Pew Shakers

While sitting in church this past Sunday with 3 of my 5 boys, I suddenly felt the pew shaking during the sermon. I glanced to my left, and two of my boys were in the midst of a “try hard not to laugh when you aren’t supposed to” moment.

Most of us have been there–when laughter is mercilessly suppressed by silence and scorn, causing tears to leak from the eyes and the body to tremble.

laughing church
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And, yes, I did exactly what a parent is not supposed to do-I scowled and signaled a cease and desist demand. In response, water started bubbling over the dam.

Such moments always remind me of my late mother-in-law, Susan, who was one of the most frequent pew shakers known to man. She brought tissues to church, less for sadness and more for happiness.

When certain songs graced the bulletin, choir members were put on notice not to look at Susan, who sat right in front of the choir. To this day, I cannot listen to “Here I Raise My Ebenezer” without at least a smile because that one in particular always made her laugh (why, I cannot fathom).

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And anyone who knew Susan can testify that her laugh was irresistibly infectious. So her pew would start shaking, and the pew behind her would start shaking, and the tissues would get hastily passed about.

God has a cool way of returning absent souls into our presence.

Sitting in my shaking pew beside my teary-eyed children, the following scripture came to mind:

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Proverbs 17:22.

As I reflected on that scripture, the absence of overt joy in believers’ hearts pressed upon me.

Without such overt joy, churches are often stiff and rigid and filled with bickering over rules, doctrine and etiquette. They are often run like, and have similar problems to, big corporations. Congregants sit stone-faced in church services, many daydreaming, asleep, or distracted by their mobile devices. Children read books, or scribble, or practice origami with thick church bulletins filled with structure and order. And church members often live in fear of anyone finding out about their personal sins and struggles.

As a Presbyterian, I know these symptoms well, as we are commonly referred to as “The Frozen Chosen.”

frozen chosen
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One thing I admire greatly of primarily African-American churches is the pure joy emoted during their services. Robust and heartfelt singing, swaying, clapping, laughter, smiles, tears, and shouts, all expressions of pure joy in the Lord. Not only do the pews shake, but the floors and walls tremble with enthusiasm.

These churches seem to get what so many miss–the Gospel is about rejoicing in the Lord and what He has done for us. In recognition, church services become celebrations and expressions of thanksgiving. And this joyfulness follows church members into the world, into their daily lives.

gospel music
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In contrast, so many other church services feel like funerals. But why?

Are Christians sad that God saved them
and that their sins are forgiven?

Shouldn’t salvation and forgiveness
be celebrated enthusiastically?

Shouldn’t congregations be shaking the pews,
floors and walls on Sunday mornings?

Yes, Christ died for the sins of believers, and Christians should be remorseful about that, but the story doesn’t stop there.

Christ is not dead.

He rose from the dead!

He has risen indeed!

When Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead, I imagine there was a great celebration, not a quiet gathering of frozen friends and family. See John 11.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Raising of Lazarus

I am reminded of the story where David returned the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David. While marching to the City, David and the Israelites “celebrat[ed] with all their might before the Lord, with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals.” 2 Samuel 6:5.  David and the Israelites brought up the Ark “with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” 2 Samuel 6:14-15. As the Ark was entering the City, David was described as “leaping and dancing . . . before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14, 16.

Michal, daughter of Saul, was watching the celebration from a window and was horrified by David’s undignified conduct. When Michal confronted David, he responded:

It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.

2 Samuel 6:21 (emphasis added).

David was so joyful in his worship of the Lord that he demeaned himself in the eyes of Michal and others.

David did not have a funeral mentality; he leaped and danced with all his might.

A lack of joy, or funeral mentality, seems to be permeating the hearts and souls of believers, with so many obsessed with rules, and sins, and judgment. Church services are somber, and Christians seem more interested in condemning sin than spreading the Good News of love and forgiveness.

I wonder if Christians celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and their faith and salvation, with even a fraction of the enthusiasm of David, if . . .

