Why I Don’t Raise My Hands in Your Church

Why I Don’t Raise My Hands in Your Church October 23, 2013

I know what you’re thinking.

If I don’t raise my hands in your church, there’s probably something seriously wrong with the state of my soul. Clearly the Spirit ain’t moving if my hands aren’t lifting, right? [See my post Why I Left Your Seeker-friendly Church.]


OK. So I don’t know what you’re thinking exactly, but after having experienced countless Evangelical worship services and having been harangued by worship leaders to clap more, turn and greet total strangers as if we were long-lost friends, and raise my hands higher (Higher!), I might be a little sensitive to this whole raising hands thing.

Why don’t I raise my hands in your church?

I just don’t want to.

Saying NO to the Worship Bullies

Let me be clear. If you want to raise your hands, that’s fine by me. Try not to swing your elbows too much if you’re standing next to me, if you don’t mind. But go for it. Raise your hands. Dance. I know there is plenty of Biblical precedent for all of it – if it comes from a heart led by the Spirit to authentic worship.

But I suspect many Christians are raising their hands in church out of a sense of obligation rather than being inspired by a heart full of worship.

The worst is when I see someone who has volunteered to serve by singing in the worship band/team/thing whose body language says they’d rather be out of the spotlight. They often slip up a rather timid, almost obligatory hand as they sing. Or lip-sync, you can’t really tell (which raises the question why they are up there — but I digress). The person clearly isn’t comfortable raising his or her hand, yet apparently feels compelled to conform because “that’s what spiritual people do.” It makes for a painfully awkward time during which I just want to run up on the stage, give a hug, and whisper, “Just say NO to the worship bullies!”

Sometimes I think we’d all be better off without anyone standing in the front modeling proper singing behaviors. Especially in those churches where the entire congregation could stop singing and you’d never know it.

But then if we don’t know any of the words to the latest songs, I suppose we need someone to cover for us while we stumble along double-time, trying to follow the sappy lyrics flashed on the screen. [See my post Why I’ve Stopped Singing in Your Church.] I hear from people all the time who’ve tried to talk to their worship leaders about these issues and get nothing but disdain and defensive attacks for their efforts.

Introverts and Extroverts in Church

I know. You think I’m weird. Or sinful. Or whatever we call “backsliding” Christians these days. The funny thing is that fifty to seventy years ago, most of the Evangelical church would have thought the same thing about you – for raising your hands in church!

I’m not saying they would have been right. Back then, things were admittedly a bit stuffy in most churches – or so I’ve heard. Suits and ties. Pews. Hymnals. (For those of you under thirty, hymnals were these book-like things that had the words to the songs inside with pretty things called notes to decorate them. I know. Weird, right? You had to actually hold them in your hands when you sang.) Knee-length dresses. Well, now that I think about it, we could use some of those again so I could leave this blindfold at home. But that’s another story for another time.

And change is part of life, even the life of the Church.

Unfortunately, Churches back then seemed to cater to only half the population of the body of Christ – the introverts. Like me. For those unschooled in the vernacular of the –verts, an introvert is basically someone who tends to need to withdraw from other people to recharge and be at their individual best. An extrovert is the opposite. He or she actually draws strength from interacting and engaging with other people. Even as I write those words, I can feel myself cringing within at the thought of endlessly engaging people without time for reflection.

You’ll find a lot of definitions for introverts and extroverts, but I can think of no better treatment of late than Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking:

Introversion – along with it’s cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness – is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform. (4)

If We Are the Body…

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with people (especially if they wear camo). Teaching, discipling, hanging out – I simply need a good amount of downtime to recharge and reflect afterwards. And waving my hands around while I mediate on the greatness of God? It’s just not for me.

Introverts are sort of like electric cars in that way. We can only go so far out on the road before we need to plug in to silence to recharge. Meanwhile, an extrovert recharges by hitting the road, meeting new people, and, perhaps, shaking and raising hands. But the body of Christ includes both.

The way I look at it, both introverts and extroverts should have portions of the worship service that push them out of their comfort zones. An introvert’s concern for the well-being of his more extroverted brothers and sisters should lead to patient tolerance of hand-waving and spontaneous meet-and-greets. But an extrovert’s love for the introvert should produce a place for seasons of quiet and reflection in worship as well as an end to guilty pressure to raise hands, clap rhythmically, or applaud a particularly stunning guitar solo.

How many introverted people have dropped out of the Evangelical church because they just don’t want to deal with all the awkwardness anymore? Leave a comment if you’re one of them. Half of the other readers don’t believe you exist.

