There is something so beautiful about being totally abandoned while worshiping Jesus. I see it in worship leaders like Jenn Johnson of Bethel Music and hear it in the singing voices of children mingled with their parents during Sunday worship services. It’s enough to bring me to tears of joy. And when you add in the Lord’s loving response to our praise, it’s so precious it melts my heart.
I experience this encounter and freedom every time I worship Him in sign language. I believe it is the Holy Spirit who inspires us into this new bold movement of praise and worship, drawing our hands and our hearts upward.
But even for me who grew up using sign language, it was hard to push past the fear and judgements that came up in my mind. I’ve often felt self conscious or unsure when I felt the Holy Spirit inviting me to add sign language to my singing voice at church.
As I explored what was keeping me and others back, I discovered 5 reasons that held back my worship in sign language. Now that I’m on the other side of them, I want to help you get past them too!
1. I don’t know the signs and am afraid of signing the wrong thing
This is a reasonable fear, and yet one that is easy to begin dismantling. One great thing about worshiping in Sign is that you can start on your own. With the abundance of free resources online, and sign language worship videos on youTube you can probably find multiple versions of a song you love. It does take time, and research.
However, you definitely want to make sure your source is good. Slight modifications to signs can turn a word into a offensive sign. One example is the sign for power, which can be signed several ways but was unfortunately transformed into a word that should not be associated with Jesus by a youth group ministry in a video on youTube.
2. I am confused about if I should sign ASL (American Sign Language) or word for word (PSE/Signed English).
This totally depends on who you’re signing for and your level of sign language. If you are getting started with learning or teaching sign language worship (to all my youth group leaders out there) you can feel free to sign word for word – but not every word, especially if you are learning to sign unto the Lord and not an audience.
If you are learning to be able to translate or sign the song for a deaf person then first you should ask them what they prefer. Depending on the person they may want to see ASL or Signed English. The choice should be theirs, so ask them. It could honestly go either way!
My mom has been deaf since birth and prefers sign language worship that closely matches the lyrics. I showed her videos on my Worship In Sign youTube channel (which are mostly signed english) and videos from other ministries who sign mostly ASL. She preferred signed english because they matched the closed captions, and it was confusing for her to reconcile the signed concepts and the lyrics.
A fun story…I used to sign my church’s worship services which was shown live on the internet. My mom began to watch from home and surprised me with her rendition of “Break Every Chain’s – Power in the name of Jesus”. #Priceless
3. I can’t keep up with all the words or I’m confused about how to sign the concepts in the song
I’ve run into this problem many times, especially with quick paced choruses and poetic songs which talk about concepts that are difficult to understand even for the hearing person. Here’s how I would tackle each of these challenges.
For songs with quick choruses:
- Learn the song and practice your signs so that you become more fluid
- Try to discover ways to group your signs to communicate with less words.
The worship song “Taste and see that the Lord is good” is a great song to master this challenge.
For songs with concepts the best advice I can give is:
- Ask the Lord for revelation on the song
- Meditate on the concepts and decide what they mean to you
- Write that down and learn the signs to communicate them
- Begin to blend the lyrics with the signs you chose to communicate the concepts
- Listen to the song over, and over signing your choices until they flow well with the song
Some examples that have challenged me are: I still drip with the blood of the Lamb, I love the fragrance of Your name, I’m thirsty but my soul can’t be quenched,
Whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over head. * After praying to the Lord, I got inspiration about how to tackle this lyric from Jenn Johnson and Bethel Music’s beautiful worship song “In Over My Head”. You can find it on my Worship in Sign youTube channel here.
4. Is it okay to sign when there’s no deaf people at my church?
Absolutely, yes! This is one that I had to challenge myself with because the Lord gave me the inspiration to sign worship not only to make the songs accessible to the deaf but to worship Him. It was an invitation for my heart to enter into boldness and obedience and through that door He brought great joy and encounter to my life. So don’t worry if there’s no deaf people. You go right on learning to worship in sign. Perhaps He is preparing the soil of your life and your church to be a place where the deaf will come in the future. If you step out now, you’ll be better prepared then.
5. I’m shy and don’t want to be a distraction.
I understand this is a big challenge for people, even myself. The best advice I can give is focus on Jesus. Worship is not about the people around you, although you don’t want to draw focus to yourself. That being said, there is great freedom in worship and in the example of David, worship an audience of One. Each of us has a personal style of worship.It’s the blending of them all that makes corporate worship so powerfully beautiful.
So just get started!!! If you feel inspired by the Holy Spirit to sign that’s all the permission you need. Be bold and give the King what He wants, which is your heart. I promise you that I have heard many testimonies of people being blessed by watching others worship in sign at church. I am sure that as you learn and grow your worship will bless those around you too. 🙂
Have you been inspired to worship in sign? If so, please share your story in the comments below so we can all be encouraged together!
xoxo Sara Jane