They would be known more for what they are for
than for what they are against?

They would be perceived more as loving,
compassionate and welcoming than
judgmental and hypocritical?

Church rolls would be expanding
instead of dwindling?

Christian influence would be
brimming instead of fading?

There would be less inter-
and intra-denominational
turmoil and division?

The funeral mentality seems to lead the Christian down the path of legalism, with a focus on sin and death instead of on resurrected life and freedom in Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:1-6 (emphasis added).

Related Post: Holy Week Reflection: Freedom in Christ.

Yes, sin and brokenness are horrible, and believers must be remorseful of them and repent, but that is not the end or the rest of the story.

We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. One’s sin is no more worthy of condemnation and judgment than another’s; all sins are rebellion against God.

But the good news, and the rest of the story, is that Christians are no longer condemned for their sins, which were forgiven on the Cross. Christ saved believers from that wretched condition of sin and death. All someone has to do is place his faith in and follow Him.


So why the obsession over sin and death?

Why worship so quietly and somberly?

Why do churchgoers sit frozenly in their
seats and refuse to clap or sway?

Why are churchgoers afraid of shaking the pews?

Why not worship to the point of shaming Michal?

Photo Credit:

I recognize that a joyous celebration does not pave over important matters of doctrine, but if there was more joy in the room perhaps there would be less bickering over doctrine.

I also recognize that there are important moments of reverence, such as the Lord’s Supper and Good Friday, where worship may be more appropriate in the vein of a funeral than a party.

As we are told in Ecclesiastes:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (emphasis added).

But Christians seem more comfortable embracing a time for morning and weeping than a time for laughing and dancing.

And, yes, I know there are many Spirit-filled worship services out there without charismatic congregants. I also recognize that people have differing worship style preferences. I’m not advocating a one-size-fits-all style. What I am getting at is the joyous heart, however that manifests. I just have difficulty seeing the true David-like rejoicing in a funeral-like service, and I have trouble seeing the joy in believers’ hearts who so quickly condemn the world and other Christians.

When someone shakes the pew trying to suppress a spirit of laughter and joy, I have to wonder if we are missing something very big here-the party elephant in the room, so to speak.


People who know me may be surprised at this post because I am very quiet, reserved and introverted. Even if I attended a celebratory worship service, I likely would not be the one screaming “Amen!” or dancing in the aisles. But looking around at the world, the absence of joy in the Lord is obvious to me, and the Church is suffering because of it.

While I may never wave my arms in the air like I just don’t care, I would love to be surrounded by pew shakers, and I think the world would as well.


60 thoughts on “Pew Shakers

  1. Great stuff! Just last night I watched a movie on Netflix – Fingerprint of God, if I recall correctly. It was about God touching the hearts of people around the word and doing miraculous things. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Top Shelf DB.
    Ovwe the years I have fallen into a few traps that lead straight to that dark place.
    First is horrible tesching from the pulpit. Prosperity and health for all Christians. Never any problems. Lol I have more problems now! But I know why.
    Second is relying on our feEl good emotions to carry us instead of the deep down worship that only comes from the spirit.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I agree with what you’re saying. Many church services are very silent. At my church[ also Presbyterian although I consider myself a Christian not of any denomination ] we have contemporary worship services. Some clap and sing along while others sit and look bored out of there minds. IMO have no issue with either way of worship. I believe it’s good to sing and dance as well as sit quietly and hum along. Which suites the person best matters. I think it’s very uplifting how in African American services they really get into the worship. We should be happy to worship God. Why are we as believers afraid to praise God?

    I think this is one main issue of churches today. Many argue over which is correct instead of seeing the positivity the music can bring toward its community.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with all of your comments. One small church I attended years ago was subdued, but felt very worshipful and Spirit-filled. The music was by a classical string and brass quartet or trio. I was moved every Sunday. Another church I attended in college had a contemporary service that I thought was lousy and distracting, but I loved the sermon. I have also seen very tepid and somber worship services. There are many styles for worship and rejoicing. My question is whether joy is obvious?


