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…

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In Praise of Predictability

“LITURGY”
by C.S. LEWIS

“Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do those things best–if you like it, it ‘works’ best–when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice… The perfect church service would be the one we were most unaware of; our attention would have been on God….

“But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is different from worshipping…

“A worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant…

“Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put.”

[For the entire essay, click here and then click on p. 80]

Yesterday’s video brings up this issue for me. Lewis’s dancing analogy nails it. As long as I’m counting steps, I’m more focused on footwork than on dancing.

A good worship service is a delicate dance between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Too much “novelty,” as Lewis terms it, and I’m out. I get tired of guessing the tune, or feeling my way into the unfamiliar arrangement. I give up, and stand there, marking time till it’s over.

On the other hand, too little change, and you wind up like the Orthodox church.  Jonathan commented on the video below that their liturgy hasn’t changed in a millennium and a half. There is some beauty in that, but it becomes inaccessible to the masses. If you were a missionary in South America, you wouldn’t use the Greek Orthodox liturgy. You would translate it into forms and expressions relevant to your culture.  So in North America.

Worship expression must change as time goes on. I’ll grant that sometimes that change must be rapid–a true paradigm shift–as in a German-speaking church in a neighborhood that has transitioned to Spanish-speaking.  That situation calls for revolution.

But, in most cases, evolution will suffice. Add a new song. Introduce a variant element: baptism, child dedication, artwork, drama, dance, Lord’s supper… but don’t overdo it.  Keep returning to the bread and butter of good, familiar singing and good preaching… then go home.

Even the early church used the predicable pattern of synagogue worship. Singing. Scripture. Prayer. Offerings. Sermon.

There is something to be said for the predictable pattern of evangelical worship today. Yes, it makes for great parody, as the video demonstrates. But when done well, it leads us on a journey through praise, confession, celebration, and adoration. It laminates emotion to doctrine. Its predictability and its familiarity enable me to participate rather than spectate. I become worship’s performer to the degree I can enter in.  I don’t have to stutter step my way through worship. I know the songs. I know the liturgy. It’s all good.

So, how does that go?  “Opening song… this is the opening song…. big drums…”

And remember: make it contemporvant.