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Worship Lessons from the Pandemic

I posted some “Viral Thoughts” a couple of weeks into the pandemic. Now, almost 10 months into the global pandemic, we have a more informed perspective. The virus has caused multitudes of deaths and has continued disrupted life as we all know it. While we recognize the responsibility that we all have in helping to control the disease, many of us are growing weary of the effects of the virus from feelings of isolation to fear to boredom to just being tired of wearing masks. It has inhibited communication, travel, sports, performances, family life, church, holidays, and many, many more things. Most of us are just ready to be done. Fortunately, vaccines are being made available, and as of this week, it seems things are improving concerning the virus spread.

But before we are completely “done” with the virus, I think it is important to think about some lessons that can be learned from the virus, especially concerning worship.

1. Worship is much, much more than music.
When the virus first hit and we found out that the virus was spread by airborne transmission, it was clear that singing was not the safest option in public worship. If we didn’t do congregational singing, could we worship? The short answer is of course “yes”. What else could we do? Now, scripture reading, responsive readings, prayer, and other forms of non-musical worship became much more viable in some of our churches that were not used to using them. We would do well to remind ourselves that worship doesn’t equal music and we should use other non-musical elements in worship.

2. The virus has made us think differently about how we do church.
When we realized the severity of the health concerns most churches chose to temporarily close their doors and use technology to reach their congregants. Almost overnight, we had to ramp up our video production efforts to try to get our equipment ready to stream. When we weren’t meeting at all, living rooms became makeshift studios to try to record services to share with our church families. We found we could do it and actually realized the benefits that technology brought us. It allowed people to still be a part of corporate worship, even when many were still at home.

Even now, many don’t feel safe coming back to church, and this is still a viable option for many. I also believe that the influence of streaming will continue in a strong way in the future. I talked to a pastor today of a relatively small church, that had online viewers of twice as many people. Assuming that there are at least 2 viewers in the average home, their online attendance is 4 times their in-person attendance.

While we are all tired of Zoom meetings, using this tool to connect people can be of benefit. People who are ill or shut in can use it to feel connected. Committees may choose to meet virtually instead of in person, saving commuting time. Who knows what innovations will be kept after the virus is long gone?

3. You can worship without a full band
This is meant to be somewhat facetious, but it is actually something that I think we need to think about. Many of our churches are able to have full bands accompanying the congregational worship, and that has now become what is expected. When the virus initially hit, we had to reduce the number of instruments playing together, initially as family units, and then have gradually expanded into small acoustic groups of instruments. As people have felt comfortable coming back to church, our available talent pool has grown, so we will likely return to a full band again soon. However, I do think that there have been some great times of worship when the instruments have been small and acoustic in nature, which has allowed the congregation to really sing out and be heard. I believe that I will try to keep that as an element of what we do from time to time.

4. God is bigger than any pandemic.
While we can be fearful of the virus or annoyed by the ramifications of it, God is above all. He could stop it at any time he chose to do so. He is allowing now as part of his perfect plan. I believe that we need to trust Him in that, and all of the world’s circumstances. I’m reminded of Isa. 40:12 and 15:

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.

God has the whole world in His hands, and the pandemic is something that He can use to bring people to Himself.

What lessons have you learned about worship during the pandemic?

15 comments to Worship Lessons from the Pandemic

  • Hello Roger, thank you. May we all come through this with a deeper, more worshipful connection to and with our God. Hope all is well?

  • Josiah Alberghene

    I like your point that there are things we ought to learn BEFORE the pandemic is over. Now, near what is hopefully the end, we have something new and strange to prepare for: normal life. I think sometimes we like to say that worship has changed because of the pandemic; but worship has not changed, just as God has not changed. You hit on this in your points; we learned a lot about what worship actually is. And it is safe to say that anything we lost during the pandemic was not worship. Worship is not congregational singing. Worship is not Sunday morning church service. Worship is not a full band. While all of things are worship, they do not define worship. They shape worship – but it is God who defines it. God is bigger than any pandemic; this means that worship is bigger than any pandemic.

  • Brayden Groff

    Love this article! While the pandemic brought countless complications to the way churches have learned to do worship, I think it has helped us to revaluate the true importance of worship: to glorify God. It doesn’t have to be any fancy production and it doesn’t even need to be musical. As long as Christ is the focus and the one being glorified, that is all that matters.

  • Megan Wright

    I definitely think that the pandemic has forced us to reevaluate what worship truly looks like. It has been a season where much of what we typically consider to be worship was not feasible. Through that, however, I agree that we have had the opportunity to learn other ways to worship God. In many ways, it has been cool to see the creative things churches have discovered about worship, and I hope that much of what we have added to worship during the pandemic will continue to be commonplace even after the pandemic is over.

  • Jaden Johnson

    I think reflection on this time is very wise. The point that stood out to me most was the first one. As a worship arts major who’s calling on this earth is to help lead people in musical congressional worship, I often find it very difficult to engage in worship without music. Missing out on corporate worship negatively affected my relationship with God when the pandemic first began; however, this time has provided the opportunity to find new ways to glorify God and worship Him. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” We can find ways to glorify God in everything we do. Personally, I can glorify God through diligently working on my schooling/homework, working hard and conducting myself in a Christ-like manor in my athletics, and treating those around me with kindness, love, and respect. Even if corporate worship with music is not an option, there are still many ways I can worship God.

