THE WORD …… SPEAK O LORD!

Preacher with Bible  In the last blog post I began a four-part series on the difference in program worship and participatory worship.  Reflecting on writings of Constance Cherry I wanted to draw attention, especially for worship leaders in evangelical churches, to the value of moving from program to participation, and pointing to some serious problems that develop as a result of the former.  The previous post dealt with the first fold of worship, the gathering.  This one deals with the Word in worship, and consideration of ways a program worship mindset dwarfs the worship and the worshiper, whereas a participatory mindset holds more true to historical pattern of biblical affinity.

Remember that the program approach to worship tends to make the “worshiper” the judge, the one to be pleased, the one for whom the program or performance is designed.  This is obviously backwards, since it is a very short jump to the mindset that the “worshiper” is the one being worshiped.  This is nothing less than idolatry.  Given that the “it’s all about me” mindset permeates our cultural context already, would-be worshipers seem to enter church services with the assumption that whatever goes on here “better be good,” and if it is not, I’m out.  And the “better be good” part again implies “good to me.”  The center of this worship is “I.”

Revelation and Response is the rhythm of worship.  God reveals Himself to us and we respond to Him.  In the four folds of healthy worship we find this rhythm maintains a steady beat throughout the worship.  In the gathering we are reminded that God has revealed Himself in time and has invited us to come before Him.  He is revealing Himself through each other as believers who are in Christ come together and join the many members to the one body.  Our opportunity in participatory worship is to respond to Him by thanksgiving, celebration, singing, and praise – Revelation and Response.  And the beat goes on!

In the second fold of worship we anticipate the most direct revelation of God in His Word.  While all folds of fourfold worship are bathed in scripture, the service of the Word is particularly intense with focus of “thus saith the Lord.”  So central is this aspect of our worship that we can well understand how church folk over time began to talk as much about “going to preaching” as they did “going to worship,” and eventually replaced one with the other.  This thinking, however, can develop a serious problem on both sides of the pulpit.  On the pew side, a notion develops returning us to a pre-Reformation mindset, whereby the preacher becomes priest, who alone holds the truth of scripture’s interpretation.  The attendee who already has a tendency to be spectator is further driven toward that mindset.  In worse case scenarios faith is placed in charismatic personalities, rather than the scripture itself.  Prayerful spirits of eager reception are replaced by “let’s see how you do” attitudes.  Over time, sensitivities to the Holy Spirit can be confused with how well we are inspired by a particular speaker.

On the pulpit side the danger of egoism may develop on one hand, or abject fear on the other.  Egoism may be cultivated when a preaching pastor recognizes his charismatic personality holds sway over attenders (or at least some of them).  In worse case scenarios folklore, personal opinion, and misinterpretation of scripture can hold sway, and preachers can remain unchecked on biblical affinity or theological soundness.  The preacher may have the absolute best of intentions, but we are all “prone to wonder.”  But what of the preaching pastor who lives in fear because of the pressure inherent with inspiring the people? And it seems nothing will remedy the lack of confidence.  Attending conferences, watching megachurch pastors’ videos, or studying charismatic leaders only adds to the fear that attenders will find him wanting as a performer.  This can leave the preacher one bad sermon away from demise.  We could go on….

But wait!  The service of the Word is about the WORD!  We want to hear from God – His revelation, which is found in and through His Word as revealed by the Holy Spirit.  The point is well articulated by Dr. Cherry,

The purpose of the service of the Word is so people may be addressed by God through the Holy Scriptures and thereby changed for God’s glory and kingdom.  Notice that it is not a matter of us addressing the Scripture, for that suggests that the primary point is the skill with which we handle the word of God.  Rather, the goal is for the scripture to address us.[1]

Worship music leaders may feel this subject does not apply to us, but the contrary is true.  Through the ministry of music in worship we help to prepare the heart to hear God’s address.  At times we place the very Word itself on the lips of the people, or present it through the musical expression of choirs, soloists, or ensemble singers.  The Worship Musician should never feel that their responsibility is to warm everybody up for the sermon.  Indeed, we often script and enlist participants to read the Word aloud, or even lead the whole gathered body in spoken or sung recitation at points in the service.  We guide worshipers in knowing where we are together in the Revelation – Response rhythm to maintain the beat.  Our sensibilities to God’s voice and reverence for His Word are likely evident in our demeanor, and actually become a point of leadership as we model an ethos in the free church tradition of worship whereby we expect the Lord to speak to our hearts.

Speak, O Lord as we come to You to receive the food of Your Holy Word.


[1] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, pg.70.

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