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Monday, December 19, 2011

Worship is not a "Program"

[Not long ago, Rev. Jerry Bass a former pastor and a local hospital chaplain, and I were sharing about worship, a subject in which we both are passionate. I am grateful to him for the genesis of these thoughts.]

One of our problems in so many of the published multi-week studies is that we want to take a process and turn it into a program. Programs are fine in their place, but sometimes great truths and principles learned through trial and difficulty are summarized or simplified into a program so that more people could participate or that what was learned could be “massed produced.” The idea has great intentions: if a dear brother or sister learned these principles that changed their lives, what might be done so that everyone might learn the same things? The problem lies in the things that are “lost in the transition” from principle to program.

How are things lost? Let me give one example. Let’s take a simple Bible study lesson. For far too long we seem to have confused “content understood” with “content applied.” Just think of the average Sunday morning Bible study class: the typical teacher fights to get through all the material, that is, “the content,” and then finally admonishes the class to do what the Scripture says. Many of our church members have logged in so many hours of “Bible study,” that if they had been given for credit they would have had multiple doctorates by now. Yet, many times, they will spend their entire lives as “students” in some class and never go on to become the teacher or mentor to another person. What is missing? There are multiple answers to the issue because it is not just a simple problem, but many times the teacher never really explains how to apply the particular truth being studied and what it really looks like when it is lived out on a day to day basis. To make things more difficult the Bible study may have been “content heavy” to begin with and weak on the application.

You might be asking yourself by now, what does this have to do with worship? If we are not careful we will take the truths about worship and attempt to force them into some kind of program. There are no “5 easy steps to perfect worship.” God refuses to be placed in a box. The truth is God initiates worship, not us. There are some biblical truths that we must obey, but these are not “steps.” Worship is our obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God. Worship requires preparation. What we seek in worship is not an “experience,” but relationship with God. When we seek an experience in worship, more than we seek the Christ of worship, we are worshiping how we feel, not the Lord who gave His life for us; it is a subtle form of idiolatry.
In that obedient response God draws us to Himself.

Biblical worship can never be reconstructed into a program. The principles in Scripture are there, but we must be careful to avoid the temptation to reduce everything to “5 Easy Steps.” Obedient responses are seldom “easy,” and it is too easy to get caught up in a checklist of “dos and don’ts,” rather than the awesomeness of holy God. As I complete my own book on worship, I am writing this to myself, lest I miss the point and try to push a program, rather than share the principles of the process.


  1. Ed,

    Thanks for challenging us each week to dig a little deeper in the area of worship renewal. I especially appreciate your comment in this post with regard to the understanding that God initiates worship...we don't. This takes the pressure off worship leaders who believe what they do determines if God "shows up" or not.

  2. Thanks, David. One thing that has helped me is to remember that the "bush was burning" long before Moses ever got there. God has always initiated worship. Your comments are a needed reminder!