s sorry that he came with his own agenda and asks for God to take him back.
Shawn: Many of the hymns do a better job of capturing the whole picture and not just focusing on the positives. I think of “I Need Thee Every Hour.” Also, in “Peace, Perfect Peace,” every verse describes some troubling thing with Jesus being the answer each time. There are also some newer songs which delve into the troubles. “Living Hope” describes that desperation, but then the grace. Keith and Kristyn Getty also do a pretty good job of capturing the whole story. “In Christ Alone” captures a lot of the story.
Corey: Drew Bodine from Central Christian Church in Las Vegas has a great song called “Love Can.” The verses give voice to questions such as, what can reach my wandering soul? Also, Andrew Peterson’s “Is He Worthy” is a song full of questions. Questions can leave space for people to insert themselves in, which is really what we want. We want for people to own their own worship.
Luke: So many times, I try to combat this with songs where people can sing anthems and declare God’s goodness. Dave, does that minister to the skeptic?
Dave: Probably depends on the person and situation. But for me, there would have been times I had trouble singing them. Some theological things would be hard to sing. For example, one of the things I was wrestling with at one point was, Did God have to let Jesus die? Sounded like cosmic child abuse. Yet, if it’s a skeptic genuinely seeking, songs like you’re talking about might be helpful.
On the other hand, for someone who is over church, I think the thing that can reach them is discipleship. Discipleship with good apologetics.