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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Are We Treating the Symptoms or Treating the Cause?

In an age and culture that has allowed, even encouraged easy access to self-medication we are inclined to take aspirin for every headache. While this definitely has its advantages and certainly can save some extra trips to the doctor, there exists the potential danger to mask warning signs to more serious problems. Repeated or continuous headaches could have serious causes and in such cases the over the counter solutions may only hide the deeper issues.

In a similar way we tend to seek the quick fix solutions to difficult issues in worship by treating the symptoms, rather than to search out the root cause of the problems encountered. For example, let’s say that the congregation doesn’t seem to participate in singing during the music part of the worship service. This is a serious problem and can have a myriad of related causes and solutions. Some choose a quick fix approach that only appeals to the likes and dislikes of the congregation. The rational for such a decision is based on the idea that if you sing what people like they will sing; if you sing what they don’t like they won’t. The quick fix approach is widely practiced and yields some measure of success, if you measure success just in terms of the number of people singing during the service.

However, if we dig a little deeper there may be a host of other causes and certainly a wide variety of solutions. Lack of familiarity may be a cause, but there may be some more serious issues involved, such as a lack of preparedness on behalf of the congregation to be able to worship, or unconfessed sin in the lives of believers. Many times the attitude that members approach worship is void of anticipation that they are meeting with Almighty God. In addition, the quick fix solution solely based on the likes and dislikes of the congregation actually does more injury to worship by reinforcing the idea that the worship service is built around personal preferences, rather than an obedient response to God’s nature and character.

What should be our response be to the hypothetical problem presented in the example? I’m sure there are many more things that could be done and you are certainly welcome to add to these, but the following may hopefully serve as a beginning.

1. Leadership must become aware of the problem, in this case the lack of congregational participation in the music part of the worship service. [I am intentionally not wording the problem in the following way, “not singing during the worship,” because worship is much more than just singing.]

2. Leadership must take the initiative in self evaluation to see if there are things in their own lives that may be hindering worship. Leaders cannot take people where they themselves have not been. The focus here is to the be “lead worshipers” more than “worship leaders.” Correcting these issues must come before dealing with any issues in the congregation.

3. Leadership must evaluate to see if they have been adequately teaching what biblical worship is and what it isn’t. A biblical understanding of worship is both caught and taught. Leaders must be intentional in laying the foundations and implications that worship is the obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God, not some feelings and inspiration received from singing old or new favorites. Worship is first and foremost God-centered, period. Anything less than this is idolatry.

4. Congregations must be instructed, rooted and grounded in what biblical worship is, not just exposed to the content of what worship is. Learning takes time and repetition. A single sermon, however good cannot replace the repeated exposure and specific application exercises that must occur if real worship is to take place on a regular basis. I recently learned of a pastor that invested 6 months preaching on worship, which resulted in a greater understanding by the congregation. Information must be shared with specific examples that help flesh out what is being taught and followed with personal “homework” to apply what has been taught.

For example, in teaching about the importance of thanksgiving in worship, the individual members of the congregation not only need to know “what” it is, but have the opportunity to practice what expressing gratitude to God is and a followup assignment to practice it all during the week. Many people know that it is important, where they have problems is knowing how to do it and practicing it on a regular basis. Only when what is taught becomes regular practice can it be said that it has been “learned.”

5. The process of teaching must be multi-generational and ongoing
. Classes for new believers must include classes on biblical worship. Age appropriate materials about worship, more specifically that would go along with a series on worship from the pulpit, should be made available to children, youth, and adults.

6. There must be continual evaluation of the effectiveness of the methods used to teach worship as well as evaluation of the actual practice of worship in the congregation. Unfortunately, evaluation of what we do in worship is a neglected area in most churches and results in a negative impact on the congregation. Our failure to teach them about worship also fails in providing biblical understanding for adequate evaluation.

Perhaps by following some simple procedures we can avoid treating symptoms and start working on true cures!


  1. I'm failing my church family by treating symptoms.
    Thanks for the eye-opener.

  2. Thanks for your honesty, Brian. Would that more of those leading worship would join your efforts.