Not About Worship

At a coffee meeting some time ago, I met with a young man who said his gifts and passions were to lead God’s people in worship. (The young man was not from my church by the way, so no guessing.) He went on to say others have told him he had “an anointing” for leading worship.

I like this guy. He is passionate. Eager. On fire. Likable. A ton of cool tattoos.

“That’s great,” I said. Then I leaned across the table and said, “Quick — give me ten attributes of God.”

He was stumped. My question came out of the blue. His eyes grew wide. He stammered a few words, and smiled. “I guess I can’t.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “Give me ten names of God and their meanings.”

Again, no dice.

“But the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. (Daniel 11:32b, NKJV).

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. (Isaiah 26:3, NKJV).

The young man had a teachable heart, and I went on to share one of my passionate beliefs with him: WORSHIP IS NOT ABOUT WORSHIP. WORSHIP IS ABOUT GOD. 

A “worship leader” who has not made God the focus of his/her studies is like a doctor who hasn’t studied anatomy or a mechanic who doesn’t know a catalytic converter from a flux capacitor. Master the craft of music, yes. Master the craft of assembling and leading teams, and putting together a service that flows, of course. But DO NOT FAIL to devote your heart to the knowledge of God.

We will worship with our hearts, and with our understanding also. In spirit AND truth.

Dear Anointed Worship Leader: put muscle on your anointing by deep meditation and study of the names of God, the attributes of God, and the Triune Nature of God as revealed in Scripture. Please saturate your MIND and SPIRIT in a God who has graciously revealed himself on the pages of Scripture.

You are a specialist in worship; great. Now be a specialist in God. Lead God’s people into a transcendent vision of a God bigger than your current emotional state. A God whose name is exalted above the heavens. Do not expect a maturing congregation to be excited about cliches and platitudes, even if the music behind them is good. You can tell us to sit, stand, kneel, clap our hands, celebrate, and dance, but if you have not painted on the canvas of our minds a picture of a God worth dancing over, you have only succeeded in cajoling us over the mechanics of worship, while ignoring the true subject of worship, our Glorious God.

Tozer was right: what comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

What thrills the heart is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit comprehended in their multifaceted dimensions.

  • Does the worship song declare that God is GOOD? Amen! What is the goodness of God? What does that mean? (Hint: in theology it is called BENEVOLENCE, and has a rich depth of meaning… can you lead us into that?)
  • Does the worship song declare a God who is HOLY? Amen! What is the holiness of God? What about MORAL HOLINESS? MAJESTIC HOLINESS (to use Erickson’s terms)?
  • Does the worship song call us to CONFESSION? Amen! Why? What is the biblical basis of it? What is its effect? What next?

Aren’t we supposed to love God, not only with our whole heart and body and spirit, but also with our whole MIND? When Martin Luther had the church sing, “Lord Tsabaoth his name / from age to age the same / and he must win the battle,” would that have meaning to you? Are we substituting subjective experience, and emotional highs, and “passion” for the deep things of God? I hope not. I’m all for a heartfelt response to God. Let’s just make sure it’s a response to DEEP TRUTH about God founded on Scripture. Otherwise, it risks being just manipulation.

My church is blessed to be worshipping with a worship pastor (the fantastic Tim Hawkins) and a great leadership team eager to know and grow in the knowledge of God. Teachable. Diligent in their own growth. Hungering and thirsting to grasp God in his riches and depths. I am so blessed to be worshipping with these young leaders, and our church is blessed because of them.

Let’s remember the heart of worship: worship isn’t about worship. It’s about God.

What are some of the most precious names and attributes of God to you? What is Scripture saying to you lately about who God is? I’d love to read your comment…


26 thoughts on “Not About Worship

  1. Bill – you are so on the mark – Bullseye! What a privilege to speak into this man’s life. May I share this with my worship team and church?


    • It is indeed a privilege Jeff, as it has been an honor to have worked alongside you for many years. And yes, please share away!

  2. Bill, could you hear me cheering all the way from South Dakota? Of the zillion things you taught me about God, life, and ministry, this may be the one I share the most.
    “Oh magnify the LORD with me. Let us exalt his name together.” (Ps. 34.3)
    Favorite name of God? Maybe Yahweh Tsidkenu, the LORD our RIghteousness.
    Thanks for consistently making the main thing (or in this case the main One) the main thing.

    • John, nothing but wonderful memories of life and ministry together. Jehovah Tsidkenu — if only the Church could grasp that one in ever-greater depth. Thanks buddy.

  3. I remember you putting me on the spot some time ago in class. I must say it was a moment I will remember. I was intimidated by you; you were my prof and a man I respected so much. But as you did with this young man, you used the moment to teach me. You helped me realize the strength that comes with arming yourself with the word of God. I am still learning how to surrender my old habits (they do die hard) but I walk with more confidence because you took the time to help me understand how to walk in intimacy with the very word I am going to preach. I am sure this young man will also benefit from your teaching, as will all who read this blog. I don’t know all of God’s names but the one that has meant the most in my life is, Jehovah Rohi, He is my Shepherd.

