I Don’t Worship God by Singing. I Connect With Him Elsewhere.

Donald Miller

I’ve a confession. I don’t connect with God by singing to Him. Not at all.

I know I’m nearly alone in this but it’s true. I was finally able to admit this recently when I attended a church service that had, perhaps, the most talented worship team I’ve ever heard. I loved the music. But I loved it more for the music than the worship. As far as connecting with God goes, I wasn’t feeling much of anything.

I used to feel guilty about this but to be honest, I experience an intimacy with God I consider strong and healthy.

It’s just that I don’t experience that intimacy in a traditional worship service. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of sermons I actually remember. So to be brutally honest, I don’t learn much about God hearing a sermon and I don’t connect with him by singing songs to him. So, like most men, a traditional church service can be somewhat long and difficult to get through.

*Photo Credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk, Creative Commons

*Photo Credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk, Creative Commons

I’m fine with this, though. I’ve studied psychology and education reform long enough to know a traditional lecture isn’t for everybody. There’s an entire demographic of people who have to learn by doing, not by hearing. So you can lecture to them all day and they’re simply not going to get it.

Research suggest there are three learning styles, auditory (hearing) visual (seeing) and kinesthetic (doing) and I’m a kinesthetic learner. Of course churches have all kinds of ways for you to engage God including many kinesthetic opportunities including mission trips and so forth, but if you want to attend a “service” every Sunday, you best be an auditory learner. There’s not much out there for kinesthetic or visual learners.

Interestingly, I learn a great deal by teaching, which is interesting to me.

I learn by doing the very thing I don’t learn by hearing! My guess is because teaching is a kinesthetic discipline rather than an auditory discipline. But that’s a side note. Here’s the real question:

How do I find intimacy with God if not through a traditional church model?

The answer came to me recently and it was a freeing revelation. I connect with God by working. I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company. I know it sounds crazy, but I believe God gave me my mission and my team and I feel closest to him when I’ve got my hand on the plow. It’s thrilling and I couldn’t be more grateful he’s given me an outlet through which I can both serve and connect with him.

My friend Bob Goff says when we study somebody without getting to know them, it’s called stalking. Bob says Jesus is getting creeped out that we keep stalking him. He’d like us to bond with him in the doing.

So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest.

Like I said, it’s not how I learn.

But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. (tweet this)

I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.

So are you an auditory, visual or kinesthetic learner? And if visual or kinesthetic, how do you connect with God?

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller teaches the StoryBrand workshop. Register today and you’ll get an entire marketing education in 2 days. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller) and Instagram. To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

  • dmoneytrue

    I am running into the same problem and thank you for this article. I too seem to connect to the Lord by serving him and I’m finding church is not much more than a Salvation Christainity 101 type of gospel. it has gotten so bad that I am turning to YouTube to get the deeper meaning of the gospel. I kinda had the revelation tonight if I’m going to go to a Salvation type of church I need to be serving in it or go find another church where discipleship is mixed with salvation Christianity.

  • Carri

    After reading this I came away with a few thoughts: Worship songs in
    today’s Church are so shallow and repetitive, it’s no wonder why
    Christians can’t worship in Church. The Heart cannot rejoice in what
    the mind cannot comprehend.Or the mind will tune out when it’s not given any thing worth pondering. Songs today are all about “US”. Man centered and subjective. We’ve lost the art of singing objective truth songs. But there are great theologically rich worship songs out there! Worship leaders have to search for them (they usually are not the popular ones being sung) But they DO stir the heart to worship. Only truth can stir our hearts.

    Secondly: Many men in pulpits today do not belong there. There is an evident lack of the teaching gift and once again, it’s no wonder why Christians are bored at Church. My advice is to find a strong Bible teaching church that also values theology in their worship in song.

