The following article was published in the July 2011 First Christian Church Courier–a monthly church newsletter. I’d love for you to share your thoughts and responses.
I like thorny questions. As I entered the life of ministry, I stumbled upon a pretty thorny one: clapping in church. There are some heated debates that take place over this matter. Some might scoff at this “trivial” issue, ignoring it for more important matters like how much outreach a church is involved in or whether or not evangelism is effective. But I appreciate the kind of intensity the question of clapping in church often elicits. It shows a deep love and concern for what happens in worship and it also indicates that what we do carries with it theological meaning. I might even take that a step further: worship shapes how we understand outreach, evangelism, and all the other activities, programs, and ministries we engage in as a church. Thus, how we worship is never “trivial.”
The following series of reflections are not meant to close off conversation, rather the opposite. I intend to open up a wide, deep discussion about worship by reflecting particularly on clapping. I trust that considering this matter openly and publicly will prevent—or at least minimize—gossip and misunderstanding and, in the end, amplify what we do together on Sunday morning and beyond. Too often, churches, like most institutions, suffer from unwritten codes that stifle communication and detract from our shared goals. My hope is to hear from you, many of you, about what you are thinking and feeling. I want your voice to be a part of what I write about and reflect on in the coming months. I believe there is rich wisdom in our church; I’ve experienced it already. I trust that that wisdom will be enhanced by talking through what we do together and gaining clarity—though never finality—on why we do it.
So, to the question: is church ever an appropriate context to clap? Yes. Oh, and no. How I love complexity. Allow me to explain, my thoughts may surprise you.
Next month: A Theology of Clapping (Part 2): On Children