Our culture places a high premium on tears. Watch a Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey interview of someone who is confessing a great wrongdoing and people will tune in to wait for the water-works. If a person confesses to a crime but doesn’t shed a tear, people will likely question the person’s honesty and transparency because their eyes were dry. I think a similar mindset exists in the church. If the pastor preaches a powerful sermon or if the congregation sings a powerful hymn or psalm, I think people expect to see tears. After all, if you’re emotionally moved, you’ll naturally cry, right? If you don’t cry, then quite obviously you’re emotionally bottled-up and refuse to let the Spirit take hold of you.
As common as such sentiments might be, I think they are entirely wrong-headed. I know, I know, some will read this and think that I’m out to defend the frigid temperatures of worshipping among the “frozen chosen,” a moniker that Reformed churches have picked up for their style of worship—we don’t clap, cry, say Amen, or emote in any way—worship is an intellectual exercise! Far from it. Rather, after serving in the pastorate for quite some time I have found that for every person there is a different way of responding to God’s word, whether in its reading, preaching, or singing. Yes, I would see people moved to tears from the pulpit. On the other hand, I would see people sitting quietly, seemingly unaffected by the word. Yet, those same people would come to me after the worship service and tell me how much the word of God moved and stirred their hearts. I always held a poker face (that’s very important in the pastorate), but as they would tell me this I did my best to hide my surprise. I often thought, “Really?! You were moved? I couldn’t tell!”
But that’s the whole point—every one is different and not everyone will respond in the same way. If you place an emotional straight-jacket on your church and expect people to conform to certain norms, you will be quickly disappointed and mis-read your congregation. The Scriptures speak of people who shed many tears, but their sorrow wasn’t genuine (Heb. 12:17). Tears are not the sacrament of a changed heart, the visible sign and seal of an anguished and healed soul. Hence, get to know the people in your congregation individually and pray that the Lord would move them to praise, repentance, or whatever response is appropriate regardless of how many tears they might or might not shed.