    Thirdly: Church is NOT all about us. We are not to be consumers
    but givers. The scriptures tell us to NOT forsake the assembling of the
    saints for good reason. We each have a purpose within the local church
    and we unconsciously further the Kingdom of God when we regularly attend church. There’s something powerful in the unity of numbers as we corporately gather with other like minded believers. We need to base all of our behavior on what the Bible says not on what we feel.

    • c jones

      I have to disagree with with regularly attending church. If I’m not mistaken, you’re referring to Hebrews 10:24-25 about not neglecting to meet together. I don’t think anyone here is saying that we shouldn’t be connected with other believers, just that I don’t think that verse is necessarily saying that we have to do that in a church atmosphere (aka the environment that the modern day church has become). If I choose to meet with a group of Christian friends in our own time and I get more out of that than going to church Sunday morning, I think I’ve fulfilled Hebrews 10:24-25 just fine.

      Yes, there is a synergy gained when believers gather together, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that the bigger the group the better. It just needs to be a group. I think the size, formality, location, meeting time, etc. of that group is as unique as the individuals and their interests, desires, and gifts that make it up.

  • Samantha Butler

    Hey, Donald. My name is Samantha and I’m not replying to this post for any reason but to engage in dialogue, and because I believe dialogue is crucial to the Christian community. This is not a rant, I promise!

    That said, I am a little unsettled with the conclusion you come to in your article. Your personal choice to not attend church is up to you, but I’m not sold on the route you took to get there and I feel it might be detrimental to other people that fill the same blanks in as you. People like me!

    The reason is, my husband and I are kinaesthetic learners, too. In University, I had to bring pipe cleaners (or Facebook games) with me in order to survive through a lecture: I needed to be “doing” so what they were saying would soak in and I wouldn’t flunk out.

    And like you, we’re business people, too. We run a company and we feel like God connects with us and through us when we do our business with our clients. It’s exhilarating. We’re blessed to have that. I’d even venture to say that we get a strong sense of community from our business – even though it’s a staff of 2, we meet thousands of people along the way.

    But. Although we get more out of the “doing” (whether inside or outside a church context) than the listening or the singing, we still believe that it is crucial to the lifeblood of Christianity as a whole – and more importantly, of our personal faiths and to our family – to be intensely connected in a church. So much so that when we skip a Sunday, people call to see where we were at. The kind of connected that scares introverts like me but holds me to accountability when things start to slip, or that catches me when I fall.

    From my understanding, the Bible is very clear that intentional community is important. And I know, you mention that you do receive community outside of the church building. But I think that having friends that love and serve Jesus, while important, is different than having a weekly intentional gathering – even if it’s just a weekly intentional gathering near a hole in the ground in sub saharan Africa, or in my church’s case, in an old movie theatre in rural Ontario. Friends that love and serve Jesus can come and go, and they aren’t held to any standard that says they will always be there no matter what, in the way an intentional church community is. Friends can be accidental, not intentional; they can be cliquey and closed off; and they may not be open to inviting new people in, and to me that’s where the issue lies.

    Hebrews 10:25 encourages people to “not neglect to meet together” and 1 Timothy 4:13 tells the church to be devoted to the public reading of scripture and to preaching and teaching. If you believe that the Bible is Holy-Spirit inspired, then you should believe God wants us to meet together and to be committed to public reading, preaching and teaching – not to see ourselves as exempt from it because it doesn’t fit with our primary learning styles. You say that if you want to go to a traditional service, “you best be an auditory learner”. But if I want to be a kinaesthetic do-er of the word (James 1:22), I need to follow through with what the rest of scripture tells us, which is to find intentional community that’s devoted to public reading and teaching of scripture. The things I “do” can support my church, my community and my city – and I can be more effective in doing them when working alongside a larger body.

    If the group of community you’re friends with does not neglect to meet together and read scripture publicly and then explain it, then you have a church.

