Saturday, January 12, 2008

Church Reform - Worship

Worship is such a large topic that I certainly cannot begin to touch all aspects of it in a blog post (maybe one of you readers could do a series all about worship in the church; I would like to read that). Books have been written on worship by folks much smarter and more learned than I. Therefore, in this post I just want to focus on one aspect of worship that I believe is problematic in American churches today: the compartmentalization of worship.

If you walk into many evangelical churches today, you will eventually enter the “worship center” for the “worship service.” This seems to imply that worship does not take place in other areas of the church building, such as the Sunday School rooms. At some point early in the service, the “worship leader” will ask you to stand and worship (Does this mean that the people who read scripture, give a testimony, or preach are not leading worship?). The worship time is understood by many to be the time when the people sing. This seems to imply that the worship concludes when the people sit down after the last song. I’m not sure what everyone thinks is going on during the remainder of the service.

Most Christians realize that they need to worship more than just in song at church. They would probably admit that all of the service is actually worship. When asked about the rest of their lives, they would also probably say that they should be worshiping through prayer and bible study. Beyond that, they would say that they should be living out their Christian witness each day.

The problem I see is that Christians seem to be putting worship into different artificial categories. Worship is viewed as falling into the categories of worship in song at church, worship in private, and worship when serving others. What this leads to is a view of worship only taking place at certain times and places. It suggests a life where worship occurs in small blips here and there as the day rolls along.

This is not what the bible tells us about worship. I believe scripture tells us that worship is something that all followers of Christ should be doing at all times. The life of the Christian is a life of worship all day, every day. Romans 12:1-2 give us our daily “marching orders.” Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We are to present our whole selves to Christ as an act of worship. This is something we are to do each day as a living sacrifice. This may certainly take place as individual worship (Psalm 95). It should also be expressed in corporate worship (I Cor. 14:26). As noted above, it must be a part of all of life (Rom. 12:1-2).

Hebrews 12:28-29 may help us see this more clearly. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

This verse falls into the broader section of Hebrews that is dealing with living out the Christian life (application of the wondrous truths found in the previous eleven chapters). However, these two verses also immediately follow a section of Hebrews chapter 12 that deals with individual and/or corporate worship. One thing we can glean from this is that the biblical writers did not intend for worship to be compartmentalized, falling into isolated acts throughout the day. Rather, we are intended to worship as a way of life. This may be through prayer, bible study, song, listening, service, living a holy life, etc. as described in the scriptures.

So what can we do to help our fellow Christians see that worship is not just singing on Sunday? What can we do to help our brothers and sisters in Christ realize that worship is not supposed to be isolated blips occurring here and there? Can we do anything to assist others is realizing that worship is a way of life?

These ideas may be a place to begin:

1) We must live this out. Others will see what we do. We must view worship as something we are doing all day, from scintillating times of prayer and song to acts that may seem like drudgery (washing dishes, taking out the trash). Let me say that I am in no way equating the importance of prayer with trash removal. What I am saying is that all acts that honor God should be viewed as worshipful.

2) When given the opportunity, we should teach this. The teaching may occur one-on-one, or in a group format (Sunday School, preaching, cell group, etc.). It would be interesting to ask churched people to write out their definitions of worship. You could then walk through Romans 12:1-2, and compare these two verses with what they had written.

3) Remind people that faith apart from works is not real faith. In other words, if they are only worshiping in tongue but not in deed, then they are not offering acceptable worship to God.

4) On a pragmatic note, it would do a lot of churches much good if they would simply rename a few things. For example, get rid of names such as “worship center,” “worship service,” “worship leader/pastor,” and “worship songs.” Be creative; this is not difficult. Names such as these only exacerbate the problem of worship compartmentalization.

Agree or disagree? Any other ideas to help the situation we face?


Rhea said...

Your #4 I think really hit the nail on the head. When we've got a "worship pastor," we are in effect teaching the entire congregation that worship=music. I tend to think that the first real practical step is to deal with #4....I mean, it's useless to teach a Sunday School class about how worship is more than music, and yet still have a "worship leader" whose sole job is to lead the singing. I think that we must get rid of things like "worship service," "worship center," "worship leader," and then through sermons or Sunday School lessons, explain why these things have changed in name.

BUT...I don't know how many senior pastors we could convince to do this.

Joe Blackmon said...

I think sometimes we run into problems with the mentality "worship=music" because, as a culture, we view music as something that is done for us. Basically, it is entertainment. Even some Christian music comes off that way. I mean, a lot of southern gospel sounds like country music with the words "Jesus" "Calvary" and "Glory" peppered in occasionally. True worship involves us expressing our love for God and our thankfulness to Him. This doesn't have to involve music.

This series on church reform is really encouraging. Thank you.

Alan said...

I have some ideas, how about "sanctuary," "divine service,""minister of the word and sacrament," and finally "hymns," I don't know how creative that is but it works for me.

In Christ

Aussie John said...


Greatly appreciate the direction you are taking.

Institutional, building centred habits are very hard to change, because people do not want change,leaders love the status quo.

Whilst people are convinced they must attend a building to "worship" God and please Him, the leaders will be happy; they have an audience to listen to their sermon, the offering will be taken, salaries will be safe, and egos polished. People will go home satisfied that they have done their duty and "worshipped" God, going about "their" business until next Sunday when the enter into "God business" for an hour or so.

I'm sorry if I sound cynical. I'm not. I'm being realistic based on a lifetime of experience.

I have seen, and am thankful I wasn't involved with, congregations that have ceased to exist because they refused to accept the sort of thinking you are expressing.

Someone once said that the death knell of a congregation is sounded when they utter the famous last words, "We never did it that way before"!

I agree!

Apart from sovereign intervention by God, in old fashioned Holy Spirit wrought revival, such as happened in Wales, and more recently (early 1950's?), on the Isle of Man, it is my opinion that new congregations, led and taught by men, such as yourself and elders raised up from within, will be needed.

Lisa G. said...

It may be difficult to get churches to change their naming conventions, but that may provide a good, simple litmus test for people looking for a new church. A church that teaches the truth of the Bible, that is not trying to be "relevant" to the culture, won't be trying to give things fancy names. So, look for a sanctuary rather than a worship center; look for a narthex rather than a lobby; look for a fellowship hall rather than a coffee shop or cafe.

In Christ,
Lisa G.

Alan Knox said...


I appreciate this post and the entire series. As I've been thinking about this, and considering the comments that you've received, I'm not sure that simply renaming will work. Whether we call a certain room in a certain building the "worship center" or the "sanctuary", we are still setting it aside as a special place to "meet God". In reality, the place is not special. We can name things whatever we want, but if we think that worship specially occurs on a certain day at a certain time in a certain place, then we don't understand worship.


Eric said...


Sorry it took me so long to respond. I am currently way out in the middle of nowhere, and have poor internet access. I can post your comments, but I am having trouble commenting myself.

I think we are all in agreement that we need to stress in our churches that music does not equal worship.

We also agree that some name changes might be helpful. However, this alone will do little good. We need to emphasize repeatedly that worship is a way of life rather than something that happens at specific points during the week.