“These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. ” – Matthew 15:8–10, NIV
The worship renewal movement began several decades ago to rediscover the place of authentic corporate worship in our evangelical church life. For centuries, evangelicals had been so focused on evangelism that we had ignored communing and connecting with the Father in our worship services. Worship in our churches had become primarily evangelistic services focused on attracting non-believers into church to hear the gospel. In that setting, only the music portion of the service was referred to as worship, like an appetizer for the main course—the sermon.
Worship in the church should not be defined by our music. The power of church is not the power of music. The power to change the world does not come from a particular musical style. In fact, in a typical worship service, only 15 to 30 minutes are given to music. If you do the math, that means that around two tenths of one percent of the 10,080 minutes of a church-goers’ whole week is spent engaged in worship music. How strange that, in many churches, 100 percent of our identity is determined by two-tenths of a percent of our weekly activity. “The major challenge,” according to George Barna, “is not about how to use music to facilitate worship as much as it is to help people understand worship and have an intense passion to connect with God.” Bryan Spinks has said: “To put it bluntly, worship is about worshiping God and the Lamb, and not about entertaining the sheep!”
The focus of biblical worship has always been God initiating relationship with a chosen people at the cost of his Son on the cross. This revelation demands a corporate response of self-denial and sacrifice. But attractional worship mistakenly turns the spotlight of worship on individuals and meeting their “felt needs” in a worship service. The danger here is that worship with the family of God becomes our individual narcissistic relationship with God, like the child at the family reunion who seizes all the attention as if they were the only one present. In that self-focused context, corporate worship becomes simply a party or show the church offers me. Then, few demands, if any, are placed on seekers since it becomes the church’s responsibility to sell them on the benefits of following God. Shallow worship produces shallow Christians who are no more than consumers of worship as entertainment. And worse, worship narcissism can fuel ruthless church leaders who tear apart the church with their own agenda on committees or governing boards in the institutional church. Paul warned Timothy of people “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:1–5, NIV). Acceptance of Christ is always a personal decision of surrender at the heart level. And discipleship focuses on continued surrender in daily life. Sending church members on mission may be the best antidote to our self-centeredness. In the meantime, God’s kingdom is seriously hindered by self-centered worshipers who are allowed to think worship is “all about me.”
Bob Kauflin, in his book, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, stated the biblical concept of worship beautifully: “Worship is God’s gift of grace to us before it is our offering to God. Apart from this perspective, leading worship can become self-motivated and self-exalting. We subtly take pride in our worship, our singing, our playing, our planning, our performance, our leadership. Unfortunately we separate ourselves from the God who drew us to worship him in the first place. Gathering to praise God cannot be a means to some “greater” end, such as church growth, evangelism, or personal ministry. God is not a genie we summon by rubbing the bottle called ‘worship.’ He doesn’t exist to help us get where we really want to go. He is where we want to go. God’s glory is the end of our worship, and not simply a means to something else. In the midst of a culture that glorifies our pitiful accomplishments in countless ways, we gather each week to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds and to glory in His supreme value.”15
The worship renewal movement was long overdue. But, as often the case in renewal, we focus solely on the area which is crying out for attention and are blinded to other issues. “Let’s fix this problem,” we say, and we pour all our attention and resources into solving that issue. By focusing exclusively on worship, we have given it disproportionate attention. It seems that we think we will fix the church if we can just fix our worship. If we are not careful, the focal issue of worship becomes our newest idol. The goal of “Going Full Circle” is certainly to renew our worship. But it goes beyond that to show you how worship is just the start of the church’s calling. My passion is that you will see that worship—both personal worship and corporate worship—is the ignition key to discipleship and that you will learn how the power of true worship propels us out to share Christ with the world around us.
When all is said and done, we have nothing to offer our world but God himself and his Son, our Savior. Jesus, our only source of power to impact the world, mandates that we “Go” and share his power with the world. Yet we keep on missing it. At a recent conference, Charles Billingsley, worship leader at Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg Va., said, “God doesn’t need our production to show his presence. True worship is not just what we do; true worship is what we are.” We think if we can just offer the right mix of music presented by outstanding performers enhanced with modern technology that true worship will result. We are very flashy, but often very empty. If our worship is not focused totally on God, it will be essentially powerless in eternal impact. After all, he created it for himself!
(NOTE: Charles Billingsley will be with us at the SC Baptist Convention on Tuesday evening, November 11 at 7 pm at Shandon Baptist Church, Forest Drive, Columbia. A 200 voice mass choir and orchestra will join him. It’s FREE and open to the public. Come worship with us for LIVE IT, A CELEBRATION OF SC BAPTISTS!)
>”Focus on ‘Worship Wars’ Hides the Real Issues Regarding Connection to God,” http://www.barna.org, (accessed November 19, 2002).
>Spinks, “Worshipping the Lamb or Entertaining the Sheep,” http://www.modern reformation.org, (accessed July 31, 2012).
>Kauflin, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, 176–77.
>Author’s personal conversation with Charles Billingsley.