What is worship? What does it look like? What does it sound like?
Each of these questions will have different answers depending on who is answering. This is based on their culture, their upbringing, their style preference, and many other factors. There should, however, be common themes running through all of the responses.
What Is Worship?
Worship is, in it’s simplest form of understanding, attributing worth to something. According to Collins English Dictionary:
1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) to show profound religious devotion and respect to; adore or venerate (God or any person or thing considered divine)
2. to be devoted to and full of admiration for
3. to have or express feelings of profound adoration
4. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) to attend services for worship
5. [Obsolete] to honour
First and foremost worship is all about God. So very often we judge worship by what we got out of it – whether that be based on the songs being those we enjoy, or the emotion of the worship, or the experience we have of the Holy Spirit. I suggest we completely change our viewpoint. Worship is purely about God. By judging worship by our response then we are totally missing God’s heart. We should first and foremost ask “is the worship I offered today pleasing to God?”.
There are a number of ways we can judge this, but our primary source, as always, is the Bible.
In Spirit and in truth. John 4:24 says:
God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth. (NIV)
Does the Holy Spirit honour our worship? This can be manifested in numerous ways, but simply, is the Holy Spirit moving through our worship.
Worship is a full-time activity, not a one-day-a-week event. It is a mindset, a state of being. As followers of Christ we are called to offer all that we do and all that we are in an attitude of worship to God.
Worship is a glimpse of heaven. As we read Revelation the worship offered to God of all the heavenly hosts is painted by John following his vision of the end times. What an incredible thing that we can experience Heaven on Earth, literally, through worship.
Worship is a connection of the physical, emotional and spiritual. Again referring back to John 4 we see that worship should be offered in Spirit and in Truth. Effectively, our whole being is involved in the act of worship.
What Does Worship Look Like?
Now we start delving into preference of style etc. However, there should always be similar points whether you worship through the use of liturgy and a pipe organ, or are led by a contemporary worship band.
Firstly, worship should be pleasing to God. As descirbed above, worship is all about God, not about us. As such it should always be theologically sound (i.e. words of songs – for example the song “Come, now is the time to worship” doesn’t sit well with me as it’s always the time to worship. This song misleads people into the belief that worship is set aside for Sundays). It should be genuine – God know’s your heart and you can’t “fake” worship to him. You may be able to fool the person next to you, but that’s simply not good enough.
Second, worship should allow the Holy Spirit to move in accordance to His will. We are so good at putting God in a box, and as such we often get in the way of allowing the Holy Spirit to do what He needs. By focusing on the fact worship is not a performance, nor a formula, but an invitation to the Holy Spirit to come we can mitigate the chance of worship becoming people focussed and not God focussed.
Third, worship should be relevant to the people. This ties in with the need for our worship to be In spirit and in truth. Only when people can connect with the worship they are offering can they truly offer worship which is pleasing to God. Whether this is traditional in style or more contemporary is only relevant as far as ensuring the people can themselves worship effectively.
Fourth, worship isn’t just singing. Worship is a way of life, and we can express that in so many ways. Equally, worship should therefore be expressed in various ways in our worship services. Whether that be dance, drama, prayer etc. There is a great grounding in scripture of God’s people coming together with singing to worship, but that is not at the expense of all the other experiences of worship the church takes.
What Does Worship Sound Like?
Ok, so this is kind-of the same as the bit before. But, I want to look just at Worship singing in a church setting. My background is Salvation Army. With that I am exposed to a vast array of styles of worship – from the traditional piano / organ led, brass band, choirs, singing groups and contemporary music. Such a richness The Salvation Army is privileged to have.
The key to effective worship is simple. It must be relevant, approachable, appropriate, sufficient and suitable for your target congregation. Now this is where I may be a little contraversial! Your target congregation is both the members of the Church AND those outside the Church you are evangelising to.
Let me explain this a little. The early day Salvation Army is a brilliant example of using contemporary and relevant music to serve the people and aid them in their worship. In the early days of TSA melodies from well known Music Hall shows were used with new words to enable new converts to sing similar melodies with a new, powerful meaning (eg. the SA song “Storm the forts of darkness” uses the melody from the Music Hall song “Here’s to good of whisky”!). The fact that Copyright wasn’t around in these days obviously made this approach possible.
The Salvation Army is well known for its brass bands. These were the most natural and contemporary form of music making of the day for those the Army was reaching (the working class and maligned of society of the day).
Because the Army had such a specific target then it followed that it would be natural for a particular style to suit a majority of members. However, the Army today (along with the majority of churches) represents a huge cross section of the community – from the unemployed homeless to the House of Lords, and everything in between. As such it is far more difficult to align a particular style of music making to your congregation and potential church membership.
Perhaps the need to be appropriate for such a large range of tastes waters down what we are doing so much that it loses a certain amount of effectiveness in any case.
What does your worship look like? Is it about the people or about God? Do you focus on what you receive or what you give? Join the discussion!