Why Don’t We Shout in Worship?

Do you ever shout in church as an expression of exultant, exuberant worship? If not, why?

Is this even a relevant question? Or is it just a foray into the “worship wars” that devolves into debates over style and tone preferences?

I think it is relevant, regardless of our style and tone preferences, because we find clear examples and exhortations regarding shouting in the Bible, particularly in the Psalms. And so, we need to ask ourselves whether or not it matters to God if we actually do what these psalms commend or command us to do. Here are a few samples:

  • Psalm 27:6, “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”
  • Psalm 32:11, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
  • Psalm 33:3, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”
  • Psalm 47:1, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
  • Psalm 66:1–2, “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!”
  • Psalm 71:23, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.”

What do we do with these statements? God doesn’t waste his breath in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). He has included everything intentionally. So, he clearly wants us to do something regarding these references to shouting. I wonder if biblical shouting is not only an expression of joyful worship but also a way of experiencing dimensions of joyful worship that we don’t experience otherwise.

Why and When We Shout

Now, all of us shout. If we have voices, we’ve all shouted many times, and for numerous reasons. We’ve shouted in the overflow of great joy. We’ve shouted in the exultation of victory. We’ve shouted in the tension of competition. We’ve shouted in the chaos of battle. We’ve shouted in the tumult of controversy and argument. We’ve shouted in moments of great danger. We’ve shouted in the explosion of hot anger. Certain strong emotions prompt us, any of us, to shout.

But we rarely shout alone. Similar to laughing, and to some extent singing, shouting seems to be designed primarily as a corporate expression of strong emotion, something we find most enjoyable or helpful or needful when we do it with other people.

For example, I’m a shouter when I watch the Minnesota Vikings play football. This is true whether I watch them live at a stadium or, perhaps even better, in a room with family and friends. But if I watch a game alone, the dynamic is different.

Case in point: On January 14, 2018, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum threw the “Minneapolis Miracle” pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the last seconds of a divisional playoff game to defeat the New Orleans Saints. When that happened, our living room full of Vikings fans erupted in deafening shouts for joy that went on for minutes. If I had watched by myself, I might have shouted, but it would have lacked the depth of joy and celebration (and volume).

Why is this? There’s something profound and mysterious about a group of people sharing a common excitement and joy. Often, joy is heightened when we experience it together with others — and certain joys are only properly expressed in shouting. To not shout together as Stefon Diggs ran into the end zone would have emotionally muted the whole experience.

What About Church?

The Bible doesn’t explicitly explain why this phenomenon occurs, but it certainly acknowledges that it does. Most of the scriptural instructions to shout are addressed to the gathered saints — the Psalms were mainly meant to be sung (and sometimes shouted) together with others. There’s a unique and powerful dynamic when we “give thanks to the Lord with [our] whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1).

So, all of us shout. But assuming we’re in a familiar culture, we also all know when we’re not supposed to shout. Appropriate and inappropriate times and places to shout are culturally or sub-culturally reinforced. It’s okay to shout at a football game; it’s not okay to shout in a funeral home.

What about when our church gathers together to worship (and it’s not a funeral)? What does our church culture encourage? Are there occasionally moments of exuberance in song where all the saints “shout for joy to God” (Psalm 66:1)? Or does that always feel out of place, or only done by one or two courageous (and odd) people?

Spiritual Discipline of Shouting?

An even more penetrating question than cultural decorum is this: Do we ever feel the realities of the mercies of God, our redemption, the spiritual conflict we’re engaged in, the promise of our resurrection, and Christ’s ultimate triumph strongly enough to inspire a shout?

I ask this question for a couple of reasons. One, it might reveal a personal affectional deficit in our souls that we need to address with our Lord — that we’re not connecting deeply enough with the realities of what’s happened, and been promised, to us. And, of course, that’s all of us to greater or lesser degrees. What we may need is to repent of giving excessive attention to lesser things, and spend more extended time meditating on “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8) in order to stoke the embers of our passion for him.

But a second reason is that, to some degree, an affectional deficit might be due to the fact that we don’t shout together. I experienced the reality of the “Minneapolis Miracle” more deeply and intensely because I shared and shouted over it with others. I often feel certain great truths of God, or at least dimensions of them, more deeply and intensely when I share and shout over them with others. I can’t replicate in my private devotional times what I experience together with the saints on Easter morning.

What We All Want

Shouting is commended and commanded in the Bible, like singing, because there are dimensions of joy in God that are only experienced when we express ourselves in this way — particularly when we express ourselves this way together.

Like anything else, shouting can be superficial, but that shouldn’t prevent us from shouting. Because of the clear biblical exhortations to shout, I commend these thoughts to you for your prayerful consideration — especially pastors and leaders who craft worship times for gathered saints. What we all want is for the saints to experience as much blessing of delighting in God as possible. And the Scriptures tell us, “Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face” (Psalm 89:15).