IS WORSHIP REALLY ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE?

worship experienceHow often do you hear these two words used together, “worship” and “experience?” Churches consistently promote their Sunday gatherings using this terminology. Senior Pastors and search committees looking for a worship leader often give top consideration to someone who can “give us a great worship experience from week to week.” In fact, one of the largest conferences for worship leaders wears the very moniker, “Experience.” I have friends who have taught at that conference and many more who have attended. I get it. We are human after all, and who doesn’t want to have a great experience? Who doesn’t want to hear their favorite band or learn new songs? Plus most worship leaders are all too aware that their people prefer that they try to inspire them rather than be prophetic or try to confront them with convicting truth.  I mean, granted Old and New Testament use sacrificial terminology in relation to worship, but who is going kick off the Sunday morning gathering by stepping up to a microphone, playing a couple of power chords and yelling out “Are you ready to sacrifice?!?!?” Not a winning technique for an opener.

Robert Webber warned against worship practices influenced by the culture of narcissism. One example of deepest concern for this writer is the tendency for so many worship songs to focus on ourselves. Of equal concern is an entertainment-inspired approach to how worship music is presented. Seems obvious to me that worship that prioritizes my experience is worship that has become about me. We seem to have been fooled into thinking that if our songs are about how much I love Jesus, how much I want to serve him, and lift him up, how I will praise him and magnify him, then this is great worship. God is made the object of my affection and this becomes the measure of worship, how strongly I feel gratitude and express it to God. The same cultural influence that has fooled us into thinking that marriages are built on love measured by feelings has likewise placed the heart of worship in the feelings of the worshiper. But the heart of Christian worship is God’s story, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His birth, death, and resurrection. Worship brings glory to God because “it recalls God’s saving deeds in the past and anticipates the culmination of his saving deeds in the new heavens and new earth.”[1] Worship centered in Jesus Christ calls us outside ourselves. John Piper says, “God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God.”

I hope you will not misunderstand the point I am trying to raise. Surely, our affections are stirred at the mere thought that the God of the universe desires relationship with us. That Jesus would die on a cross to make the way for relationship possible is overwhelming. To contemplate the power of His blessed resurrection and the resultant victory over sin and death is certainly reason for unbridled celebration on our part. The challenge of Christian worship is that it is spiritual by nature. Our participation is a spiritual act of faith. Again, our culture has sought to associate spirituality as something we feel, a sensation or group of sensations. Dating all the way back to the ancient church, however, the pattern for Christian worship has centered in Word and Sacrament through which God’s vision for the world is proclaimed and enacted. Modern culture, Enlightenment thinking, and fierce individualism seem to have moved us away from our roots. Renewed worship will surely return us to a faith-based practice of Word and Table trusting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to reveal and enact God’s Word and His intention for the world. Inclusion in His work as citizens of the Kingdom will likely result in joyous expressions at times as well as deep lament and concern at times as we await His return and the completion of His re-creation. Meanwhile worship centered in Him will shape us as His disciples to be more like Jesus.

Worship transforms us from people who live for ourselves to people who live for him who died and was raised again.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Worship transforms us from being the served to be the servants.

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve,and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

Worship is to help us take our eyes off the temporal and remind us of the eternal

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

[1] Robert Webber Ancient Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Baker Books 2008) 85.

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

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