This has been burning in me for a couple of weeks. I guess I’d
better get it out. I’ll be as gentle as I can.
I get it that some folks like to worship physically. I get
it that some folks believe that making a lot of noise makes their worship more
meaningful or more powerful. And I truly understand wanting to get more deeply
involved in worship.
Here’s the place I’m coming to: If you’re part of a group of
people worshiping, then it’s not appropriate for your worship to be
overwhelming the worship of the people around you.
And to that end tambourines and trumpets do not belong in a
public worship gathering. The principle applies to things that we do in worship
that over-ride or hinder the worship of others around us, but let’s use these
as our focus.
Here’s the exception: If you’re part of the worship team, in
unity with them, AND you’re really skilled, then there might be a place for
But if you are regularly blaaaating your ram’s-horn when you
feel the spirit move, then you are a disruption to unity, not a contributor.
And if you’re constantly banging your tambourine, regardless
of whether you think you’re keeping the beat or not, you are a disruption to
the unity of the group, not contributing to it.
There’s a bigger problem with tambourines, and I apologize, but I’m going to
get a bit nerdly here.
Unless you are physically located on the stage with the
band, your instrument is not physically ABLE to keep the beat that the band is
keeping, and you will be (not “may” be) making their job substantially more
This is physics, folks: sound is slow. It takes time to travel from the stage
to you. So when “the beat” leaves the stage, it takes time to travel to your
location, dawdling along at a measly 343 meters per second: the farther you are
from the stage, the more time it takes for the beat to reach you. The sound is
delayed when it reaches you.
Let’s imagine that your tambourine playing is exactly
perfect, and they strike their tambourine at the instant they hear the beat. They
are still not striking their tambourine at the same time that the band is. They’re
striking the beat after the sound has taken its time to reach them. That’s not
the same time. They’re delayed in striking the tambourine, because of the delay
that their beat took to reach you.
Then, of course, the sound from your tambourine – which is already the loudest
thing in the audience – takes its sweet time moseying throughout the room. So
that sister over there hears the beat from the band and then hears the beat
from the tambourine at completely different times. Now she’s thrown off. This
happens to pretty much everybody in the room that’s not standing right next to
the rogue percussionist on the tambourine.
The worst part is by the time the band themselves hear the
noise from your tambourine (and because it’s so loud, and its sound is so sharp
and cutting, they will hear it), it is so far off the beat by the time that the
sound reaches the stage – again because of physics – that now the delayed
tambourine beat is competing with their beat. They cannot play their best with
two out-of-sync percussionists fighting to lead.
If the drummer and the tambourine player are separated by
more than 15’, the difference in the beat is noticeable and is distracting.
That’s not opinion, that’s science. And if the distance is greater than that,
it can be very difficult or impossible to lead worship in that space.
The saddest part of this is that the person playing the
tambourine literally cannot recognize the havoc that they’re wreaking on the
worship in that setting, because they are perhaps the only person in the room
who cannot hear it. If you tell them that their playing is hindering the
musicians or other worshippers, they’ll often not believe you and take great
The net result of these instruments playing in a worship
gathering is 1Corinthians 14:17: “You are giving thanks well enough, but no one
else is edified.” In many cases, you are giving thanks well enough, but everyone
else is prevented from worshiping at all.
Does that mean I cannot worship with my trumpet or my
tambourine? Not at all. But it might mean that you shouldn’t worship with them
in public. Use them all you like in your secret place. But please do not bring
them into the public gathering, unless you’re very, very skilled with it, and
you are a member of the band, responding to the direction of the worship
I have also been part of percussion events, where the goal of the whole thing
is for everybody to be gathered around together banging away together. Some of
those have been heavenly!
But in a community worship gathering, no, not so much.