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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Two Approaches to Worship

I am indebted to Dr. Jon Duncan, the Music and Worship Specialist for the Georgia Baptist Convention for his insights in our recent “Crescent City Praise” Conference at the Seminary. Jon is a gifted musician, administrator, and theologian with keen insights into worship and how biblical principles play out in the local church. Of the many truths that he shared with our students recently, there were two that caught my attention and have begun to make the wheels in my mind turn and really begin to think through their implications. The first truth was the confusion of “Practice verus Performance,” which I will reserve for another blog, and the other was the difference between approaching worship from the standpoint of a consumer or a disciple. Jon’s thoughts became the seed bed for the following.

Matthew 28:18-20 clearly dictates that as we go that we are to “make disciples,” but listen to the difference the following change makes: “Go into all the world and make consumers, teaching to that God exists to cater to their every desire.” I don’t know about you, but as I thought about that statement, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh, cry, or scream in anger. The church is the Body of Christ through which those who have surrendered their hearts and lives to Christ as Lord fulfill His command to make disciples. Disciplemaking is part of the obedient response to surrendering our wills to Him, or as also can be said, disciplemaking is part of the obedient response we give to God as we worship Him. As we deepen and develop a vital relationship with Christ that transforms our character so that it reflects Christ’s own, we also as a fruit of that relationship begin to work with others to help them along in the journey and to introduce them to the Savior who can transform their lives. One key sign of healthy worship is healthy discipleship.

“Worship” by definition finds its center in God, and its unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As we grow in obedience to the will of God we must be involved in discipleship, that is, reaching those who do not know Christ with the Gospel and training them in the faith. The central focus of worship that is approached from the standpoint of discipleship is an obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God.

Contrast that with the “consumer” mentality of approaching worship: Worship is primarily the means to an end, to get the product [the Gospel] to as many consumers [the lost] as possible. Consumers’ tastes and preferences dictate what is sung, said and done. The “have it your way,” mentality of Burger King gets carried into the worship service and everything is pandered to the “consumer” in the way that pleases the individual. The pastor functions as CEO, more than shepherd of the flock. One result is the new convert is led to expect that everything evolves around their likes and dislikes, and if that changes, then they simply go somewhere their preferences are met. A consumer mentality approaches worship for what “I can get out of it,” and if “I don’t get what I want, I’ll just go a place where I can.” Worship for the “consumer” is approached like someone going to a vending machine, rather than the with the understanding that they are meeting with Almighty God, a God that loved so much that He sent His only Son to die in our place.

A discipleship approach is one that is committed to the teaching and training the demands of Scripture. A consumer approach produces growth by addition; a discipleship approach produces growth by multiplication. The goal of discipleship is reproducing the nature and character of Jesus Christ in ourselves and others by the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. It is slower and more difficult, and doubtless will draw less attention in the media, but carries with it the promise of hearing the words “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

There are many individuals that attend a church Sunday after Sunday as consumers rather than as disciples because they never received the proper followup, or for a host of other reasons. It is essential that we teach new believers [as well as everyone else in the church] the demands of following Christ and what worship is, as Paul told those in Thessalonica that they would face persecution and sure enough they did. [I Thes. 3:1-9] Persecution was no surprise to them, and knowing what to expect helped prepare them to remain faithful. As we teach these new believers what biblical worship is, we can help them confront the culture that tells them otherwise.


  1. SOme good thoughts here on discipleship versus consumerism. I am reminded of the prayer of Jesus in John 17. I think we need to re-visit it sometimes. The three distinct sections in the prayer can be applicable to worship. First, as Jesus prays to the Father, he asks nothing more than the Father be glorified through all he is and does; Jesus always points beyond himself to the reality of God the Father. Second, he prayed for his inner circle. These are the movers and shakers, the ones who are always there, ready to serve. He prays specifically for their protection (not just physical but spiritual, keeping their hearts on Him). Satan can attack from without and within the community of faith. Third, he prays for all Christians (everyone cannot be a leader as the inner circle folks are). There are many who just are satisfied to follow and the prayer is that they remember they are unified in their worship and witnessing efforts. Granted this is but a sketch of John 17, but if our worship only hits the consumer end of things, how can God be glorified and His work accomplished when He is not the actual center, but, rather the desires of individuals are the center?

  2. Thanks, Eric for your comments; always thoughtful, always helping me to think deeper into the matter. A few years ago I was in a group and we memorized John 17; it has never been the same to me since. It amazes me that of the few requests in prayer we have recorded in Scripture from the mouth of our Lord, His request in John 17 is unity, and that, more than once. For us to properly reflect the nature and character of God, we must reflect the nature of the unity in the Trinity: "That they may be one, Father, as you and I are one." I would that all pastors and leaders would memorize the passage to help get the heartbeat of Jesus on the matter.