  • Jacob Wilson

    Worship during the pandemic has taught me exactly how to respond when things don’t go as planned, whether it be someone is out for quarantine or being livestream only, it has taught me how to adapt and overcome obstacles. During this pandemic things are often prone to change very quickly, and at my church we have just had to learn to be flexible and open minded. God still moves even when things don’t go according to plan. Another thing I have learned is to not fall into a rut of doing the same song the same way, maybe have someone else lead or play with the structure of the song. Most importantly just be patient and understanding in this very inconvenient time.

  • Elijah Engle

    You make a great point! While the pandemic has made some things very inconvenient and a bit of an annoyance, a lot of good has come from it too! Especially in the case of congregational worship. I think it is really cool that more non-musical forms of worship have become more prevalent in churches. As worship leaders, we are teaching our congregations what worship is and how to worship. I have found it really refreshing to use things besides just music to worship God, and I am looking forward to seeing how this continues to play out as we slowly move past the pandemic.

  • Jen Kroyer

    “Now, scripture reading, responsive readings, prayer, and other forms of non-musical worship became much more viable in some of our churches that were not used to using them. We would do well to remind ourselves that worship doesn’t equal music and we should use other non-musical elements in worship.” This struck me the most. I grew up in a church that had multiple readings every single week. It wasn’t until very recently (as in during 2020) that it hit me how much I actually miss that part of the services. Worship isn’t just music, it’s everything that we can do to serve and honor God, which means that while music is a form of worship, there is a lot more that is worship that is not music.

  • Allie Schluckebier

    I definitely agree that technology has helped immensely during the pandemic. It has made church safer, and it has had a larger outreach. However, will this continue to negatively affect church attendance when the pandemic is over? Many people find the comfort of their own homes appealing; this may result in a continuation of staying home and livestreaming church. This is unfortunate as Christians then miss out on the community of the church. This is something that benefits God’s people and I think helps to grow the believer. I think it is important then, for the church to begin encouraging members to return in person. They must start thinking of ways to bring people back into the church building, while keeping the outreach of a livestream. Combining both in person church and online church can help bring people into the family of God.

  • Lizzie Stratton

    I really appreciate how you reminded us of God’s hand in all of this. It reminds me that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). You mentioned that there are some things that you would like to keep that resulted from the virus. I’ve really noticed that God has used the creativity and care of the people in the church to love others and reach out even through the virus. Thanks for reminding me of how God is in control.

  • David Engle

    I appreciate the article and its author Prof. O’Neel and the comments shared by others reflecting on it.

    In my own reflection on things, this has been a little sample of what it’s like when you “loose a job” as a pastor/worship leader/youth pastor.

    If your definition of worship is solely tied to the experience of corporate singing…and that is taken away, what is left?

    If your “identity” (or sense of self-worth) is tied to your “title” (what you’ve identified as your calling or life purpose), what is left when that is taken away either through job loss or illness or accident or circumstance beyond your control (Providence).

    If your relationship to God is tied to only your idea of who you are, where are you left if your life doesn’t go where you dreamed or saw it going?

    I mention this as a caution to worship students to be careful about identifying only with an “I am a worship leader” or “God made me to be a worship pastor” type of statement. God may see you as something broader than you see yourself and may take that sense of self identity away at times through life to remind you that He is God. He decides who you are and what your purpose is. And His plans and purposes may change in different phases of your life. He may be reminding you that He is the Potter and you are the clay..and He can break you and reshape you into whatever purpose He desires whenever He wants to.

    Work at whatever you do for the glory of God. Work as to God and not as to man. Praise the Lord in every season.

    The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.

    The Lord will fulfill His purpose for you.

    God is still worshipped around His throne 24/7 with Holy, Holy, Holy’s whether sung or exclaimed.

    I will continue to offer my broken Hallelujah whether COVID restricted (or no longer “titled”) or not.

    Praise the LORD!

  • Joshua Peoples

    I think the pandemic was a great time of reevaluation as well as simply weeding out things that weren’t needed. I know for my home church in Michigan (a semi-traditional baptist church), the pandemic hit us like a slap in the face in regards to our online platforms and live-streaming. In the matter of a week we had to add virtual options, decide how to run a Sunday service, and worry about the health of our staff/volunteers who were serving the most. To top complicate things more, the volunteer worship leader used the shutdown as the perfect time to “get me some experience” because I had the desire to study worship. My first few months as a “full-on” worship leader took place right in the heat of the pandemic, leading to some great learning experiences about the ministry as well as logistical improvements for this church. While I haven’t yet decided if this is a good or bad thing, it seemed the pandemic separated the “church spectators” from the true worshipers.

  • Lilly Sturgis

    So beautifully, reminiscent of the fact that God uses what seems/is evil for His good purposes, this pandemic has done some excellent things for the church’s worship. In my personal experience, what the pandemic has done to worship for Cedarville University. This applies to many congregations, but for example, sometimes the regular ebb and flow of a service in the sanctuary or on the stage here can cause people to become stagnant in worship. It becomes a routine rather than authentic praise. Getting out of the chapel for a season really helped the student body and worship leaders to recenter on the purpose for worship, and the fact that one does not need to have all the details scripted perfectly to praise God well.

  • Kasey Pot

    I was at a church recently where the pastor boldly proclaimed that the [pandemic was not brought on by the Lord, but by the enemy. To this statement, I really asked the Lord if it was righteous or not. I have seen God do so much good throughout this season, so it is hard for me to believe that he had no hand in this, because we know that all has tp go through the Father. We see clearly in Job that even satan has to ask for permission.The growth of hearts for Christ during the pandemic has been so fruitful, and I was so blessed during this time to be a part of virtual worship leading and attending services.