Whatever Happened to Quiet in Church?

My own theory is that most men who went into seminary back in the day when churches were quieter were likely introverts who enjoyed reflection, study, and the meditative arts. Thus, when they became pastors, the churches they led tended to resemble their own personal tendencies.

But then came the sixties. As denominational structures deteriorated, the evangelical scene became more like the wild west of Christendom. The pastor and church that could draw the biggest crowd got the affirmation for having the most influence. So seminaries and ministry leadership began to attract more dynamic, charismatic figures who could draw and hold an audience spellbound for an hour – and an extra ten minutes on non-football Sundays when a missionary was in the house.

And as is most often the case with such cultural shifts, the pendulum swung to the opposite extreme. Soon everyone was waving hands, running through the aisles, and chucking the hymnals away in a rush to “share a worship experience.” After all, we can’t have people looking down to reflect on the words. They need to be looking out and up like any good extrovert should. Clearly the songs would have to be made much simpler.

The organ player moved from the back or the side to the center stage and was replaced by an enthusiastic drummer, complete with dynamic backlighting. I actually recall one church where the drums were fixed in position at the center of the stage and nothing – I mean nothing – could possibly be important enough to move them. The position of the communion table could be negotiated once per quarter, but not the drums. I even heard it reported that one poor soul dared to touch the drumset one Sunday morning during a sound check when he thought he saw it wobbling and about to fall.

He was never seen again. True story. I think.

Evangelical Oppression

What we end up with is an overt bias against introverts in many Evangelical churches that has nothing to do with Scripture and everything to do with pressure to conform to cultural ideals. How many Evangelical introverts are raising a hand or two because they think “that’s what you do” when worshiping — but their hearts are far from it?

Susan Cain described the oppression in this way after visiting an evangelical mega-church:

Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…. If you don’t love Jesus out loud [think raising hands ] then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly. Is it any wonder that introverts… start to question their own hearts?  (pg. 69)

Preach it, Susan!

Why I Don’t Raise My Hands in Your Church

I simply choose not to conform for the sake of conforming. Worshiping the Almighty means more to me than that. Hence, my hands aren’t moving. At least not for now. But that doesn’t mean my heart isn’t fully engaged in worship.

In fact, I’ll go one step further and admit that – for me – the worship experience would be cheapened by raising my hands in your church. Believe it or not, such physical motions would distract me from focusing on my heart where true worship takes place. [See Raising Hands in Church a Distraction? One Pastor’s Perspective ]

At least that’s how I think about it. I understand if you think the same thing about your need to raise your hands. That’s fine. Really. I’m good with that. Go ahead and dance. Whatever.

Just don’t assume I’m not worshiping just as sincerely as you are in spirit and in truth if I’m not raising my hands.

And who knows, some day I may join you. Just know that if I do, it won’t be because everyone else is doing it. And it won’t be because the worship leader laid a guilt trip on me. It’ll be an authentic expression of the work of the Spirit – or I’m not interested.

Isn’t that how it should be?

Do you feel pressured to raise your hands — or not — in church? How do you think the Church should go about including introverts and extroverts in the worship service? Leave your thoughts or  your own story below.


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  • Rick

    I am an introvert, but I don’t feel pressure to be expressive like that. Churches that I have experienced seem to have no problem with expression or no-expression- in the congregation.
    However, I have more of a problem when pastors, or leaders, seem to be expressive just to set a tone. There seems something fake about it.
    As an introvert, I also have more problem when asked to hold hands when praying, give someone a hug during the “greeting one another”, etc….

    • Great point about the meet-and-greet. Is that something we should just grin and bear as part of the body or should leaders take that into consideration? Or both?

      • Rick

        I think it is a necessary part of being in community, but some churches (even when the pastor is a self-admitted introvert) overdue that portion. Stressing why we do it, rather than what needs to be done and for introverts to “get beyond” the hesitation, would be much more beneficial. There needs to be a middle ground.

  • Gail

    And all God’s (introverted) people said “Amen!” There’s a lot of pressure to be outwardly expressive at our church’s contemporary service, but few people respond in that way, much to the chagrin of our worship leaders. At our traditional service the pressure is more subliminal; the worship leaders model this behavior, but at least they don’t ask the congregation to do the same. My worship is internal and it bothers me when I’m made to feel that’s somehow not good enough.

    • Well, it was a quiet “Amen” wasn’t it? I like how Leonce Crump put it: Presbyterians say “Amen!” by taking notes.