    • Andrew, if I ever put you on the spot (I ain’t sayin’ yes and I ain’t sayin’ no) it is only because I believe in you big time! Jehovah Rohi… what a comfort to worship God in that name!

  4. Oh Bill! how on the mark you are! Worship music has distressed me for so long due to the musical manipulation of emotions that greets me in whatever church I’ve attended! It’s like Christian daycare in there, as they bring forth the Christian superstar music to satisfy the dumbed down masses with shallow ‘me and my boyfriend Jesus’ love songs!

    Oh that they could purge (for the most part) the word “I” from the song lyrics!!

    I was a part of the music machine for so long, but having left, I’ve realized how flawed a system we’ve created. We rely on the preacher to read the Bible for us, then rely on the music leader to enthuse a level of passion for God in us. So reliant on external input, there is no room left for actual genuine personal encounters with the living God.

    Oh that God would be worshipped, rather than emotions evoked by well-written melodies.

    And don’t get me started on the commercialization of worship music – the prostituting of what should be an intimate moment between the worshipper and worshipped. Pretty people on stage, only ever showing us their chins and throats – “You too can have this rapturous moment, for only $9.99!” … Hillsong comes to mind 😦

    • Shane… I am with you, especially on your passion to get beyond “me and my boyfriend Jesus’ love songs.” (lol) I can’t go with you on the specific Hillsong reference… a ministry I happen to respect in many ways. There is a problem of “coolness” and “beautiful people” to be concerned about as well, so amen to that. Eloquently stated. Thanks.

  5. That was a very specific message for that young man and I can see a great general message for all young Christians. Thank you for sharing that moment. As a father of three boys, the eldest beginning college, I believe your message speaks to an issue I’ve been trying to communicate with them for a while now. I hope you don’t mind me passing this along. Again, Thank you.

  6. I have even known Pastors who methodically teach people about God but they don’t know Him themselves! So sad.
    In this case, I believe that if the worship leader truly experiences an intimate relationship with his Jehovah of many names, then he can’t help but spill out his own love and adornment for his Lord. People will defintely see Christ in him and be drawn to the genuineness of his efforts of leading people in worship “alongside” of him. When one truly loves someone, he makes every effort to know as much as possible about him. His passion is for that other person, and it shows. I pray that I can grow into being that person who is passionately in love with Jesus!

  7. I am starting a short (because I’m a “fill-in” preacher”) series on the Attributes of God for this very reason! I’m starting tomorrow by speaking on God being “Triune”. Fun topic. I’m getting a lot of help from Tozer’s “Knowledge of the Holy”. People MUST know who they are worshiping, praying to, and serving.
    BTW-a short part of my sermon will address worshiping “in the Spirit” and whether or not that spirit is addressing sin. The Holy Spirit is of the same mind as the Father and Son. He’s not “loosy goosy”.

  8. Bill, I was also cheering!! Love Tim’s leadership with worship. My God is Jehovah – jireh as He has always provided what we NEED and Jehovah-rapha because there has been much healing….both physical and emotional.

    • The Lord will Provide… makes me feel secure and comforted every time. The Lord who Heals… Thank God. To know him is to worship, so thanks for these kathleen.

  9. Somehow I haven’t heard the Hebrew names enough to memorize them; however: Strength, Rock. Shield, I Am, exceeding great Reward, Helper, with/in the midst of/ us, King of kings, Lord of lords, Almighty… “Immortal, invisible, God only wise….”

    • Janet, I love your list of titles and attributes of God. Powerful and comforting. The way I learned the Heb names of God (along with his titles and attributes) was to put them on my prayer list. I made them the topic of my worship, the first part of the Lord’s Prayer (Hallowed be thy name).

  10. Jahovah-Jireh is one that I have clung to. God who provides. Just whispering this sometimes floods my body with peace. When I first became a believer I had so much passion I thought I might explode. I wanted to know everything about God.What I am learning is truly knowing WHO God is is what keeps me going. Why do I cling to Jahova-Jireh? Because I sought to know if God was really, God who provides and quess what He is who He says He is and it cemented into my heart. Sadly though this blog has made me see that I have put the passion of seeking God and knowing the God of the Bible on the back burner. Too busy trying be a godly wife and mother. I think I was reading my priority list upside down. So I thank you!

    • I love that God is a faithful provider. And what a great way of putting it… that the pursuit of God is on the back burner and your priority list is upside down… gives me an idea for my sermon! Thank you.

  11. I forwarded this one to several folks. Hey, at one point (or more) you put a list of the names of God up in a service … is there a good place online to go to get a list … Hebrew and English meaning?

  12. One of the coolest things I learned recently is that each Hebrew letter actually has a meaning and the “hidden” meaning behind the name of God, YHWH is “Behold the Hand, Behold the Nail.” Jesus was the Lamb Slain from the foundation of the world. God is soooo amazing!

  13. Not sure how I feel about this article – I would have failed the test. I wonder if Jesus gave the Disciples a test?

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