Last month I wrote an article entitled ‘Worship Wars.’ As expected, it brought many responses. One person wrote, ‘Almost seems a shame to analyze worship. It’s like tearing a beautiful flower . . . . You may know how many petals it has, but you lose the flower.’ The only reason to examine worship is to better understand what it is all about so that we can grow in our ability to worship. So, let us take a look at some other issues relating to worship.
I know I upset some people with my comments about hymns. I need to say that I am all for hymns. I grew up singing hymns. Some of those hymns are a great expression of worship, such as ‘How Great Thou Art,’ the hymn that George Beverly Shea sang at Billy Graham crusades.
Nonetheless, most hymns are usually doctrinal statements, declarations of faith, or words of consecration. Think of all the hymns that we sing around Christmas time and you will see that this is so. Singing hymns is quite biblical, according to Ephesians 5:19, ‘speaking to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.’ So they can be sung worshipfully.
PRAISE AND WORSHIP
As stated previously, we praise God for what He has done. We worship God for who He is. But the two go together. Praise is most often the door into worship. Psalm 100:4 tells us to ‘enter His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.’ Thanksgiving and praise can be the stepping stones into His courts. i.e., Into His presence where we can worship Him as He would want us too.
Usually there is a progression in worship not unlike the design of the tabernacle and the temple, where there were three courts: (1) The Outer Court – where all are welcome; (2) The Inner Court – where believers assemble; (3) The Holy of Holies – where the fullness of God’s presence resides. The outer court parallels music and praise that is likely to be understood and accepted by people who have had little experience in worship. You don’t expect a deep worship service at the likes of a Billy Graham Crusade, where the service is aimed at the unsaved. The inner court parallels the worship that can be found in many charismatic or Pentecostal churches today. Since I stepped down from a pastoral position, I have recently visited about a dozen different churches in the Twin Cities. Most of them do a good job of taking people into the inner court in worship. But there are not many churches who are able to take people into the Holy of Holies; into deep and meaningful dimensions of worship.
Not every church is meant to major on deeper worship, but there is a place for that kind of worship in the body of Christ. It may not be during a Sunday morning service but on a special night or time of worship. It is during such a time of worship that one of the lost arts of ‘singing in the Spirit’ can come alive and prophetic gifts can flow more freely.
One friend shared his thoughts when he wrote, ‘Music tends to reflect each generation’s style. We have had these discussions in our monthly ‘Old Friends’ dinner group (where all of us have been friends for over 30 years) and I brought my observation to bear and asked those who didn’t enjoy many of the newest songs, if they thought that their grandkids should want to listen to their grandparents music. It kind of put an end to the discussion without changing anyone’s opinions. Arguments seldom do.’ There are generational preferences and we who are older need to recognize that this generation expresses praise and worship differently to what it was like a generation or two ago.
PLACE TO WORSHIP
Before I was a minister, I was an architect. When I was completing my degree in Architecture. I was required to write a thesis (when incidentally I received the highest marks I ever received at University). As a Methodist, I chose the subject ‘The Theological Basis of Methodist Church Architecture.’ At that stage, I was convinced that great worship required good or great architecture. Then something happened to change everything. I experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and became involved in the Charismatic Movement.
One night, I was invited to attend a meeting in an apartment down near Bondi Beach in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Australia. Down an alley, the apartment was a somewhat dingy place. Young people were sitting on the floor, as there were not enough chairs. Then someone pulled out a guitar and began to lead us in worship. Then it happened. The presence of God came into the place, and all my theories about the absolute necessity of good architecture for worship went out the window. Now, I am not against beautiful church buildings, but that night, I realized that God was primarily more concerned about our heart for worship than the surroundings in which we worshipped.
THE FUTURE OF WORSHIP
In an article on worship in Christianity Today, Monique Ingalls, an assistant professor of music at Baylor University, responded to the question “‘You mentioned a growing disillusionment among young worship leaders with the commercialization, performance-driven mainstream worship music. What changes do you anticipate?’ ‘It is difficult to make prognostications. . .’ She then quoted a young man from Nashville who made it clear that he spoke for lots of people his age when he said, ‘I’m kind of disillusioned with contemporary worship music, but I hope I’m disillusioned for the right reason.’ He didn’t want to step into cynicism. (Christianity Today)”
So with this in mind, I sat down to talk with my eldest grandson, a millennial, who had also responded to my earlier Langstaff Letter on worship, to get his insights. He gave me some articles to read, and I came across this quote. ‘It would seem that all of the effort put into large, elaborate, flashy and overdone churches has been all for naught. Millennials are the hippies of the Christian movement: they want simple and honest Christianity in a utilitarian but natural space where they can rest and connect with a very real and authentic God; they crave relationships and connections with older adults, drawing from their wisdom and insight; and they want a participatory experience where they have a seat at the table in shaping the church of the future – their church. Millennials want to go far and want their life to have meaning. In their minds, this is not possible without a deep, authentic, Christ-centered community. (stream.org)’
It will be interesting to see where all this goes in the coming seasons. There may well be some interesting changes in the area of worship.
Ian Peters, a colleague of many years, shares the following on ‘How to Worship God.’
- In the beauty of Holiness. I Chronicles 16:29 states, ‘Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Oh, Worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness.’ God is holy and sin cannot abide in His presence, so we must come into His presence in Holiness.’
- In spirit and in truth. John 4:24 states, ‘God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Let us be that generation that worships God the way He wants us to worship Him in Holiness and also in spirit and in truth.
How Does the Church Reach Millennials? Hint: It’s Not Flashing Lights or Rock Band Worship
We have enjoyed your two articles on worship. We found it interesting how hymns served to share doctrine. We love authentic worship no matter what the style. We do have trouble with volume and blinding lights. We want to keep our hearing and eyesight as long as possible!
It’s vital that we focus on worshiping Jesus and not worshiping worship or worshiping music. God is not nearly as interested in the style of music as He is the heart in which we worship. A true worshiper should be able to worship God with most any reasonable style of worship and not get too caught up in styles or in how good or bad the worship band is. Mark Johnson, Jubilee Worship Center, St. Cloud, MN
I think you so much for your articles on worship. I love to worship my Lord. For me it is the deepest most intimate means of communicating my love to Him, my awe of Him and who He is. I believe this may be referring to entering into the holy of holy’s where his presence is magnified in my spirit soul and body and I feel immersed in the glory of Heaven. It deepens my relationship with him, it cleanses and washes my heart and frees me to be who he created me to be.
Though I appreciate quite a few hymns, I thought your comments about them were very enlightening, that they helped people remember the doctrines in the Bible.
The problem is that they are very wordy and most the time you’re focussed on reading all the words instead of connecting with the One with Whom they’re describing.
Sometimes it’s the simplest song that gets down into my spirit after repeating it over and over several times.
Thank you for the wisdom from God’s heart you continually share with us all.