This reflection came as follow-up to a recent sermon I preached about speaking in tongues.
Speaking in tongues isn’t a gift I have ever experienced personally. But I have been in services and groups where people were speaking in tongues. I’ll never forget my first experience of being in a worship service of speaking in tongues. In 1999, I was asked to be a music leader for a little congregation in a little building in backwoods east Texas.
I was new to leading music in worship so I jumped at the chance to serve to gain experience. I confidently began leading “Lord, I lift Your Name on High” (an easy go-to song for someone new like me).
As I began playing, people clapped along and called out to me to bring it loud and bring it faithful. The sounds of praise filled that tiny little building in a mighty way. But at the end of the first verse, I heard something different from the lyrics I was singing and leading. It was a sound I had never heard before.
one woman’s eyes were partway closed, her hands in the air, and was loudly singing something I cannot completely describe. I didn’t understand the language coming out of her mouth. I was so taken aback I didn’t realize I had stopped singing and was just standing there staring! Oops. I regained my composure and just focused inward on what I was doing so I wouldn’t get tripped up further.
Well, that voice started a chain reaction and by the end of the song I was about the only one of us who was singing lyrics. The same thing happened the next song. I went from shocked, to puzzled, to weirded out thinking in my immature mind “what did I get myself into?!” But by the end of the songs, I was the weird one out as I was about the only one not trying to speak in tongues. The pastor was engaged in tongues as well and encouraging others to experience that deep expression of the Holy Spirit. He told me after the service I shouldn’t be ashamed or worried I wasn’t speaking in tongues because it would come to me one day and I would know the Spirit in a much deeper way. It hasn’t happened (yet?) but I have gotten to know the Spirit much deeper than my 18 year old self did.
My Reflection and How I look at worship practice differently today
What do I make of that? Was I not being faithful? Were they not being faithful? Could I truly not experience the Spirit deeply without speaking in tongues? After this experience, I thought to myself “what a load of bologna.” And, I have to admit, in that instance, by biblical standards, I think things were a little off in that setting and it helped form an unhealthy assumption about tongues for me at the time. I didn’t understand it. Nobody interpreted; we just had to trust the Holy Spirit was present by way of “tongues.” Since then, much has transpired in my life through experience and through study that leads me to believe the Holy Spirit moves and lives and empowers people in many different ways.
I’ve learned in worship that as soon as we become gate-keepers to the power of the Spirit one way or another, we let way too much of our need for human power and human control (typically over others) take over. Whenever we condemn and judge another person’s faithful experiences as valid versus not valid—no matter how foreign they are to us—we become judge and jury about God’s work and revelations to this world. If God is going to work in us, and through us, we have to check our ego and anxiety at the door to the throne and humble ourselves in worship. It’s the only way we can see where we are united in Christ, not divided by how “we” or “they” think worship and faith is to be practiced.
Now, plenty of guiding and accountability is needed in the community about understanding how we worship and receive the Spirit, but not to where we tear down another’s—or an entire community’s—faithful expressions. We have to take our experiences personally and collectively, and reason them with Scripture and traditions, human faculties and discernment tools that are God-given in our lives.
When we truly try to see with eyes of grace, we can become more aware of what Paul the Apostle wrote about the subject of tongues and Spiritual gifts in his letter to the Corinthians (especially chapters 12, 13, and 14), that Spiritual gifts are of God and they are meant to build up the Body of Christ, not destroy. They are not meant to place us above or below another sister or brother (a problem Paul felt the Corinth community was having with a variety of practices). They are not meant to be taken in isolation, but collectively as the Body. They are to be tested and observed to discern God’s will through prayer and discussion, through study and more prayer. How do you experience the Holy Spirit?
Rev. Matt Bridges is an ordained elder in the United Methodist church and currently serves in New Mexico as the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lovington. Matt has served in ministry in one form or another for the last seventeen years. In particular, he has a passion for music ministry and other types of worship ministry. In all of the things he’s learned in ministry, if he were to write a book on worship right now it would most certainly be titled1001 Times (and counting) I said “Well, I’ll Never Do It ThatWay Again” in Worship. He is joined in ministry by his wife, Corinne, and daughter Emilie. And they all love being the church together.