Among topics for debate & discussion in the Church (the big one, not just the one within the four walls we occupy on Sunday morning), worship tends to be one of the most popular. Though research suggests that the Worship Wars are behind us, it’s still a discussion that seems to engage both emotionally and intellectually. But the details that tend to saturate the coffee shop conversations and deacon board discussions are, in my opinion, secondary to the heart of what worship truly is and is not.
Whether the drums are too loud or the lights too low is insignificant if the intended core and substance of genuine worship is absent. Connection with God is embraced not through the physical mechanics of a praise band or the artistic concept of a stage design. It’s experienced internally – which is, of course, difficult to accurately measure. And therein lies the problem.
It’s much easier to analyze data when it’s numeric and quantifiable. Unfortunately, matters of faith – and, in this case, worship – are nearly impossible to chart. That being the case, some may conclude that such an issue renders belaboring the pursuit of genuine worship a lost cause. I’m of the opinion that this makes it all the more important to continually stress and affirm the foundational principles of true, genuine, unrelenting worship.
Which is why I’ve decided to try my hand at articulating a few of those principles. I confess – as a Pastor of Worship Arts, some of my thoughts may come across as a bit more pointed or tendentious. I say that, not to apologize – but simply to forewarn. All that being said, I offer you my take on what I consider to be just a few of the foundational building blocks of understanding and embracing what it means to genuinely worship.
1. It’s not about us.
Many would agree with this statement at its face value. Of course it isn’t about us – it’s about God. But while it’s easy to verbally rattle off the Sunday school answer, it’s another thing entirely to proclaim it in spirit and in truth.
A survey study from the Barna Group shows that nearly 50% of church-goers perceive worship as an experience of personal benefit – this as opposed to connecting with God or experiencing His presence. If that doesn’t throw up a red flag, then I have bad news for you – you’re missing the point. Far too many attend church with the intent to receive something, or to have their needs met. The scary truth is that most of those individuals have no idea that they’ve fallen into that perceptual pattern. It can happen so easily if we’re not intentionally on guard against it.
Discussion of worship isn’t sparse in God’s Word. On the contrary, Scripture is rich with poignant descriptions and examples of what genuine worship looks like, and why we’re called to it in the first place.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name. Not only is this charge found twice in the Psalms (Psalm 29:2 & Psalm 96:8), but we also find it in 1 Chronicles 16:29. Our pursuit of connection with God is His right. He deserves it. He is worthy of it. Worship is our response to His pursuit of us. The ultimate price paid on the cross – the living, breathing truth of the Gospel – has always been about God’s pursuit of His people.
2. It’s our responsibility.
Your Worship Pastors can’t do it for you. The very nature of worship – your connection with God – inherently prevents them from being able to do so. Sure, plenty of thought and preparation goes into creating an environment that invites you into a worship experience. But the act of experiencing it rests on you. We can fill the pool – but we can’t swim for you.
John 4:19 describes it simply and beautifully. We love Him because He first loved us. We have been loved, therefore we respond with love. Love is not something that can be delegated to someone else. Each of us is individually loved by God -absolutely and unrelentingly. Our reciprocal love is our individual responsibility. God loved you, and now it’s your turn to respond with complete surrender.
And there’s good news. The more you demonstrate your love for Him, the more He expresses His love for you. We then respond again. I hope you’re picking up on the significance of that cycle.
3. It’s bigger than Sunday.
You’ve heard it before – worship is a lifestyle. And though some may believe that the horse is dead, I’m going to keep on kicking it.
Yes, worship is experienced on Sunday morning. Corporate worship is a Biblical command, as seen in Hebrews 10:24-25. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The expression and experience of worship is meant to saturate all of life. As one pastor put it, “the key to praising Christ is prizing Christ.” In Philippians 1:20-21, Paul declares that his expectation was to magnify Christ – in life and in death. We magnify Christ in life by counting Him to be more gain than anything the world could offer.
offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.
offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.
We can also turn to Romans 12:1-2, where Paul literally describes our lives as offerings. You and I are charged to offer up our lives – not just 2 hours on Sunday – as sacrifices of worship. Paul goes on in verse 2 to explain just how we are to offer up such a sacrifice – by the constant renewing of our minds. You and I are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds in Christ. And this transformation is not isolated to a single event or experience. It is present-tense, on-going, and continual growth. Every moment of our lives can – and should – be a part of that transformation.
Look at Colossians 3:23-24. This passage doesn’t single out specific tasks. It doesn’t exclusively assert that corporate worship is the only place for worship. There is no qualifier to designate moments of our lives – the monotonous daily grind – as worship. We are to approach (and offer up) every moving part of this life as an opportunity to magnify Christ – to prize Him above all things. This is when the ever-elusive “worship lifestyle” begins to take shape.
There you have it – just a few of my thoughts on worship. And while I do consider myself to be somewhat of a professional on the matter, my identification as human outranks my title as a Worship Pastor. There is plenty more to be shared & discussed on the topic than I could fit on this page, so please – add to the conversation! Comment with your thoughts. I would love to dialogue with you.
The internet could certainly use a few more Christ-centric conversations these days.