  4. I was raised Presbyterian, but I always wanted more. I read my Bible faithfully. I loved to worship (no matter what the music). I took seriously what our pastor said and compared it to what the Scriptures say. And I found that I was, maybe, a part of 3% of the congregation. I now belong to another church that celebrates Jesus and takes seriously His Word. Sometimes the music is lousy, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes I get a chance to sing with the band (I have a professional voice). But the worship–which is NOT dependent on the quality of the music–and the message are outstanding. Even if I have to drive a distance to get there, I will worship here. I finally found my church home.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Great post. Too many of us go into church and put on our mask, our church face. We pretend like we have it all together. We are all solemn and church like. I used to be one of these people. Meanwhile, behind my carefully constructed mask a guy who was a functioning alcoholic, a gambling addict losing thousands of dollars playing online poker, and a cheat who was having multiple online affairs. All while maintaining the church mask pretending all is well. All while falling farther and farther into sin and destruction. All because I had such a good mask, keeping up that appearance trumped being honest about who I was and dealing with the struggles I was having. Because what would the Jones’, hiding behind their own masks, think? Take off the masks and live (and worship) like we love the Lord!! Like we know He loves us, no matter who we are or where we’ve been!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Love this post! It was right in line in what I am writing about today and I highlighted this article in my post. We should be a joyful people, excited about what God has done. We can focus on the future, the past, our sins but not what He has done! I have to tell you a funny story here. I have visited quite a few churches. I have lived on the east and west coast. Anyway, I was a member at this Baptist church in Charlotte. What’s funny is that I was one of the few African-American members and when I joined, I never knew anyone was paying attention when we had worship. I get into worshipping the Lord. A few weeks later, I was told that my presence was welcomed so much because I wasn’t afraid to worship. May be our culture, but I feel like David. Enjoyed this post so much.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Wonderful post! As a child, I could never figure out why “church” was so dead and boring to the folks in the pews, and NFL football evoked such strong passions in front of the TV just a few hours later. As a young girl, I found NFL boring…

    Liked by 3 people

  8. You and my husband-Frozen Chosen! I love it that we’re now out visiting churches as we travel. At least he doesn’t get embarrassed at my AMENS, raising my hands in worship and dancing in place. Lol
    Love the idea of pew shaken! I think we’ve had a couple of close experiences.
    As for children, you know they are watching and absorbing your every move! I know I’d understand if they were a little rowdy….When I see kids like that, I try to give them a smile and a wink. That usually settles them down!
    Wish we could have worshipped with you when we were in your neck of the woods!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Some great thoughts here mate – thanks for sharing! I’m also reminded of Matthew 18:3, where Jesus says “unless we change and become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Fully dependant and trusting in their parents, joyous. I think there’s definitely a time for quiet in a church setting, but gosh I like your thoughts here on not suppressing joy. I’m putting a blog together at the moment called ‘Why Church?’ So this blog is hugely relevant. Thanks again!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have been listening to a series of biographies John Piper has done on the heros of our faith. One I listened to today was on George Whitefield, who was criticized as being an “actor” in the pulpit for his expressive way of preaching. Of I remember correctly, one of his critics asked a famous actor why they can get up an act out something thst isn’t real and hold the audiences attention, with great appreciation but preachers preach and people lose their focus. The actors response; “We take something fake and make it feel real but you preachers take something real and make it seem fake”. Ouch. I know for me personally. My joyful worship didn’t begin until I really saw the truth of God’s grace and mercy in my life.

    I really enjoyed the article, but one thing I disagreed with us the implication that preaching on he’ll and sin means we lost our joy. Many of the heros of the reformation and great awakening preached fervently on hell but have been thoroughly documented to do so with such joyous hearts and demeanors that it made people long for what they had. I believe truly learning the joy of the Lord gives you such a burden for the lost that you can’t help but tell them the whole gospel.

