There’s probably a gazillion different articles, blogs, definitions, sermons, books, tracts, etc. on paper and on the web related to the topic of worship. This article is my attempt to distill the discussion to the old and ever reliable 3 points.
This post summarises the thoughts on worship I expressed over the course a recent sermon series.
Worship is All About God
At its very core worship must be God-centred. Logically, a worship service that doesn’t involve God should adopt a different name. We worship God simply because of who He his. When we reflect on his grandeur, holiness, compassion, justice, grace, love… we can either respond in fear or worship. Christians choose to respond in worship.
We also worship God for numerous other reasons including thankfulness, and at the other extreme lament. A quick survey of Psalms demonstrates both the God focus and the diversity of motives. On one hand we thank God for his intervention in our lives, and on the other we seek his presence. Both extremes can lead to worship and although they arise from our experiences, they can still maintain a God focus.
Worship is Also About Me
In our consumer culture there’s a risk to highlighting this point, but notice that I didn’t say “it’s ALL about me”. (Click HERE for a lighthearted example of the risk.) In musical terms when the music and lyrics don’t match we experience dissonance. For instance, the song “He Bore It All” (#351 in Songs of Faith & Praise) contains the bounciest rendition of the phrase “My precious Saviour suffered pain and agony” that I can imagine. While I rejoice at Christ’s sacrifice for my forgiveness, I don’t rejoice at his suffering. That dissonance makes it hard to worship because I can’t decide what’s an appropriate thought to have as I sing.
Worship dissonance can equally arise from songs with obscure words, Easter decorations in a lament service, communion commentary that clashes with the sermon, a young preacher using illustrations older members don’t understand, or styles of music that are foreign to particular segments of the congregation. Sometimes these can clashes can be corrected, but in other instances they just reflect the diversity of the church.
The point of discussing dissonance is to say that if any individual perpetually fails to find meaning with the worship forms of the church, it’s hard to worship. If singing hymns only reminds someone of school choir and the style doesn’t sound celebratory to them, then is it possible for them to truly express their hearts to God in song? If contemporary songs just sound repetitive and entertaining to someone else then is it possible for them to express their hearts to God in song?
If the prayers led during each worship service are predominantly formulaic, the task of worship may have been observed, but did it really bring people closer to God? It’s true that many church rituals, such as the Lord’s Supper, are an acquired taste for many newcomers as they learn to find significance in these worship elements. However churches need to watch that they don’t become too rigid in their worship forms and thus exclude some people from worship.
In order to offer God meaningful worship the forms we use must allow people to express their hearts or else it becomes an empty ritual.
Worship is Also About Others
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 contains all three of these elements. He is obviously approaching God and he praises God profusely. The prayer clearly expresses his heart. He’s not just reciting a formula. Finally, he prays on behalf of the believers in Ephesus.
Other ways we involve others in our corporate worship obviously include the various moments of teaching (sermon, Lord’s Supper). Also, we generally select particular Scripture readings based upon the response we’re seeking from the congregation. Then we’re reminded in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 that we speak to each other through singing while still offering our songs to God.
Whenever the corporate worship of the church veers too far toward one of these poles our worship loses its full significance. Yes, it’s possible for our times of assembled worship to be too God focused neglecting the hearts of those worshiping. It’s definitely possible for us to view times of worship only through my needs, my feelings, and my thoughts. In those moments we demand God to respond to our wishes and we overlook the needs of those around us. At other times we can also get so caught up in the emotions and preferences of people that we forget to consider what’s meaningful worship in God’s eyes. Holistic worship recognises these tensions and works to include each person. It’s a challenging task.
- Do you agree with the premise that the church’s assembled worship should consider each of these people/groups?
- Do you think one of these is easier to corrupt than the others?
- What forms of congregational worship best allow you to express your heart to God?