Who invited who to worship

Who invited who to worship?

I had no less than eight people contact me to ask if I had read the latest issue of Christianity Today yet. Though I had not seen the magazine up until this evening, I picked up a copy at a newsstand and read the lead articles with a sense of glee that friends would think of me when reading the essays, knowing of my passionate interest in worship singing.  I hope all worship leaders (senior pastors, worship music ministers, and other worship music leaders) will be sure to read the three feature articles on worship singing.

The cover article, “The Trajectory of Worship: What’s really happening when we praise God in song,”  most closely relays much of what I want to call to your attention to here, and a large part of what I tried to get at in writing my book, Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace.

These bolded quotes pull out the crux of the matter:

What I need is not a change of tune so much as a reorientation along worship’s true trajectory.

In this statement Koessler is referencing our assumption that we are the originators of worship, it is our gift to God.  Koessler goes on to say, “We consider worship to be an expression of our personal devotion.  So when the musical style or some expression gets in the way, we don’t feel like it is our worship at all.”

This is what James Torrance calls “functionally unitarian.” Unitarian in that it presumes a singular headed deity who is “up there,” and therefore, we attempt to please him by expressing ourselves, throwing some songs his way that may talk about him, or that speak about us worshiping him.  I am afraid many of our songs, and dare I say, many of our pastors and music leaders foster this approach that if scrutinized theologically could well be considered blasphemous.

The power punch of Koessler’s article is this:

The biblical portrait of worship moves in the opposite direction.  The trajectory of heavenly worship begins with God and descends to earth.

The author notes Psalm 150 and Revelation 5, to which we could add Zephaniah 3:14-17, and Hebrews 2:10-12.

The author goes on to quote Jonathan Edwards to remind us that we are not the church here on earth, while there is another church in heaven, but rather that we are one society.

This means that when the church gathers, it engages in a heavenly activity.It participates in heaven’s worship.

To get down to a place I seem to live a lot in trying to help churches and church leaders through wounds of disunity and discord, the Moody professor hits a nail on the head when he states,

It is not our differences in taste but rather our mutual contempt and lack of respect that have caused the most damage in the church.

Ouch!  We are caught up in demanding to have it my way, when the biblical model is one of  admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  We are determined that the music I like is superior, whether judged by the aesthetics of fine art or by the popularity ranking on the Billboard charts, when the biblical attitude calls for us to prefer others over ourselves.  We are quite willing for tensions over style to fester into church fights, when scripture clearly compels us to spur one another on to love and good deeds.  We dare not hinder Christ’s Name by our disunity.  If we are serious about reaching a lost world, then our Gospel must be sung such that the prominent voice is the voice of our singing Savior!

Brothers and sisters, let us lead worship singing with clear understanding that our invitation has come from our Triune God to join Him and all who have gone before in the one activity of the Church that we will continue in Heaven, worship.

With a voice of singing,



Joseph Koessler, “The Trajectory of Worship” Christianity Today, March 2011

James B. Torrance, Community, Worship & the Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove, Il: 1996)

Paul B Clark Jr,  Tune My Heart to Sing Thy Grace: Worship Renewal through Congregational Singing (Bloomington, IN: 2010)

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Leading Worship, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

6 Comments on “Who invited who to worship”

  1. You highlight virtually the same sentences that I underlined and passed along to others. Glad to see that I am on the same page as you — but sad to acknowledge that I am struggling with the issues of contempt and respect myself. I recognize that I need to change perspective — from God to earth and back to God. “Come let us sing a song, a song saying that we belong to Jesus … “

  2. Paul Clark Says:


    First of all, thanks for being one of those pointing me to this issue of CT. I am afraid that contempt and respect are ingrained in the human condition, and will likely be struggles for us until we worship not only with the heavenly throng, but reach heaven ourselves. I believe the struggling itself, insofar as it is serving one another, is in fact an important aspect of our worship on earth. It is so good to be singing the song with you, “saying ‘we belong to Jesus…”

  3. Zach Says:

    Thank you for the good word Paul. I too was given a copy of the same magazine, and would really like to know your thoughts and opinions on the next article (interview) about David Gordon’s book. I haven’t had the chance to read Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, but I find it interesting that Gordon seems to present arguments similar to what I heard while growing up and especially during my undergraduate years.

