Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reclaiming the Essence of Worship

Worship is a touchy subject in many churches.  What makes it such a painful topic of conversation is "format" or "style of worship".  These disagreements have caused some serious rifts in congregations-worship wars!  I have some very strong opinions on worship and having planned worship, led worship and participated in worship I have just one thing to say.  Get over it!!!  Worship is not about "how" you do it, it is about why!

I like this take on worship in Psalm 100 in The Message paraphrase:
"On your feet now-applaud God!  Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence...Enter with the password: 'Thank you!' Make yourselves at home, talking praise.  Thank him.  Worship him."
Bottom line, it's not about us feeling good.  It is about us praising God and thanking God.  That is the whole point and all roads in regards to worship had better lead to God!  It's just that simple.

I, being a lover of all music, can worship God equally as well with a hymn as I can with a contemporary praise song!  Classical music?  Excellent.  Gregorian chant?  Inspiring.  Gospel music?  Fantastic!  I love it all and I can find a path to worship through any of these styles of music.  This is probably why I find worship wars so utterly ridiculous and pointless!  As far as I am concerned, the arguments miss the point!  A well planned worship service always leads the congregation on to the path of praise, thankfulness and worship in the presence of God!  Who are you focusing on?  What is your focus?  Are you really focusing on worshiping God?  Why did you pick this song or hymn?  Why do you have the service in this order?  If you are planning worship, then details matter!  Let me give you a couple of examples.

When I took over planning the contemporary service at our church there was one change that I insisted on which caught everyone by surprise.  It involved lighting the candles up front.  I wanted a child in our congregation to "bring the light in" and "carry the light out".  I didn't suggest this simply because I liked the idea!  I insisted on it because it was symbolic.  A child, bringing in the light of Christ, that light, prominently displayed up front and at the end of the service, a child carrying the light of Christ out in to the world.  Symbols matter!  They are important and I thought it was important to bring some of that symbolism back in to the service!  If the whole point of worship is about praising God and thanking God, a child is a good reminder about approaching the throne with child like faith!

Another complaint that I have heard is about saying the Lord's prayer.  Everybody does it by rote, it's just a part of the service, it means nothing, blah blah blah.  Well, maybe the reason it is rote is because someone hasn't done a thorough enough job of explaining the meaning behind it.  Or maybe it is because we as individuals haven't stopped long enough to think about what that prayer really says!

Let's stop and think about this for a minute and break it down.  "Our father"-yours, mine and everyone whether they acknowledge God or not.  "Who art in heaven"-the place that we are a part of yet is bigger than anything we can imagine.  "Hallowed be they name"-father totally rocks and we should honor him!  "Thy kingdom come"-I can't wait to see the big picture!  "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"-help me do and act the way that you would, father!  "Give us this day our daily bread"-provide for me what I need to do what you ask of me today.  "And forgive us our trespasses"-forgive my stumbles and ignorance.  "As we forgive those who trespass against us."-remind me that I need to forgive those who have hurt me.  "And lead us not in to temptation"-give me the wisdom to not do the wrong thing!  "But deliver us from evil"-let your holy spirit guide my every move.  "For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever!" - your world is more real than this world and you are in control of all of it!   Thank goodness! "Amen"-so be it.

That was long but I think you get my point.  Everything that is a part of worship should have meaning.  The words, the symbols and the order matter.  And if you have to take a minute to explain it then do it-educate your congregation!  Think of worship planning like a river.  A river has rapids and quiet pools but a river always flows forward. The trees, the flowers and the rocks are there for a reason.  The point of worship is to praise God and to thank God and the river of worship should flow forward and bring us closer to that essence of worship.  And if you are a member of the congregation, remember that spirit of thanksgiving as you join with others to worship God with your presence and your praise!

So instead of wasting our time bickering over worship style why don't we instead focus on why we worship?  Let's focus instead on reclaiming the essence and true purpose of worship!  Regardless of what format or style that you use, make sure that what you do leads the congregation towards praising God and thanking God!  If all roads lead to God then you will have an inspiring worship service-regardless of style!  It's time that the people of God reclaim the essence of worship!  Amen and Amen!

I'm getting off my soapbox now...

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