If I had a dollar for every time that question has been asked, I imagine I would be a very wealthy man. The truth is, I still ask that question regarding the congregation that God has called and allowed me to be a part. I’ll still working on it. For nearly thirteen years, every Sunday morning and again on Sunday evening I have stood before a group of many of the same brothers and sisters in Christ and “led in worship.” Yet, when one really ponders what that means, I am concerned that we have allowed culture to form and define our roles and define what worship is and not Scriptural truth. So, what is the Scriptural truth about worship?
God initiates worship. We do not conjure up a magic formula and cast others under its spell. Biblical worship starts with God. He calls men to Himself, He reveals Himself, there is no human manipulation involved whatsoever. If that is true, then what is the role that humanity plays in worship? Our role is that of an obedient response to the His revealed nature and character. I am concerned that in our feeble attempts to “lead” at times that we do more to mask the glory of God than allow God to reveal it. God reveals Himself in a myriad of ways and part of understanding worship is learning to see how God reveals Himself. [Since this is not the format for an extensive discussion of how, allow me to share one. This brief discussion will only touch on the part of worship in which music is a part, for worship is much more than just the music.]
God’s nature and character is pure and perfect, holy and awesome. Beauty, excellence, purity reflect aspects of who God is. We are commanded to focus on such things: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” [Phil. 4:8 NIV] Those things around us in God’s creation reflect His power and greatness, as even the richness of the complexities of all living things reflect His wisdom, precision, and care. All these things should point us toward His majesty and glory to the point that we are overwhelmed in awe for what He has done and who He is.
If we take the model of excellence from God’s own creation, those things we do in worship should reflect the same degree of quality as well. Hastily thrown together worship services done with little thought, poorly practiced pieces to be presented by a choir or praise team fail to compare to a true sacrifice of praise, holy and spotless before the Father. God takes the initiative, but our response needs to be one that reflects who He is for He alone is worthy. That which we offer may never reach perfection, but it should always be the best that we might offer, not to put the focus on the sacrifice, but on Him for whom the sacrifice is given. There must be excellence in the preparation and excellence in the carrying out of that planned.
[Perfection for perfection’s sake is not the goal or should become the focus, but teaching those involved in the worship ministry to continually offer their best must be a given. When we relish perfection for perfection’s sake, the focus becomes the product of our own efforts and only glorifies those offering. But in working toward perfection as a humble offering to Almighty God, we come to realize that we can do no less and He deserves it fully. I am not talking about a particular style, but the presentation of whatever music is being used in the service.]
So, how do we teach our congregations to worship? First, we must understand biblical worship and practice it ourselves. Paul continues the instruction seen earlier with how to direct our thinking in Philippians 4:8 with how to act: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” [Phil. 4:9] There is a never ending sense of sincere mentoring in the mind of the Apostle which can be applied to those that lead worship as well. As we hone our own skills in offering the best sacrifice of praise possible, we take those with us to a deeper level of worship as well as they follow the example that has been set. Those that work with us must be taught the biblical content of worship and saturated with examples of how to apply what has been taught.
The congregation becomes a part of the learning and growing through sharing the biblical content, seeing it lived out in those leading and by giving them the opportunity to participate in the sacrificial gift of worship as well. Just as healthy eating habits are cultivated, so healthy worship habits are developed; they are both taught and caught. The temptation to just throw sugar sticks at a congregation to keep a few happy fails in the responsibility to reflect the fuller nature and character of the God we serve.
Unfortunately, some have mistakenly use the worship service more as a music appreciation class than a worship service and have confused some styles of music with quality of music and even worship itself. Some focus polished showmanship on the pleasing of a human audience, forgetting the true audience in worship, God, Himself. We live in a age that is starving for a God that is revealing Himself at every turn, and dying for lack of those who will share with them who He is. Rediscovering the nature and character of God and what true beauty is while living in a materialistic entertainment-driven culture is a great challenge, but a necessary one if we are going to reclaim all that worship could be. Understanding and practicing excellence must always be subject to the focus of its biblical purpose.
The worship in our congregations will not rise above the level of worship practiced by its leadership. Leadership must have a passion, a zeal for worship, on a personal as well as corporate level, and at the same time possess the knowledge necessary to accomplish the tasks to help bring it to pass. Both zeal without knowledge and knowledge without zeal are folly. When the desire to know God more fully begins to decrease and efforts to grow and stretch in our relationship with Him diminishes, then we are on a dangerous slope of stagnation. When the ears of those that lead are more attuned to the entertaining of the crowd than offering a pleasing sacrifice of praise, worship is displaced with self adoration. There must be a relentless commitment to maintain biblical worship, to be a true worshiper, and to teach it to those to whom God has called us.
[For those that are interested in some more specifics, please refer to the following blog links on “What is Congregational Worship?” http://www.edsteeleworship.com/2010/04/what-is-congregational-worship.html
“Worship and Entertainment”
and Ten Challenges Facing Worship Leader Training