“You cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself.”-Don Carson (Worship by the Book)
The question comes up pretty often, “What is worship?”. In Christian circles it’s kind of cliché but it’s an old question that is important for every generation to answer. The definition of the word worship looks like this: worship ■ noun 1 the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.-COED
or: the act of assigning worth.
The word itself comes from a combination of the words worth and ship. When we worship, we express our confession of the worth of someone. Worshiping is no other thing, by definition!
I believe worship has four basic parts. I call them the four “p’s” of worship. They are purpose, posture, performance, and proclamation. Let’s take a brief look at those.
Purpose-The purpose of worship is twofold. First of all, we have a purpose. In fact, we were created for an ultimate purpose. That is to worship. It is the pad answer to the ultimate purpose of man, to glorify God. Your value, if we can speak in those terms, is found in how well you worship. Of course I do not mean in your vocal skill or musical ability. I am saying this- what God values in you is how well you worship Him in all aspects of your life. How is your worship?
The next part of purpose has more to do with how we lead worship corporately. We are to worship on purpose. By that I mean that we should place a value on our worship, not that it has intrinsic value, but that it should be important to us. Our worship should be so valuable to us that we practice to do our best as we worship and plan to make clear our direction of worship.
Individual worship can be spontaneous and whimsical, corporate worship cannot. The church is not an accident. It is intentional. Jesus made the church on purpose and with a purpose. His Word is clear that we are to do some particular things when we meet together. They are teaching/preaching of the Word, sacraments of the Lords Supper and Baptism, prayer, fellowship of believers, and worship. Each one of these are vital and the absence of one negates the whole. If we meet and there is no fellowship, there is no church. If we meet and the Word is not taught, there is no church. The same goes for the Lords Supper or Baptism, and the same is true for worship. None of these are accidental or to be taken lightly. There is direction and structure, a time and place for each of these. We plan things to make sure these occur. We structure our service so that one of these is not neglected. That’s why we do a fellowship song and shake hands. That’s why periodically we do the Lords Supper. That’s why there is either teaching or preaching of God’s Word every time we meet. Everything that occurs in the church every Sunday is a part of a tradition that is meant to meet those requirements of having church. From the pastor shaking hands or giving a benediction, to the opening prayer, it is on purpose.
This tradition is loosley called liturgy. It’s a bad word in many small, non-denominational congregations, but it is still what we do. Our services may not be liturgical in the formal sense, as a Lutheran church may be with some of their higher church traditions, but it is liturgical none the less. We have an order of the service. That is liturgy. We celebrate Easter and Christmas, liturgy. We have a time for Scripture reading, which is once again liturgy. The pastor shakes hands, liturgy. We have tried, but we cannot escape it.
So I ask, should we try to escape liturgy? Is it liturgy that is bad or is it the worship of the liturgy? Should we make an effort to be disorganized? Or should we make sure our organization doesn’t become an idol? The last words of a dying church are, “We’ve never done it this way”, but the worst words of a sorry church are “it doesn’t matter how we do it”. We worship a holy God. It matters! Let’s worship as people made for a purpose, and let’s do it on purpose.
Posture-Posture is simply the position you place yourself before God. When we pray many times we get on our knees. This is a posture of humility before deity. Some have fallen prostrate, this is total humility. Some pray with their hands and arms stretched out and up, this is vulnerability and openness. We close our eyes, bow our heads, we have posture.
What I would like to say though is as worship leaders, your lives should have a posture that the congregation sees and follows. We should be humble. We should be servants. We should be holy. You see, what we sing should be present in our lives. If it is true that God is holy, Christ is King, and the Spirit is mystery, if it is true that grace is amazing, we should live like it. What good does it do to stand in front of the children of God and ask them to worship if they see us as proud, holier than thou, hypocrites? To do that would be a distraction to their worship, not a leading of it. Have a life-posture of worship, and then they will follow readily.
Performance-We perform. We understand that. It is not that we only or merely perform, but we lead by example. That example is excellence. You should, as a worship leader, do your best. You should practice. The thing we do on Sunday manifests how serious you take it Monday thru Saturday. Is this merely a fun gig and something to do, or is it your offering of worship, to a holy God, in front of His people? How would you perform if He were visible? He is just as much present when you waste time when you could be practicing as he is when you are performing on Sunday.
God does not expect the best musicians, but He does expect your best. That goes for everything, your whole life. It is not fake, it is performance. You see, a fake is someone who is letting on, covering up the fact that they have not practiced. A performer is someone who is exhibiting their hard work and commitment, along with their talent. Let’s exhibit our best. Let’s perform excellently.
Proclamation– We proclaim. Our worship is about Someone. He is Christ. We proclaim Him only. We sing of His work, His character, His worth. It is what we do as worship leaders. We point to Him. He is the only one worthy. Each lyric, each note, is all about taking the congregation to Him, to His throne.
Emotions are important, but our confessions are where are emotions have value. We say He is God, we adore Him. We say He is good, we love Him. We say He is awesome; we are in awe of Him. We say He is holy, we fear Him. Let’s keep our proclamation prioritized. Confession should lead to emotion, not the other way around. We are to lead in what we proclaim first. We are not emotional manipulators. We are not tear jerkers. Let’s tell them about God, Christ, the Trinity, His works, His person, and His glory. If we do that first, they will emote. They will be in awe. They will be fearful. They will be loving, humble, thankful, and they will worship. I have said true worship occurs when our emotions come into agreement with our confessions. Christ says it this way; we are to worship in spirit and in truth. Let’s proclaim Christ!
One more thing, we worship. Worship is a verb, not a noun. It is something we do. Be careful not to make it the thing you begin to assign worth to as a god. Worship is to God. We all have tastes, perspectives, and circumstances we have come from. We will be asked to place those things in their proper place. Don’t make them the thing either. It is not about that. It is not traditional vs contemporary. It is not worship vs preaching. It is not us against them. It is not about the way we used to do it.
Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God.-Don Carson (Worship by the Book)
Pray constantly. Worship wars have many casualties, but bad worship only has one…you.