    At the independent fundamentalist university I attended, worship music was not judged only by “pop” verses “not pop,” but also by objective, concrete criteria for determining if a piece of music is or is not inherently good. For instance, the Bach chorale “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” is inherently better than “I’m Trading My Sorrows,” even though the text of both pieces emphasizes a similar theme (finding joy in Christ). The actual music, when judged independently of lyrics, is ranked by objective standards of “good” music.

    When I left that fundamentalist/independent world and become a Southern Baptist (by conviction), I quickly learned (to my surprise) that I am supposedly a bigot, cultural snob, and “ethnocentric” (a word I learned from a professor in the “World Hymnology” class I took in seminary).

    What do you think? In the name of unity do we throw out the objective standards of “good” melody, harmony, and rhythm that seemed to govern the composition of church music for many years? Or do we hold to those standards, because we believe God deserves the best? Do those who combat the dilution of absolute truth in culture not see the irony in the evangelical push for church musicians to stop judging music by absolute standards of good/bad?

    I post this because it is something I legitimately struggle with on a weekly, if not daily basis as I plan worship services. Hope to get some good feedback from the readers!

    • Paul Clark Jr Says:

      Zach, you bring up some thought-provoking issues that deserve good discussion among leaders. There is tension inherent to the human condition and that includes our contrasting value systems. As you well know, those who are evaluating from the pew often use different scorecards than those who have studied the art of music from an academic standpoint. As ministers we live in the crosshairs of that tension and somewhere between those value systems. I am convinced that the Gospel and Spirit-directed worship trumps either of those systems to raise our gaze, so to speak. Thank you for being a thinker and seeking to give of your best to our Master.


  4. David Manner Says:


    I haven’t seen my copy of Christianity Today yet. I can’t wait. Thanks for pointing out some highlights. I love the concept that the trajectory begins with God. Webber wrote that true worship is entering and doing God’s story not asking God to enter our story or the story of our own making. What that means for me is that worship is not my attempt to be with the Father but a response to having been with the Father. He starts the conversation, we don’t.

    Good questions to ask, Zach. A follow-up question is “who gets to determine the standards for what is inherently good?” Objective standards are valuable for those who embrace the same objectives but alienate those who do not. Reggie Kidd wrote, “It has to matter to me that Jesus hears harmonies that sound cacophonous to me.”

    • Zach Says:

      David, thank you for addressing my comment. Sorry it has taken me to long to reply. You bring up a great question: “Who determines the standards?” I can relate completely to that question, and in fact used it often when I was debating my aforementioned independent/fundamentalist friends on the merits of some contemporary worship music (CWM). I am not anywhere close to that camp which completely discounts all CWM as “immoral” based upon certain rhythmic patterns, the pop sound, or blanket theological assumptions. In fact, I enjoy and use quite a bit of new worship music.

      My concern is that somewhere in recent church music history, many of us stopped using any objective standards whatsoever so determine the value of the music itself. Although we definitely should judge a hymn or worship song first on the theological accuracy of the TEXT, shouldn’t we continue having at least some objective standards to guide the judgment of the music as well (and even the poetic quality of the lyrics)? The honest, ugly truth is that most of us, including myself, judge the music using our personal stylistic preferences, or even more than that, our perception of what the people “like.”

      Take the latest hymnal published by LifeWay. I know people who were involved in the 1991 hymnal project and the 2008. The approach was quite different. As I understand it (I wasn’t there, so I’m only repeating what I’ve been taught), the 1956, 1975, and 1991 hymnals were compilations of songs agreed upon by theologians and church music scholars that represented what congregations SHOULD be singing. The 2008 is a compilation of what the congregations already ARE singing. Therefore, it is a populist book, not a didactic book. Sadly, much of what the trendy, “cool” churches are already singing is textually bland, musically weak, and just flat out not very singable. Just in that one publication, I see a drastic shift. Could it be that populism is driving church music more than absolute standards? I think this trend is what David Gordon is trying to combat in his book.

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