    And one last point. This one’s from my husband. He noticed that your revelation was that you connect with God when you work – which we all agree is an incredible feeling. But what he thinks is that because you are so blessed to connect with God in this way every weekday, you really have something special to offer a church community on the weekend. There are so many people who only connect on Sundays, something we all agree is problematic. You are in a unique position to get to know and show a community of people how fun God can be in the every day. Even if you can’t remember the sermon afterwards, even if the music is only okay, you have a unique opportunity to know people intimately and show them what God shows you. This is bigger and more valuable than having a blog or writing great books. It’s biblical.

    My pastor Jeremy is currently writing a series called Why We Gather and he mentions this blog post in his series. You can read them here (http://www.jeremylittle.org) – when I read your name I thought that he might have misquoted or misunderstood your take on church gathering because from my understanding, Blue Like Jazz is a call to community. So here I am, responding to you and I hope you respond back! Let’s dialogue.

  • David Mason

    Hebrews 10:25 says to not neglect the meeting of the body, and the preceding verse says to stir one another to good deeds. We are also told to bear one another’s burdens, greet each other with love, worship and eat together, and pray for one another. Being a Christian is being a part of God’s family and being a member of Christ’s body. Walking with God is a group effort.

    • ceejay

      There are many many ways to meet with one another, and many group settings for Christians to spur one another to good deeds. Why do you assume that any believer not a member of a formal local church is isolating themselves?

      • David Mason

        I don’t think I assumed as much as you assume I assumed. What is your definition of a formal church?

      • Frank Turk

        Well, mostly because that’s what the New Testament says. That is actually what Heb 10 says. That’s what 1 John 3 and 4 says. That’s for 1 & 2 Corinthians says. That’s what the letter to Titus says.

        And that’s what Jesus says, btw. The utterly-vacant idea that you can be in the body of Christ by yourself and without accountability to others and without any boundary markers is an inept reading of History and the NT.

  • Ric Lippmann

    Donald, I wish I could meet you, and hang out with you. I love this. 21st century churchianity is so stuck in a rut, that everything revolves around people attending finely tuned and choreographed performances and motivational talk services…even the health of peoples connection to God is judged and assessed by how many services they attend, how much money they give, and how many “ministries” the are invested in.

    What a ridiculous unbiblical concept.

    Thankyou for your honest and transparent sharing.

    Never mind all the critique – most of them are, simply put, stuck in a rut!

    Of course there is a place for a community of believers to meet and fellowship and share and love and live, together. You never criticised that.

  • Peter Walters

    Donald while I do understand your point I hope you do find a place to plug in because I am sure you have gifts that would be a blessing to many in a local church and on the other end you would also benefit from the gifts of others.

  • jaaigner

    Singing in a corporate worship service isn’t about connecting to God personally, it’s about being the church and responding together to God’s self-revelation. The “worship industry,” which is big, big business, makes a huge amount of money off of persuading everyone that worship is about cuddling up in god’s soft, roomy lap and telling him how nice he is and how comfortable he makes you feel.

    There’s nothing wrong with being emotionally stirred during sung responses in church, but there’s nothing wrong with not, either. The point is the discipline of participating and responding together.

    Other than that, I’m with you. The stuff most churches call “worship” today is just bizarre.



    I can relate to this…. Although sometimes music can inspire a spiritual shift that facilitates worship, I feel closer to God walking in the woods or surfing most of the time. Well written thanks for sharing.

  • ShawnR

    God is reflected in all things. He is not in everything; and that is where we have to be careful.

    Like others have posted, I find I connect with God being out and in community and less so standing, sitting, standing, and raising my hand.

  • Edmond Long

    worship is about celebration, not intimacy. how you find intimacy with God is not a substitute for congregational, celebratory worship.

  • Taryn

    Although you can glorify God through your work it is important to remember that Jesus is who connects us to God. Saying that a specific place or thing gets us “closer to God” is a sign of idolization. Jesus is who gets up closest to God because He sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts and died so that we may receive forgiveness. I am however, very glad to hear that you can glorify Him through your work but don’t let that excuse reading your Bible, praying, and seeking His people through the church. If there currently isn’t a group at your church that can reach out to people through the work that you do, make one! You may find that there are other children of God that want to get involved and glorify Him in a similar way that you do.

