Written by Tim Flint
Welcome to the Worship Team
I’m a hack on the guitar. I love playing it, but the entirety of my musical knowledge would fill the back of a postage stamp; I need all the help I can get! When watching a YouTube guitar tutorial recently I heard a guy introduce himself as the ‘worship pastor’ of a particular church. Now I’m not sure exactly what that title meant to him personally, but it did get me thinking. What does it mean to be a ‘worship pastor’? What should it mean? The reason I’m asking this is because I have heard different Christian people talk about going to church for “worship and the word”, with ‘worship’ being used exclusively for the music/singing.* Now I certainly agree that ‘worship’ and ‘the word’ ought to be a part of any genuine Christian gathering, but I’m convinced they should not be thought about as mutually exclusive categories. It would be a bit like saying that we also enjoy fruit and apples for morning tea. Speaking of worship and the word separately creates a false distinction while at the same time fails to appreciate the inseparable connection. The nub of the issue boils down to how we understand what worship actually is, and to do that we (ironically?) need to go to the Word.
What does ‘worship’ actually mean? What are we doing when we are worshipping God? Below are some principles to sharpen our thinking.
1) Worship is NOT a service to God… it’s a response. As the bible consistently makes plain, God does not need anything from humans. Acts 17:25 puts it this way,
‘He is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.’
God does not need you to worship Him. He will not be less God if you don’t worship Him. God is still God though millions of people continue to deny His existence or openly blaspheme His name. And while it is true that worship is not a service…it is however a right response to God. What I mean is, for anyone who has truly understood who God is and
what He has accomplished through Jesus, worship is the necessary and unavoidable response of thanks and praise…but it is never to be thought of as a service.
- 2) Worship is NOT a ‘bottom-up’… but a ‘top–down’ process. Because worship is a response of thanks and praise to God, who has made the first move toward us in Jesus, it is therefore rightly considered a ‘top–down’ (God-to-us), rather than a ‘bottom–up’ (us- to-God) process. This has massive implication for how we conceive of worship. It means that worship is not something we have to generate by our own creativity or imagination, rather we recognise that the only reason we can even worship God in the first place is because He has come close to us in the person of Jesus Christ, His Son. Worship always has, and always should be considered a top-down process.
- 3) Worship is NOT about you! (Which means it’s not about me either) It’s about God! This really is a logical outworking of the first two points. If worship is a response and is only made possible through God’s first move to us in Jesus, then the flow on effect is that worship is less about me and in fact solely about God! Again, this has huge impacts for the way we go about worship in our church gatherings. The first and most obvious point is that personal experience and preference are NOT the primary categories for worship. This is not to deny that personal experience or preferences in worship styles exist, but it puts them in their right place…a very distant second! As 1 Peter 2:5 makes clear, God has called His people to be a ‘holy priesthood’ so that we can offer ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus’. The inclusion of the word ‘acceptable’ means it is possible to offer unacceptable spiritual sacrifices. It is God who determines these categories, and because worship is about Him, we need to listen and respond acceptably through Jesus.
- 4) Worship is NOT an isolated event…it is a whole life lived. This is perhaps my greatest cringe-factor at the suggestion that worship = music . As Paul rightly urges the Roman church, because of God’s mercy to us in Jesus, “…offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Worship for the Christian is not an event or a specific moment in time (let alone a collection of songs!) True worship includes every moment of your life. Every thought, every word, every action should be regarded as an act of worship (response) to God. Church on Sunday is the corporate bit of worship where we gather with others to respond to God. Music at church is another smaller slice of that corporate worship, but it is not the whole pie.
To sum up, we must never speak or think about ‘worship’ and ‘the word’ as separate items on a church agenda. To read God’s word in a way that doesn’t naturally lead to
worship is a misunderstanding of God’s word in the first place. And to attempt to worship God aside from His word is like sailing a rudderless ship; tossed and turned by every wave of fashion or opinion. Proper study of God’s word must always shape our worship even as it becomes an act of worship in itself. So how ought this effect our thinking at church today? Well, we may not all be on the ‘Music Team’, but we are all on the ‘Worship Team’, and the roster never ends! Praise God!
(*It’s worth noting I have not experienced this problem at WWEC, but I’m keen to make sure that this kind of faulty thinking never gets a toehold. Forewarned is forearmed!)