When is the last time you were asked the question, “What is worship all about?” If you’re like most
worship leaders I know, the question comes up rarely. This is due to the important fact that every
generation redefines the activity of “worship” in a way that 1) connects with the most current media
through which it seems that God is most profoundly interacting with His people, and 2) is the most familiar activity of worship being used in their cultural milieu.
In many cases, the average contemporary Christian attending one of our churches might say, “Worship is something we do to tell God how great He is. In our community, that largely happens when we sing to God.” While this has some degree of truth to it, and may make us feel quite special as the musicians who lead people in contemporary worship music, it is by no means an exhaustive, or maybe even helpful,definition of worship. Without even moving to the scriptures themselves, church history alone humbles us in our quick attachment of the act of worship primarily (or only in some church descriptions) to music.
For the early
Church, as we noted earlier, worship was marked by words such as loyalty, allegiance and surrender, and
by acts such as singing, reading the scriptures, eating together and taking the path of martyrdom.
1) The Language Of Time and Space
For historic Christians, time has played an important role in the framing of celebrations
of the Christian story. Daily, weekly, yearly and lifetime patterns of worship activity have
had a significant place in the worship life of the Church. Spaces, such as churches,
cathedrals, chapels, nature and other places set apart for worship activity have been seen
as an integral part of the worship expressions of the Church.
2) The Language Of Prayer and Scripture
The Church has also seen the need for regular private and corporate prayer, across themillennia, as a vital element in the worship life of the average believer. From the days of the early Church on through today, the books of history, poetry, story, songs, letters and revelation that we call the Word of God – the Scriptures – have had a central part in the worship life of the Church. Daily, weekly and yearly patterns of reading (both privately and publicly) have graced the worship of the Church since it’s inception.
3) The Language of Baptism and Eucharist
Symbolic actions, or sacraments (meaning “holy actions”) have played an ongoing role in
the worship of followers of Jesus. As the Anglican Book Of Common Prayer puts it,
sacraments are an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace. Actions
such as the eucharist (or communion) and baptism have been important ways the Church
has defined its engagement with God throughout time, and other sacramental expressions
remind us of the essential importance of engaging all of our senses in the activity of
what is worship at essence?
It is a fascinating study, though, to
begin to understand the impulses that move humans to respond to the world with both wonder and fear, and
to find someone or something to worship in the face of life’s complex mysteries.
“Worship is the ascription of ultimate value and worth (the act) to a person, place or thing (the object)
by the focusing of all activities of the human spectrum (the activity)
on that object’s value and honor (the reason).”
“The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”
From this passage, we understand that a healthy theological approach to worship suggests that worship is
primarily a response to the already, and all-consuming, love of God.
If worship is a response, and is not primarily dependent on our initiative, then worship is not about putting
on a show for God or trying to impress Him when He sees how hard we work. On this point, worship
leaders may, and should, take a load off. No more cheerleading. No more early morning ventures toward
pure emotional hype. Rather, we create a space for God’s people to simply respond to His approach as
Creator, King, Trinity and Savior.
Songs are a “place” to which people go. Like the “internet,” they are a non-locational place (Phyllis Tickle)
to which we can go, in which we can interact, and through which we can encounter others. Songs can
create a “liminal” space, from the Latin word liminus, which means “threshold.” That’s what the songs of
worship are: doors, windows, gateways and encountering grounds where our prayers can take flight on the
wings of words and melodies, and an interaction can be had with God.
1. Narrate the Story,
2. Engage the heart, mind and body in that Story, and with the central Figure in that Story, and
3. Nurture a life response to that Person in the personal and corporate life of the community.
1. Worship Is A Creative Act.
2. Worship Is A Royal Act.
3. Worship Is A Relational Act.
4. Worship Is A Narrative Act.
Many scholars actually believe that many of the prophecies written throughout the Old Testament
were actually sung rather than spoken. Their research tells them that the prophets were
communicating the stories of Israel’s deliverance, rescue or potential bondage in the forms of the
musical bards of history.
1. Cultural Relevance
We are welcome to express worship in ways that are true to the culture of our age, while
discerning and course-correcting their efficacy in building the spiritual health of the Church.
We are called to advance the call to worship in the world by living out the words of the songs we
sing, the themes of the bread we break, and the overall message that is remembered and reclaimed
in every worship setting.
We advance the idea that worship is not an activity only connected with an invisible world with
which are attempting to “make contact.” Rather, worship is about doing justice, loving our
neighbor and engaging with the vulnerable and broken in society with a view to bring new
creation’s balm to its wounds.
In the form and content of our worship, we call worshipers to reverence, but not simply to a
distant God who is somehow disconnected from their daily experience. We say “God is near,
immanent, close and His Kingdom is within reach as we worship.” We refuse to distance
ourselves from the God who has so powerfully drawn near to His human creation – we respond by
drawing near to the God who draws near.
5. Incarnational Spirituality
We embody our spirituality, deciding and perpetuating the call to worship in spirit and in truth by
living what we sing and say we believe. We are not people who worship by simply raising our
hands and closing our eyes – we are committed to a spiritual formation into the likeness of Christ
that evidences that we are actually following Jesus, and not just singing about the notion of doing
We feel no need to complicate every song and every expression of worship simply for the sake of
some elusive language of “adding depth” or “engaging the intellect.” In the Benedictine tradition
of lection divina, we often linger over important phrases and ideas, with simple words and melodies, to allow the worshiper to engage with deep theological truths that are intended to change
their lives. Neither the intellectual complexity, nor the emotional simplicity, of a song is the issue
for us. The issue is found in the asking of a simple question – “Is this moment an opportunity for
God to transform our minds and hearts to fulfill His design for us, and to welcome us to a richer,
deeper understanding of Himself?” Having asked that question, simplicity and complexity become
options for our best creativity in expressing worship in all of its possible ways.
We recognize that covenant people of all tribes, nations and languages (and therefore music styles,
ways of storytelling, symbolizing and engaging the human experience) are all invited to the feast
of worship. For this reason, we do not define worship according to only one ethnicities expression.
Rather, we embrace that colorful tapestry of worship life that flows from the Body of Christ across
time and locale.
We value the unity that can only truly occur when we ultimately defer our lives to the God of all.
Unity, because of God’s saving, restoring approach to us, is found among all peoples and
denominations that value the part we have to play in God’s story. We are ambassadors of new
creation and the coming Kingdom in the now, in the moment, and we rise together to sing, to pray,
to act and to impact society from this common mission.