    • c jones

      I’ve heard the same thing before: “ask what interests you have and create a small group around it”. The problem I’ve run into is the church is not always open to your interests – and in the experience I’m talking about, the interest was biblical. I’ve found based on multiple church experiences that church is mostly about the “happy, soft” sides of God, like love and forgiveness. I’m part of a martial arts ministry and when I’ve asked churches if they want to make it available to their congregation, the response has been everything from “no” to ignoring my question. This has astounded me because in each case I presented Scripture showing how the martial arts ministry is biblical.

      One of our instructors happens to be a pastor also and he has told me that he’s had some of his greatest struggles inside the church and greatest ministry outside of it.

      All that to say, I’ve found that the church is not always accepting of all ideas, personalities, interests, and God-given gifts – even when they are reflections of who God is and are, therefore, biblical. I’ve found it’s better to work outside the church when it comes to the gifts God has given me and the work he has called me to.

  • latebloomer

    I think perhaps I connect with God by being creative. Sometimes I sing to him privately. I don’t like singing corporately because I feel I’m putting on a show because they tell me to. God works in mysterious ways not in christian cliches. 😉

  • Reverand Disaffected

    I’ve just come across your posts, and to be honest, I don’t think you’re alone. Coming from across the pond, the reality of a church model based of 20-45 mins of sermon (depending on which denomination one attends) filled out to an hour and a half with singing, seems so pointless. I thought I was alone in being disaffected by current church practice. I’m glad that I’m not.

  • c jones

    Wow, it’s great to hear someone echo my feelings, too. For a long time I’ve been guilted into going to church because we’ve heard that’s what you’re suppossed to do.

    Recently, I’ve become so frustrated with going to church because it doesn’t feel natural for me to do. It feels forced and like swimming against the current. I finally decided that there’s no way God would put us on this earth to doing something that feels so obligatory and energy-draining. That was a revolutionary moment and I started thinking about what I’m drawn to naturally (what I’m interested in) and how I naturally and genuinely connect with God. I’ve found the answer is often being outside (walking the golf course near my house, especially) and being alone and quiet. So, no wonder I don’t like going to church – it’s inside, I’m not alone, and it’s not quiet lol!!!

    It’s been a challenging journey feeling comfortable with myself enough to go against the norm, not to mention trusting God as I at first felt like a blasphemer for choosing to not go to church, and getting others to understand my feelings. However, I honestly feel closer to God and happier without going attending the traditional, “song and sermon” church.

  • Tracy

    I can relate to this so much. I am struggling with church. i have no desire to go at all. I love a small group where we can sit around, pray for each other, study the bible and just nut out hard issues and daily issues around God. I like music but don’t connect to God that way. Also my health at the moment prevents me from committing to a lot of things so i love listening to people like Greg Boyd and N T Wright on line. I am fortunate also I have lots of Christians friends too. I do believe its important to meet together with other Christians, but how that looks I am sure can be varied. Also, with worship music, so much of it nowadays is more man focused that God focused. It’s become all about us and what God can do for us. I think it’s mean to be all about God and what we can do for Him and His Kingdom. :)

  • david W

    Brillant. True…. funny how when we are open we connect with God in unusual ways. For a long time the song that connected me with God was one by metallica (shows my generation/age). I find God far more marvelous and miraculous while in my orchard in awe of creations critters and life.

    PS didn’t know you blogged and loved Blue like Jazz. Know it is “old” but I reread it recently before giving to a co-worker. Still honest and powerful as always.