    That is not to say I agree with the way the church is bashing sinners these days. The problem is our churches are filled with to many theists who believe in God and not enough surrendered followers who submit to His lordship.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Great comments. Although I didn’t say never to preach about Hell. The whole of scripture should be preached, and you can’t have the Gospel without Hell. What I was getting at was the heart. Is joy obvious? Is a church full of joyous Christians? Or are they frozen and sleeping in the pews?

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I love this! I have been a pew shaker myself …more than once! Yes, the joy of the Lord is missing from many churches today…so sad. If we truly understood the gift of the gospel…the forgiveness and love wrapped therein…we would bubble over with joy and gratitude…always!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Great post. I try to encourage my kids to laugh during my sermons. Sometimes I let them come sit by me while I preach. Love the thoughts. Children should be taught to enjoy church. It’s a blessing to be in God’s house, not a punishment.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Love this! Our church pretty much has a dance party every Sunday. It’s funny too because our church has such a wide variety of congregants, but everyone (old and young) gets into it! We usually end the service this way, on an “up” note.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Well, I feel what a service is like will depend much on the kind of people that attend. Not everyone is altogether on the bright side of life. People do suffer in various ways and have to face many problems. Some may be looking for comfort at church.

    Really I would say, obvious joyfullness, that is not accompanied with a loving and caring attitude for people’s needs, still reveals a lack of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is not only joy, but: “…love, joy, peace,, Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and selfäcontrol. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22/NIV).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with all of your comments, hence what I said: “And, yes, I know there are many Spirit-filled worship services out there without charismatic congregants. I also recognize that people have differing worship style preferences. I’m not advocating a one-size-fits-all style. What I am getting at is the joyous heart, however that manifests.” As I responded to another commentator below, I have been filled with great joy in a subdued church. My post is less about the style and more about the heart. Christians should be filled with awe and joy for God. The absence of joy leads to boring services and daydreaming or sleeping congregants. A loss of joy can also blind believers, where they often become preoccupied with other’s sins or legalism and miss the Good News of the Gospel. I do think a joyous heart should lead to a peppier, Spirit-filled worship service (in whatever style that manifests).

      Also, individuals will absolutely go through stages of emotion in their worship. A believer who is critically ill or who has lost a loved one may not be in a celebratory mood. That is what the Ecclesiastes scripture I quoted is about: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance . . . .” But because one congregant is hurting shouldn’t mean 365 days of funeral service worship. Our church has a separate “healing service,” where hurting congregants go to seek healing for life’s wounds, which is a very subdued and prayer-filled service, where those attending lift up their prayers for those in need of healing. This type of service respects the mood of the one in need of healing and seeks to meet him in that mood. And there are times when the main service should take on this tenor.

      And you are absolutely right about the fruit of the Spirit. I am by no means saying that only joy is a fruit or that it is even the most important. But I do believe a lack of joy is a symptom of one who has not fully embraced what Christ accomplished on the Cross. And joy, by definition, brings enthusiasm, in whatever form enthusiasm may manifest.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks for your answer to my comment! Actually I am glad I came across your post today. Reading your post and the comments really made me think. It is good to think about and to discuss matters of church life. Thanks and God bless!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. A hearty amen! I’m with you – more pew shakers please. While the style of worship is not important at all, I love your question “where’s the joy?” Exactly. I’m more interested in participating in a church filled with authentic worshipers than concerned about the style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right on! Whether it be a passionate classical-style worship, or a charismatic worship, or a Little House on the Prairie-style worship, joy can manifest by enthusiasm and thankfulness. It ain’t the style but the heart. Like expressed in the song, Heart of Worship:

      When the music fades
      All is stripped away
      And I simply come

      Longin’ just to bring
      Something that’s of worth
      That will bless your heart

      I’ll bring You more than a song
      For a song in itself
      Is not what You have required

      You search much deeper within
      Through the ways things appear
      You’re looking into my heart

      I’m comin’ back to the heart of worship
      And it’s all about You
      It’s all about You, Jesus

      I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
      When it’s all about You
      It’s all about You, Jesus

      . . . .

