How important does the role of silence play in our corporate worship gatherings. Many of us have probably attended a church that was either fearful of silence and/or avoided it for the sake of keeping the attention of the “masses.” Many of us strongly resist this concept of “making silence together.” Quite frankly, it can be uncomfortable with this “dead” silence. After all, what are we supposed to do when it is quiet? People might feel awkward!
And this is exactly the point. Mark Dever writes,
“There’s silence between various aspects of the service. I encourage service leaders to NOT do the “no-dead-airspace” TV standard of busy-ness. We LIKE “dead air space.” “Dead air space” gives us time to reflect. To collect our thoughts. To consider what we’ve just heard or read or sung. The silence amplifies the words or music we’ve just heard. It allows us time to take it all in, and to pray. We have silence to prepare ourselves. We have silence between the announcements and the scriptural call to worship. We even have a moment of silence AFTER the service! I pronounce the benediction from the end of II Corinthians, invite the congregation to be seated. And then, after about a minute of silence, the pianist begins quietly playing the last hymn that we had just sung. During those few moments, we reflect and prepare to speak to others and depart. We do business with God. We prepare ourselves for the week ahead.
I’m a sound addict. Even as I write about silence now, I’ve got Paganini blasting in my study! But yesterday morning in church during one of our silences, I became aware of how corporate a labor such public silence is. Everyone works to be quiet. People stop moving their bulletins or looking for something in their purse. There’s no movement. We, together, hear the silence. It engulfs us. It enhances our unity. It is something we all do together. Together we consider what we’ve just heard. Together we contribute to each other’s space to think.”
I tend to think that the awkwardness is something we should embrace because every relationship generally starts with a bit of it. And if we’re honest, we’re relating with an all-powerful and all-knowing Triune God who created everything and holds everything together by His word! If we don’t feel a little awkward at the start of things I’d be a little concerned!
But I’ve noticed that silence generally has two “places” in our worship gatherings. On one hand, it can be the fruit of lack of preparation or it can be because of awkwardness (imagine someone publicly saying something really bizarre). In those instances, silence can be because someone just did or said something silly. And we all know it, but we don’t know what to say.
On the other hand, there are times when God shows up and silence occurs, similar to the spirit of Rev. 8:1 (“silence in heaven for about half an hour”). In those moments, God’s transcendence and immanence are both sort of… experienced? I don’t know if that’s the right away to state it, but that’s how I personally feel. God shows up, and you realize how BIG He is.
So let’s embrace silence in our corporate gatherings. A lot of good stuff can happen in the midst of it!
What do you think?
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.