A common feature of services in Scottish Baptist churches is that they begin with a ‘Call to Worship’. But what is worship? What is a ‘worship service’ trying to be? How do we know when we have experienced worship? It seems that everyone knows what worship is, but no-one is able to define it satisfactorily.
Bowater makes his own position clear, in saying that worship must emanate from a current, ongoing, intimate relationship with God. In this he and Keller agree, as Keller says that, before Sunday, he must have been worshipping God throughout the week.
According to Frost, the church of the new millennium must begin to teach that the whole of life is worship, not just an hour on Sundays. This view of lifestyle worship is being stressed in these days, as is the essential character of the person(s) leading the worship. This is certainly true for Garlington: “When I come to the platform to lead worship, the experience is a continuation of what’s happening every other day of the week.”
Hayford says that true worship treasures God’s presence, that true worship humbles the heart, that true worship sacrifices and then expects from God, and that true worship extends God’s love. Nevertheless, to read almost any book, periodical or article on ‘Worship’ is to realise that worship is almost always defined by default as music and singing within the context of a church meeting that is called a ‘worship service’. Is that all worship is?
If most creative churches are new churches, at least according to Rose, what does the traditional church have to offer those who gather week by week? Not much perhaps, if Frost’s reaction is anything to go by: “I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the dry institutional deadness of much of what I see on offer in my local church each Sunday.” Can a renewed church worship just as well as a new church? Would anyone know the difference? Let us now consider the Sunday services of a number of churches, which took place in early 2001.
There is a delicate balance between structure and control. Perhaps this points out the difference between focusing on the service and focusing on people. Like Bowater, methodology scares me sick. God is not so concerned with methods of worship. He is looking for worshippers. Sometimes the most intimate worship and presence of God comes in spite of our orders of service.
Creating a worshipful atmosphere that is pleasing to God is an awesome task that requires creativity, as well as blood, sweat and tears! Creativity is more crucial today than it was a hundred years ago because the culture is changing so quickly, as Rose points out. If the church is going to speak to people in a particular setting at a particular time, somebody must have a creative edge.
“If we are not prepared to set high standards, encourage creativity and unusual angles, explore targeting strategies, and spend significant money on sustained promotional campaigns, we will simply not be heard amid the clamouring voices of today’s market place” according to Warner.
However, those responsible for planning worship services must be aware of the dangers that Bowater highlights should worship merely be a response to an atmosphere rather than a response to God himself. We do not gather on Sundays to play at church, do we? We do not worship worship, do we? We all need our Sunday services to be real in whatever shape or form they take. As Warner has put it: “As communication to the inhabitants of the TV age, some of our Sunday services are just as pointless. To put it starkly, we are boring people to hell.”
Warner believes that the modern world will not be reached effectively by traditional forms of church. Here’s his bottom line: keep up-to-date, or become obsolete. Churches cannot stand apart from society and invite people come to them on that church’s terms. Rather, says Gibbs, churches must go to people where they are and communicate in terms that will make sense to them, addressing the issues that shape their lives, and speaking their language. This is fundamentally true of worship.
As Bowater says, “We must not compromise our commitment to progress in worship.” Worship services have a real purpose, and that real purpose is not entertainment. Rose declares that “Creativity is more crucial today than it was a hundred years ago because the culture is changing so quickly.” Therefore, he says, “If the church is going to speak to people in a particular setting at a particular time, somebody must have a creative edge.”
Bolinder says “As any pastor knows, musical style is perhaps the biggest deal driving people’s emotional response to worship.” Today people have very easy access to a lot of music and entertainment, and they seek to be entertained. How can church worship appeal to these people, without itself being entertainment?
Hayford believes that “We aim to worship not only with our minds, but to express openly our heartfelt worship.” That is not something many people will truly understand, as music is frequently mere background music or easy entertainment to keep them happy while they do tasks in wherever they happen to be.
On the flip side, Frost has “become more and more intolerant of the noisy unstructured mayhem which passes for worship in many churches.” He says that “The bottom line is that true worship must spring from our innermost being, not hindered by personal circumstances, mood swings or spiritual lows.”
Yet, highs and lows are part of our lives, so why should highs and lows not be expressed in our worship? Surely the psalmist of old did exactly that? Should worship always be expressing the same ‘holy’ feelings using the same ‘holy’ words? To put it another way, should our worship be real so that our worship services are real?
Chris Bowater, Creative Worship, (Basingstoke, Marshall Pickering, 1986)
Jim Rose, ‘Classic Creativity’, Leadership, Volume XIV number 3, Summer 1993, pages 17-22
Tim Keller, ‘What It Takes To Worship Well’, Leadership, Volume XV number 2, Spring 1994, pages 16-23
Garth Bolinder, ‘Finding Your Worship Voice’, Leadership, Volume XV number 2, Spring 1994, pages 26-33
Jack Hayford, ‘Expressive Worship With Reluctant People’, Leadership, Volume XV number 2, Spring 1994, pages 36-43
Joseph Garlington, ‘Finding The Grace Gates’, Leadership, Volume XX number 2, Spring 1999, pages 22-28
Jack Hayford, ‘How God Evaluates Worship’, Leadership, Volume XX number 2, Spring 1999, pages 29-31
Rob Frost, ‘Way To Worship’, Christianity And Renewal, February 2001 Launch issue
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999)
Eddie Gibbs, Church Next, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2000)