  • Anthony Yetzer

    Bill, I really am enjoying reading your posts. It is great to meet someone who thinks the same way that I do.

    As a boy, I had always questioned my salvation. The worship service at church was a source of this doubt. Everyone around me would be whooping, hollering, and raising their hands, while I would just sing. Since I was not as visibly enthusiastic, I figured that I must not be an authentic believer. This fear prompted me to raise my hand a little, but it felt fake and contrived.

    Now that I am older, I find great liberation in the knowledge that one does not need to be an extrovert in order to properly worship God.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Anthony. I confess I am torn as I wonder how much of this I tension am projecting onto others. I’d love to hear from some extroverts on the subject.

      Is it just that as we get older, we stop caring so much what others think?

  • Kullervo

    I’m an extrovert, but I grew up Mormon, where meetings tend to be reverent and subdued. I have no problem with the people at my church who raise their hands during worship, but it feels weird to me, so I don’t.

  • Justin TenCate

    I’m an introverted extrovert. That is, I recharge in quiet, but function well enough in public spaces no one would ever know unless I told them (and then probably won’t believe me).

    I’m also the worship leader at our church, led by an extrovert.

    There is definitely a time to raise hands, to sing and shout aloud, to celebrate and clap our hands to celebrate God’s goodness and working in our lives. There is also a time to reflect on His mercy, weep over His judgements and resolve in our hearts to take up our cross and follow Christ.

    I think this is why music connects so powerfully. It is all-encompassing, an experience to be shared and enjoyed alone, a reflection of the human experience and an expression of divine worship. A tool for unity and a vehicle for praise.

    You are right. It is important that the Church recognize her introverts, just as her extroverts, as equals before the cross of Christ, and in recognizing the variety and unity of faith, reflect the beauty of the great Creator’s majestic tapestry.

  • Janelle Arnold

    I have experienced this ‘worship bullying’ a few too many times.
    On the flip side, I’ve also benefited from genuinely encouraging and thoughtful promptings by extroverts to let some of my inhibitions go in worship. I guess the danger is when physical ‘freedom’ in worship being a good thing goes from a belief to an expectation… That’s when I’m tempted to shut down, to close in on myself, and to want to rebel against the extroverted tendencies of the age we live in.

    • Good point about extroverts drawing us introverts out of our shells. Thanks!

  • Dr.Valui

    Worship is about God. He is beyond personalities. In His presence human limitations is no barrier. Worship is not an experiment to prove how we can have authentic worship without moving, dancing or raising hand. All of us stand before God because of His mercy and grace. Whether we are dancing or standing still is inconsequential, we worship God for who He is NOT for who We Are. Manufactured man-made worship is lip service or lip syncing.

  • Darwin

    Very interesting article. I grew up in a Pentecostal Holiness environment, and remember quietly drawing army men on scrap paper as the three hour din led by my grandmother played itself out. As a teen, I felt God reach out to me when I was alone, reading Old Testament stories from the Living Bible in the stillness of my bedroom. As an adult, I am still an introvert, and also a missionary for a large Pentecostal denomination. This requires me to share in many churches in order to raise suppport. I usually start my “talk” or “presentation” (none dare call it preaching) by asking for “any fellow Pentecostal introverts to just jump up and give me an amen.” Of course no one does but the comment always breaks the ice. But man this article rings true to me. I’ve even had a pastor lay hands on my wife and I after we shared and pray quite loudly for “the anointing” to flow from my wife to me (she is the social butterfly to my mothlike behavior). As a missionary I work quietly in post production for the Gospel media we produce. Most of my fellow missionaries just do not get me because I’m so odd and exotic. First they assume weakness of character or spiritual immaturity. Then later I receive “complements” on my ability to be calm and unflappable during challenges and missionary struggles, when the truth is a vast storm is howling just behind my non-expressive face HA! It is a struggle, but has lit constant fires of discontent that have warmed my intellect.

    • I feel your pain although not to the same extent. We introverts are often mislabeled in Christian circles as lacking passion when nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Shane

    Hebrews Ch 1. “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” — How can some one read this verse and not want to jump in praise for Jesus and pour out their adoration upon him. Every Sunday Christians pour our their praise on mere mortals bashing helmets on a grassy fields. Tell me why we as “Christians” are not compelled to raise our hands and exalt God in worship. It is about him and our ascribing worth to him, not whether or not we want to do not want to raise our hand. Raise your hands! He is worthy of the praise! Get over yourself and pour out your adoration and love upon him. Its not about you, its about Him and Him alone! 🙂

    • Curious that you would use of that verse. I wonder where you might attend church.

