Expanding Worship – Head & Heart

I’m running behind with my blog posts, but I thought this week I’d post daily from a sermon I gave on 8 July.  You can read my general summary of the sermon here.  In my sermon I proposed that much more of our public worship services are subjective than we often want to admit.  We worship each week with several facets of our worship in tension between us. The humility to not insist upon “our way” demonstrates an admirable spiritual trait.  Nonetheless, it’s healthy to discuss these tensions.  So here’s #1.


Worship must be thoughtful and intentional. There’s no such thing as “accidental” worship.  Singing without noticing the words. Participating in the Lord’s Supper as a snack. Sleeping through a prayer.  None of these things are worship, even if the correct actions have been taken.

Corporate worship must also make sense to those around us, as well as to God, if it’s to be beneficial. 1 Corinthians 14 describes how including tongue speaking in public worship is counter productive because worship must be intelligible to be meaningful. “Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? you will just be speaking into the air.” v9 (tNIV)

The final verse in chapter 14 (v40) reads “But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”  This is a banner verse for all those oriented toward structure and organisation.  Everything should be planned, efficient, meaningful and logical.  These people seek to eliminate distractions in order to focus their thoughts on their relationship with God.

On the other hand worship without emotional content is equally lacking.  Does it make sense to sing about the Joy of the Lord without feeling joyful?  Can we offer prayers of thanksgiving without feeling thankful? Can we bring our hurts to God without feeling hurt?  Is the entire book of Psalms unemotional?  The fundamental nature of worship is that it arises from the overflow of our hearts toward God.

Paul seems to describe his expectation of a worship service (or regular gathering of the church, since they may not have invented “worship services” yet) in 1 Cor 14:26 “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” If everyone brought something to the service, it seems that they had considerably less planning than we do and a lot more spontaneity.  They were also considerably smaller churches!

I definitely read this verse as describing a heart lead worship experience.  Have you written a hymn this week?  Have you received a revelation as you went about your life?  Has God spoken to you through his word?  Then come to church, share your experience, and encourage the body.

People who express emotions in church will sometimes cause distraction while raising hands or saying “Amen”, so you can see how this can create conflict with those seeking to eliminate distractions.  In my experience, the church quickly becomes accustomed to some people raising hands and it no longer distracts.

I’m calling this series of posts “Enlarging Worship” as I don’t really intend to set these contrasts against each other.  Rather, I hope that by highlighting the tension we can make space in our worship to include both and understand the people around us.  For instance, isn’t it possible to schedule spontaneity by allowing 10 minutes for people to share a Scripture or request a song?  After all, we’ve done this for years when we offer the invitation not knowing if anyone or 5 people will respond and ignorant of what their request will involve.

I understand that for some this approach unacceptably dilutes both the Head and the Heart aspects of worship.  Compromise by its nature dilutes the extremes. However, since God seems to engage both our heads and hearts it only seems appropriate to worship Him with both.

  • Most churches seem to sit considerably closer to one end of the spectrum. How have you seen churches stretch to engage both Head & Heart of worshipers?
  • Are you more of a Head or a Heart person? How do different worship environments affect you?


  1. Kim

    I’m definitely in favor of “heart” worship. I have found the most meaningful worship experiences to be emotional ones. I have been blessed to be a part of a number of worship times at youth rallies of hundreds or thousands of teens and young adults where the songs and prayers were specifically chosen to compliment the message and all leaders/speakers were well-trained and experienced, certainly a powerful experience for me and the hundreds of other participants. But all that planning isn’t necessary for heartfelt, meaningful worship. I’ll give 4 examples.
    1. Standing on the shore of a lake witnessing a baptism and then hearing verses and songs spontaneously spoken and sung by those close family and friends of the new brother in Christ.
    2. Sitting in a hospital waiting room with a dear friend whose father is in the middle of heart surgery and instead of feeling fear and anxiety having overwhelming peace because of the prayers and songs lifted up by his church family waiting with him.
    3. Worshiping in a small house church where communion was taken at the end of service and any member is free to stand and offer scripture or lessons that impacted them this week.
    4. Hearing an elder pray for a struggling family during service and noticing his voice catch because he’s fighting hold back tears betraying the deep love and concern he has for this family and the pain they are experiencing.

    Worship can involve the head planning for weeks or months and it can equally be the Holy Spirit guiding you in the moment, but it should always be from the heart.

    One more thing, the church is often described as a family. Worship is most meaningful to me when it involves and encourages ALL members of the family, including the women and children.

    • ozziepete

      Kim, thanks for dropping by and sharing your experiences. With regular worship services it’s easy (some might say necessary) to emphasise routine because it’s easily reproducible and controllable. Sometimes that planning creates space for powerful emotional responses, other times spontaneous worship moves us in a way that scripted worship can’t.
      The risk the “heart” end of the spectrum carries is that we totally focus on what feels meaningful and best for us and lose sight of the fact that worship must be meaningful to God. I believe the best worship services find ways for these two to complement each other rather than compete.

      • Kim

        I can see where worship controlled by the head and not felt by the heart is not pleasing to God. However, I’m having a hard time thinking of a scenario where heartfelt worship is not pleasing to God.

      • ozziepete

        Good point. I guess in private worship you’d be correct. In congregational worship an “anything goes as long as you feel close to God” attitude can become chaotic. As i understand Paul’s concerns about tongue-speaking in 1 Cor. 14 that’s his main complaint. He says it’s okay to speak in tongues at home, but when worshiping together there’s a need to be orderly.

        Note how Paul’s head restrains his heart in corporate worship in these verses:

        18 “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

        Also in v28 regarding tongue-speaking “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.”

        I hope that’s helpful. 🙂

  2. Nella

    I get more out of worship when I have an emotional connection to what is going on around me. I realize that chaos in worship benefits no one but when worship feels more like a business meeting and less like a heart driven affair…(right or wrong) I lose my passion. It is way too easy to just go through the motions when your head is calling the shots and not your heart.. We need a healthy balance in order to keep the focus on God. Also when we become so rule driven in worship, especially in regards to women and children, that we lose sight of what worshiping from the heart really means… I think it’s because we’ve allowed that fear of chaos, in some way, to keep us from embracing the Spirit…

    • ozziepete

      Nella, thanks for taking the time to comment. I think you capture well the extremes of chaos and business meeting. I would be careful about equating the Holy Spirit with the more emotional worship experiences (after all, writing the Bible is a pretty intellectual project) but I agree that we should not allow fear of extremes to prevent us moving toward a middle ground, 🙂

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