What’s the Correct Style of Worship?

Picture this: I was preaching in this little church and a Pentecostal woman, sitting about halfway back, kept raising her hand. I found it strange but kept going. She was relentless, so I finally asked her, “Do you have a question?”

She turned white as a sheet.

Turns out, she didn’t have a question. That was just her way of saying “Amen” in response to what I was teaching. (Neither of us could much focus during the rest of the sermon, by the way.)

I’ve had plenty of awkward encounters like that over the years. Worship styles seem to multiply awkwardness in unique ways. But one thing I’ve learned, particularly as the Summit has grown in ethnic diversity: A biblical response of worship can be displayed in many ways.

Worship is a strangely controversial subject in churches. Some people come to a church because they like the worship; others leave the same church because they don’t like it. It seems like the question of, “Do I like the worship style?” has become one of the most decisive factors in choosing a church, even more important than belief system, preaching content, mission, or community.

The beauty of the church is that it’s a place where different cultures, personalities, and traditions come together and display worship in many ways. This has become the most apparent to me as my church has made strides in becoming more multiethnic (Worship isn’t the only area of multiethnic practice, but it sure is one of the more immediately obvious ones!)

For example, there are a lot of traditional Southern Baptists at the Summit. When they’re really into it, there might not be much movement or clapping (Baptists struggling, as they do, to find the beat). But what Baptists lack in rhythm, they make up for in volume: They tend to sing with gusto, especially when we bring out the old hymns. They might raise an arm for a moment. And if they’re experiencing full-on revival, they’ll sway back and forth with both arms bent 90 degrees at the elbows, as if they’re carrying a giant, invisible microwave. When I preach, some might respond with a brief, punctuated “Amen.”


Mixed in among them is a sizable number of people who grew up in churches that were a bit more—how should I say it—loquacious with their sermon feedback. I remember a couple who loved to “help me out” when I was preaching. If I said something the wife liked, she would respond in complete sentences—verbs, adjectives, questions, and all. We might as well have been having a conversation on the sidewalk, just the two of us. I honestly wasn’t sure at times whether or not I should answer her.

The Pentecostals among us love to add in some rhythmic clapping, shouting, and jumping—things I just don’t typically see from our members who grew up at First Baptist.

Our Latino members combine this sanctified enthusiasm with what can only be called a supernatural endurance. For them, anything less than two hours of singing cannot legitimately be called “worship.” I’m serious. The first time I attended a service at our Summit en Español campus, I missed lunch with my family. But man, is the music fun! My hips just want to start moving—that is, until my wife whispers, “Knock it off.”

When it comes to boisterous worship, though, I have yet to find a group that puts more body and soul into singing than a group of college students that came to our church from South Korea. They’d sit in the second row, and the first time I saw them worshiping, I seriously thought someone was going to get hurt. They weren’t singing the songs so much as yelling them; sometimes stomping with the beat. And several of them looked like they were trying to give God a high five.

But as soon as I got up to preach, it was like someone flipped a switch. These passionate worshipers became silent. I thought I was doing something wrong, probably failing to connect culturally. So I asked, “Am I just not connecting with you?”

One of them looked at me, crestfallen, and said, “Oh no, pastor! We love your preaching as much as we love the music. But in our culture, it’s impolite to talk when the pastor’s speaking. Sitting silently is how we show respect for the Word of God you’re preaching.”

Furious note-taking during the sermon. Talking back to the preacher. Sitting in silence. Singing loudly to old hymns. Singing gospel songs. Singing contemporary Christian worship. Singing and dancing for hours. Raising your hands. Shouting. Stomping. Giving God a high five.

Which of these is the correct, biblical way to worship?

My answer: Amen.