      Here’s thought: not everyone goes crazy at football games either.

      • Shane

        Hey Bill, I currently go to a non-denominational church that has emerged from an ex-IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) background. I have been there 7 months. I am the worship leader at that church. Previously I attended a Vineyard Church where expression in worship was common. The new church struggles to find a pulse in worship.

        That is true not everyone goes crazy at a football game. We need to be honest and clear though and define what our roles are at each event: At church we are “participants” (1 Tim 2:8) at a football game we are “spectators”. We are “called” to worship in church, we are not called to “spectate” and sip our coffee and slump in the chair like slugs (I am guilty of it and need grace to keep me from falling into this attitude). In church the Audience is God not us.

        I have to be honest, I wonder if we are not scratching the surface of what Revelation says about the church of Laodicea, (there is a lot of circumstantial evidence).

        To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

        These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot (welcome to America Church). I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich (oh man is this not America to the T!?); I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked (I wish we as the church would consider this more). 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.

        One only needs to look at the Chinese underground church to see that we as Americans have made church about us! Read the book “Radical” by David Platt to get a Mega Church pastors view on it, it will shake you to the core.

        A.W. Tozer once said in Pursuit of God: if the Holy Spirit were removed from the Church today, 95% of Church activity would go on unhindered.

        My 2 cents which is really worth $19.95 🙂

        • Shane,

          Thanks. Checks in the mail. 🙂 I asked because that verse was the sermon text yesterday at our home church of Perimeter here in Atlanta.

          Your point about participation is a valid one. I would argue that we can participate differently externally out of sincere hearts.

          I did read Radical and was not that impressed, frankly. But perhaps it is worth another look.

          • Shane

            I used that scripture because I was floored the other day when I read it. It made me question my worship of God and if I give worthiness to the Lord to the degree that is due. I concluded, no I do not. I loved my Starbucks coffee more. I loved my friends more. Fill in the blank.

            I understand your argument as to the emotional response of participants. I think if we had sincere hearts of worship we could do nothing less than worship the Lord with body, soul, spirit, mind and emotions. I do not see anywhere in the bible where people worshipped the Lord with bored-coffee-in-hand-doughnut-in-the-other-passiveness that we see todays church. Do we love the Lord and pursue His GLORY or do we merely love our gatherings and the trappings that come from them? I love doughnuts and coffee by the way, but when it comes to worship I want to fully engage His heart, His Spirit, and His desires. I can suspend my needs as a human for 30 minutes to lavish on God what is due to him. I would venture to guess that grand children receive more excitement, love and adoration than God. I love grand children, but they are not as worthy as the Lord. What if we loved God the same way that we loved on our grand children? Embracing him with exuberance and excitement.

            Paul, who spent time with Jesus petitioned us with this desire: I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling. If Paul, who has spent time Jesus was lifting holy hands, who am I to think that I should not. A life encountered by Jesus warrants due response.

            I’d be interested to know why you were not impressed with Radical.

        • Darwin


  • Michael

    Hey Bill!
    Thank you for posting this. It made me think and ponder over the idea of “fake worshiping.” My church is not of the “charismatic type” of churches, but we don’t just sit and listen like in a musical orchestra. I occasionally raise my hands when I feel the real reason why we are worshiping (not for the feeling, we worship because of who God is). I am a worship leader at my church and since our church is evangelical/baptist there is not much of the charismatic movement around the congregation. But, there was one time when we were performing on stage when I noticed a man who did not look anywhere familiar. And he was dancing, clapping, yelling, falling over, playing dead, and basically acting obnoxious. I had so many complaints that night from family and of course myself, because it RUINED worship for me. Even though our church uses in-ears (earphone monitors for hearing ourselves), I still saw him in the front row, acting like a kid and doing the things our church was not into and hopefully will never get into. I definitely do not support that extreme version of charisma and will never push it foreword. Worship is not about the music, worship is about giving praise to God in everything you do. Even though I enjoy worship and playing in the worship band, it still does not mean that Worship only takes place in the Church building.The worship music we usually do at our “Contemporary” Services are Hillsong, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and many more. Honestly what that guy was doing was all for the show. True worship comes from the heart, soul, and mind. Not from the actions that you do during a worship service. Thanks again for this post! I hope the false worship of “Corrupted Charisma” does not reach my church, because I will leave if it does. Thank you 😉