Worship Service (2022)
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?
What is a ‘worship service’ trying to do?
How do we know when we have experienced worship?
It seems to me that everyone knows what worship is, but that no-one is able to define it satisfactorily.
WHAT IS WORSHIP?
Bowater began to make his own position clear when he said that worship must emanate from a current, ongoing, and intimate, relationship with God. In this he and Keller agreed, as Keller said that, before Sunday, he must have been worshipping God throughout the week.
According to Frost (in 2001), the church of the new millennium must begin to teach that the whole of life is worship, not just an hour on a Sunday. This view of whole lifestyle worship is often being stressed in these days, as is the essential character of the person(s) that are 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 said that:
- True worship treasures God’s presence.
- That true worship humbles the heart.
- That true worship sacrifices and then expects from God.
- That true worship extends God’s love.
But what is worship?
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 often called a ‘worship service’.
Is that all worship is?
Music in daily life is frequently mere background, or easy entertainment, intended to keep people entertained while they do tasks.
Since the most creative churches are the 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.” But is church and worship only centered on a Sunday morning service?
Can a renewed church worship just as well as a new church?
Would anyone know the difference?
In any church service, there is always a delicate balance between structure and control on the one hand, and spontaneity on the other hand. Perhaps this points out the difference between focusing on the service and focusing on the people. Or should it speak of focusing on YHWH first and foremost?
Like Bowater, a total reliance on methodology scares me sick. YHWH is not so concerned with our methods of worship. He is looking for heart worshippers. Indeed, sometimes the most intimate worship and presence of YHWH comes in spite of our order of service.
Creating a worshipful atmosphere that is pleasing to YHWH 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, as Rose has pointed out, the culture around us is changing so quickly. 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 had highlighted. Should worship merely be a response to an atmosphere rather than a response to YHWH himself?
We surely do not gather on Sundays to play at church, do we?
We do not simply worship worship, do we?
We all need our Sunday services to be real in whatever shape or form they take. As Warner has bluntly 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 believed that the modern world would 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, said 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 surely fundamentally true of worship.
As Bowater said, “We must not compromise our commitment to progress in worship.” Worship services have a real purpose, and that real purpose is not entertainment. Rose declared that “Creativity is more crucial today than it was a hundred years ago because the culture is changing so quickly.” Therefore, he said, “If the church is going to speak to people in a particular setting at a particular time, somebody must have a creative edge.”
With regard to music and its impact on worship, Bolinder said “As any pastor knows, musical style is perhaps the biggest deal driving people’s emotional response to worship.” Yet, today people have very easy access to a lot of music and entertainment, and they often seek merely to be entertained. How can church worship appeal to these people, without itself being mere entertainment?
Hayford declared that “We aim to worship not only with our minds, but to express openly our heartfelt worship.” On the flip side, Frost declared that he had “become more and more intolerant of the noisy unstructured mayhem which passes for worship in many churches.” He also said that “The bottom line is that true worship must spring from our innermost being, not hindered by personal circumstances, mood swings or spiritual lows.” Is that realistic?
IS WORSHIP REAL LIFE?
Highs and lows, good and bad, healing and hurting, are part of our lives, so should they not be expressed in our worship? Surely the psalmists 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?
We have considered the worship service – whatever that may be – but nowhere has worship been defined. Clearly, there is no standard definition of worship, so it is no wonder that there is no standard definition of the worship service. I close with my own understanding of the word ‘worship’, so that at least something has been defined. Worship is my personal, unique, submission before YHWH. Again and again and again…..
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)