    • david W

      Re-reading the post (being a skim reader I tend to not always get it in the first pass). Find connecting to God in spaces that allow actions, meditations, quite, scriptures,art etc. Very fortunate to be on a team of very diverse people who year organise a public art sessions in our local cities gardens (world renown for their character). We set up each night after dark for a week leading up to easter and re-interpret the traditions of Stations of the Cross. By re-interpret taking the scriptures and applying it to our local New Zealand culture in our time. Even though I am on the team (we take responsibility for one station and help others as we can), so kind of get to see stuff before it goes on display, so loses some of its impact. Still its the highlight of my spiritual year. One or more stations bowels me over. We get a large range of installations. Ranging from interactive – candle lighting, carrying ice cubes, shooting paint guns, burying or throwing stones. Modern / fine art. Pottery, water movement and fountains, mechanical or moving art. This all done with great lighting and sound tracks.

      First time I attended 5 or more years ago it blew me away. Was like coming home for the first time. Something I would be comfortable promoting, being part of and inviting others to. Has opened up a whole new world, and it is great as my kids see me as being part of something bigger. Plus as the have aged they now get to help out.

      Without out this, I don’t know where I would be. I guess still wondering around feeling like a mis-fit and no doubt still have a large amount of baggage…

      PS photos which don’t do it justice can be found: http://www.stations.org.nz/about/images/

      • david W

        Just found some rather neat videos on the site as well. On a theological note, I find it interesting that the israelites were only called to the temple a couple of times a year, for feasts and celebration. Weekly or regular visits to the Synagogue were started once they went into exile.

  • Martin Rogerson

    I think that what many accept as the traditional model of church is facing more challenge that it ever has before, and people are wanting/feeling a need to try to do things differently. I don’t think it’s bad to try new things per se, however there are some essentials which I believe need to be carried on, because they are biblical.

    Over the years I myself have become jaded by meeting within a traditional church service, and have felt the pull to try different things. Over time, God has shaped my discontent and directed it, because asked him to do so. I told God I wasn’t happy, and that I did not know if my discontent was justified or not. There seemed to be so many problems: there was a radical change in sung worship, which I couldn’t understand; my church seemed to be full of hypocrites (which I counted myself a part of!); the preaching was a hit-or-miss with me; and others in the congregation did not seem friendly towards each other or outsiders. So there seemed to be many problems around me. I took to prayer about these issues, and it turned out that I was not alone in how I felt – I was surprised to see that our church leadership felt the same way about many of my concerns. But at the same time I had God telling me that I also had to change my attitude towards Him, other believers and myself.
    Consequently, I’m learning not to judge others or myself, repent of my sins while also allowing God to love me more, and having His grace come into my life in a more meaningful way.

    I am also learning to acknowledge that church hurts and we let each other down. And while that’s not okay and there is no perfect church, we DO still need each other, and sometimes have to stick at it beyond what we normally would at other things. It seems to me that it’s often only then that God jumps in and does something wonderful and unexpected. Because I think faith in Him is involved, and prayer through hard times. It shapes our characters as believers and can bring us closer together in unity.

    While I now also feel very much part of our congregation, I am now also in a new church plant in my local community. It is exciting, and has come within God’s good timing. It’s good to meet with a smaller, more local, intimate body of believers, who are eager to witness and get out there
    and use the faith we’ve been given to share Christ’s love with the world. But it’s definitely been a journey through hard times to get here, and the journey continues. We need to be there for each other and share the load in love. So let’s not give up on church, and see that it is actually a gift that God’s given us because He loves us and wants us to do well for His glory.

  • Erin B

    Wow, very encouraged by your courage in being honest about “church”. Someone recently asked me where I went to church and I explained that we were in a season of resting and not going anywhere. The sharp response she gave was, “I disagree with that.” Followed by “that’s a slippery slope”. I was shocked and hurt. (Later, I wondered… Slippery slope to where?- devil worship?!?).

    This person’s snap judgement confirmed what I feared other Christians would do- judge me, assume I was “back sliding”, assume my marriage was bad, etc., etc. This person knew nothing about me or my story- nothing about my relationship with Jesus. While I was hurt by this interaction, I was encouraged in two specific ways.

