Sometimes I find myself looking around in a club – watching people’s smiling faces, as they sing and dance and raise their hands in the air – and think to myself: this looks just like church. Not exactly like my church (I belong to a very small church of about 50 people) but like some churches I know. The motions people go through in a club, even if their focus isn’t on God and they have had a bit too much to drink, are similar to those of worship. The ecstatic feeling when the music finally drops, and the desire to raise your arms and express yourself physically, is comparable to the height of emotion we can reach during a church service. I once managed to persuade a hardcore clubbing friend of mine to attend church with me solely on the basis of that comparison.
Maybe this says nothing more than that we are human beings who love to dance, in rhythm to loud music, and feel a rush of emotion when we do so. Or that we have made churches too like clubs. Or even that we are all made to worship something, and people who don’t know God still worship in their own way – even if they don’t know they are doing it.
Examining my own behaviour, I am repeatedly struck by the fact that I am far more expressive in a club than I am at church. I dance like no one is watching, to repeat that cringey lyric. Whereas in church I stand still, perhaps with one stiff arm in the air. Even if I have had nothing to drink, I feel a freedom to sing and dance and express myself in a club, in a way that I can’t at church. That doesn’t seem right, does it? In fact, I sometimes wonder if God takes more joy from my crazy dancing and singing in a club than he does from my rigid pose in church the next morning. As if he saying to me: why can’t you dance for me like that?
Why do we let go in clubs but not in church?
I think it’s partly to do with the kind of music on offer. It takes someone of quite considerable skill to pull off a ballerina-esque contemporary dance to the average church worship tune. I have never been partial to a bit of interpretive dance, being much more of the street dance – or bobbing side to side – persuasion. The thought of trying to street dance to Strength will rise played by one singer, one guitar and one flute (often the scenario at my church) is fairly hilarious. This is not to criticise the genre in which many worship songs are written, nor to discourage the efforts of my wonderful church band, but is simply a recognition of the fact, that modern day worship tunes and club style flailing-your-arms-about-in-reckless-abandon dancing do not go hand in hand.
Or, perhaps I just care too much what people think. I know that my church family loves and accepts me as I am, and I’m sure would not be overly concerned if I started prancing around at the back of the room. But yet there’s still something holding me back. It’s possibly that I would be the odd one out, doing something different to the norm, whereas the norm in a club is to dance. Or maybe it’s the feeling that my funky grooves would distract attention from the focus of worship (for good or bad reasons).
So the question is: must I resign myself to worshipping God in a club? Is it even possible to truly worship God in a club?
Evidently, drinking too much and singing ‘My humps, my lovely lady lumps’ at the top of my voice is not going to bring God much glory. In the same way that the words we sing in church really matter, the words we sing in a club really matter. It matters how we dress. My general policy is that I wouldn’t wear anything to a club that I wouldn’t wear to church. Funny, really, in light of this topic. It matters how we dance. It matters what we are thinking about. All of these things are important when examining whether or not what we are doing is worship.
Saying all of this, I don’t think I’ve ever fully cracked the Christian clubbing etiquette. During my time at university I experienced both successful nights and less than successful nights. On some occasions, I would have a few too many drinks and then have to carry out the walk of shame past my fellow Christian Union members doing ‘club outreach’, with their wholesome stand of goodness at the doors to the club. I would look on bleary-eyed as they spoke words of encouragement and life over my fellow clubbing friends, and feel a deep sense of guilt that I was not doing the same.
Other times, I would have a better night. I would be careful about what I drank, and simply enjoy dancing and singing with my friends. I would successfully model that you don’t have to drink loads to have a good time. And – sometimes – I would have a wonderful 2am conversation with a friend about life, faith and God.
And – sometimes – I think I’ve done it. A song has come on with life-filled lyrics, lyrics that I can relate to myself and God; when I feel like my attitude is right, when my physical motions are right, when my focus is right. And maybe, just maybe, I’ve managed it. I’ve worshipped God in a club.