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I couldn’t agree more, “For the kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17, NRSV) Be encouraged, many people feel the same way. Let us enter into His courts with praise!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great read. I believe that worship is what we do with our lives in addition to what we do in church on Sunday. Some may appear to worship on Sunday but live life their own way the rest of the week. Is that worship? I am really curious as to what you think. I grew up in a traditionally black church. People did engage in delightful, joyful, audible worship on Sunday, but there was no visible fruit in the lives of most members. Only God knows the heart, and the Bible speaks of those who feign to love Him, but really do not. I’m anxiously anticipating your response.


    1. The problem you describe is not unique to your experience. I’ve been in many churches filled with Sunday-only Christians and understand that to be a broad problem. Lots of people i know appear to be Sunday-only Christians. Revelation describes these as “lukewarm” believers. Revelation 3:16. The joy I address in my post should be reflected, not just in the church service, but also in the Christian daily walk. Worship for some comes dangerously close to mere entertainment, whereas for others it comes dangerously close to mundane and mere obligation. Two ends of a delicate spectrum. But joy in the Lord should spark enthusiastic worship, daily and on Sunday. Christians need to find that sweet spot.

      The other point I see in your comment is a reflection of the sinful nature–do we leave the church and continue in our sinful ways, or do we swim against the current with God as our life preserver? Paul describes the sinful and spiritual natures as being at war within the believer. Romans 7. All Christians will continue to sin; but if they only repent on Sundays and don’t resist the current, they are in danger of being ‘spewed out of Jesus’ mouth.’

      Revelation 3:15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

      19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

      21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

      As Paul tells us in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

      A joyful church service does not guarantee a healthy or productive spiritual walk. Instead, it should be a byproduct of a Christian (or church) who gets the Gospel and celebrates what God has done for him or her, living a life according to the guidance of the Spirit.


  18. I haven’t been in church for 6 months, but I remember those pews! Maybe not pews, but certainly chairs. The kids had such a hard time sitting still. I don’t miss that. The pastor had 9 kids and all of them were made of electronic robot parts, I swear. I couldn’t keep my 3 still but they were over there, still as could be. I think it’s because he threatened to kill them if they didn’t. I don’t know. Seems possible considering that it was a spiritually abusive church. Anyway, I was always bored…not one person raised their hands or looked happy. I just didn’t understand how a time of worship looked like a funeral. These days I worship alone but with joy. How can you not be joyful? Maybe at 8:30am on a Sunday was a bit too early for all of that but at home, I am well rested and can enjoy Gods presence wherever I am. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Ha! I’ve never heard of Presbyterians being called the “frozen chosen,” but I have heard Church of Christ members being called that same name. As a Catholic, we have kids in our pews from birth through adulthood and there are definitely some silent pew-shaking moments and there are the other moments when a little 3-year-old says, “Hallelujah!” at just the right time in the homily and then all the pews shake. 🙂 Thanks for all the likes and thanks for stopping by!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Been in serious churches before. Absolutely solemn, even the songs. No place at all for noise or shouts of joy. It’s their loss 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Great post! Our home church is very somber, too. When we were out of town about a month ago we had the chance to attend an African-American Baptist church. It was so different from what we’re used to, but completely refreshing at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Differences in congregations are quite vast. I would love to say stepping into the doors of any church would be perfect for anyone, however, from church “shopping” after moves, I know that not to be true. Maybe those attending the somber services should check out more lively services when they go on vacation to see if it is for them. What type of church would you feel more comfortable bringing a non-believer to, one that can be labeled part of the frozen chosen, or one that could be labeled ungodly because they have fun during the service?

    Liked by 1 person

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