    1. God is crazy about me, not my church membership. He is my defender, not man.

    2. God is crazy about other people… Even the ones who don’t believe in Him, He made them and loves them and I get to love them too.

    I was convicted about the ways I have judged others on their own faith journeys. I am planning on saying sorry to some people I judged. Man was I sitting in the wrong seat!

    I think the “church”topic is a hot one for good reasons- change is coming. You are not alone in your feelings and experiences.

  • Ross Purdy

    I have not been to church since the mid 90’s. I have not missed it a whole lot either to be honest. When I did go, I enjoyed it but I knew something was wrong! After studying scripture I realized that what people were doing and calling church did not faintly resemble Scripture! Rather according to Frank Viola, it actually has most all of its roots in pagan worship practices (Pagan Christianity). I began my exodus and for the first 15 years my family participated in Home Church. I realized along with those I met with that we were just doing institutional church on a smaller scale and have since abandoned doing that as well. I have not looked back. I used to promote home church then but I have now come to understand that God is not completely frustrated by our ignorance in that He is quite able to use us in spite of our throwing objects in His way like institutional church (but He is frustrated). God knows how to work with us imperfect creatures and still manages to be powerful whether we are in man-made-New-Testament-contradicting institutions or not. And for some people, being in a “church” can help them grow, but only to a point and then they will hit a boxed ceiling beyond which they will not be able to blossom. They will need to break out of that box then in order to fully mature!

  • Kara Assid

    There are valid critiques being shared of the church, it’s un-spirituality and/or repetitive songs that don’t help us connect with God. We, people, are the church. We must ask OURSELVES how we are contributing to or ignoring these issues. We are the ones responsible!

  • Brian H

    I attend church because it makes my wife happy, and I do enjoy some of the sermons because they’re thought provoking…but I have to say that I dread the hymns. I don’t even like hearing them, much less singing along.

    Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert. Maybe it’s because the poor, innocent piano has just always been grating to my ears. Maybe it’s that I’m kind of a music snob to start with, and I’m more or less hearing the same song over and over. I just…can’t do hymns.

    I feel closest to God and most able to focus on prayer, scripture, etc. when I am either working on a project at home or enjoying the outdoors. It lets me clear my mind and somehow exertion just…seems to help. I relate to Thessalonians 4:11-12 quite a bit.

    I like seeing other people at church, and hearing a decent sermon, but it kind of ends there. At potluck, in the smaller study sessions…I just feel uncomfortable and tense and can’t focus on God at all.

  • owen

    A man proclaimed his great love and passion for math. He one day wanted to become a master mathematician and a teacher of math. However he decided to never attend his math classes or never wanted to practice math problems. He just didn’t feel like a mathematician when he was doing either of those things. He actually felt more like a mathematician when he was out fishing. Therefore he decided to fish more because that’s when he felt closer to math. Sure there might be some elements of math in fishing but fishing is primarily….fishing. Maybe this man is in fact not as passionate about math as he claims and in fact more passionate about fishing. Just a thought.

  • Brent Miller

    Don, we’ve been blessed by your writing and honesty. I went through a period of worshipping worship and I still get uptight if we are running behind on Sunday morning. My wife has always thought of the church as the Church. Her ideas on meeting were more from the heart with maybe a group of friends over dinner. Man, a lot of my fake walls came crashing in and still are and in the process I’ve pissed off lots of Christian friends, even pastors. As a family, we are growing closer to God, although we don’t make it to church every Sunday. It’s a battle to find a place where you feel comfortable. If I’m at a men’s Bible study and I say, “Hey guys, I’d like to be accountable to you for purity, I used to look at porn.” It would be nice to not face a ton of silence and then shallow conversation for the next few months.

    An older friend has come along side me, thank God, and reminded me that “meeting together” doesn’t mean cramming into a big church where everyone acts like everything is o.k. It’s more like a small group of people living together. We’re striving for that. Grace and peace, Brother.