Growing Worshiping Disciples on Mission for Christ

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Jesus’ Formula for Worship Doesn’t Include a Specific Style

3Crosses“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” – John 12:32, NIV

Look at Jesus’ words from John 12:32. This statement is rich with meaning on many levels. First, Jesus was reminding his Hebrew listeners how Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness as a sign of healing. In this reference, Jesus built a bridge both to his Jewish heritage and to his crucifixion to come. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, Jesus would soon be lifted up on a Roman cross as the ultimate healer of sin for all time and all eternity. But there is more in this simple statement that we dare not miss. Jesus was also giving us the simplest formula for true worship. When we lift him up above all, he will draw hearts and lives to himself. Worship style is simply packaging for the truth of the gospel.

For example… I have used the same brand of body lotion for many years. Across those years, the identifying marks of the lotion bottle—color, shape, print style, etc.—seldom change. And why would it, since the manufacturers want me to be able to identify it easily in any store? On the other hand, the words “new and improved” seem to appear on my lotion regularly. They are always seeking to change the product to better fit the ever-changing needs of the users.

The good news that Christ died on the cross for the sin of the world is just the opposite from my favorite lotion. The product of the gospel is never new and improved. When Christ gave his life for us, it was fully active for all time and all people in all places. Truth, by definition, is completely true and never gets stronger, more effective, or “more true.” Christ’s death and resurrection cannot be improved upon. It always will be the only way that God redeems us to himself. God’s plan is perfect.

But our tendency, like the manufacturer of my lotion, is to make an icon of the packaging. Any way you cut it, our music and preaching styles, architecture, dress, seating arrangement, format, etc. are simply packaging for the product. We want to take our favorite shape, color, and style and make them the standard in every market. When we fall into that trap, worship methodology becomes idolatry. Worship of God misses the mark when we make it all about our favorite package. The formula for real worship is all about the product—the gospel—not the packaging.

Rick Warren wrote in The Purpose Driven Church: “Every church likes to believe its worship style is the most biblical. The truth is there isn’t a biblical style of worship. Each Sunday true believers around the world give glory to Jesus Christ using a thousand equally valid expressions and styles.”1 Colossians 3:16 (NIV) shows us that God affirms variety in our worship: “Let the Word of God dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, giving thanks in your hearts to God.” In modern terms, psalms are Scripture songs, hymns are great songs of the faith that present the gospel, and spiritual songs are songs sung to God personally.

The gospel never changes, but the packaging of the gospel must change! The language and style of our cultural context at any given time demand different wrappers. The means of communicating the truth of the gospel must be contextualized to best convey the message. The means of salvation, however, will always be Jesus Christ, Son of God.  — Mark Powers

1 Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 241.


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When Methodology Becomes Idolatry – Part Two


Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”

Matthew 16:24, HCSB

In a world separated from God, daily life becomes a web of cravings for personal happiness. Western culture has elevated our selfish cravings to be socially acceptable and even admired. Morality has become “what makes me happy right now” rather than a behavioral standard set by God. Our culture of self-satisfaction is a trap to Christian worshipers. And the Evil One has set that trap just for you and me. Oh, how many times I have fallen into it myself. We want to be the standard by which things around us are measured. We want attention and praise and glory. Even in subtle ways we crave to have the focus on ourselves. As we humble ourselves to pray we wonder who noticed us kneeling.

In many of our churches, the absence of an intentional discipleship process leaves church members with no other frame of reference than themselves. They think they are doing the right thing because their only reference is their personal preference. But preference is only an extension of self. To enthrone my preference as the only way it should be done is to put myself on the throne of worship.

A young worship leader who I have mentored for many years was called to appear before his church’s personnel committee. On the table around which they were gathered lay his job description. One of his many responsibilities read: “Provide worship that will edify the church members and connect young families in our community with God.”

In that sentence only the first seven words had been highlighted by the chairwoman of the committee. “We have called you here to tell you that you are not meeting the worship needs of the people on this committee,” she stated.

The young worship leader reminded them that he was presenting traditional hymns as well as songs in modern styles. Then he had the audacity to ask why the second half of the phrase was not highlighted. The chairwoman spoke up, “We are not here to talk about those other people. We are the financial supporters and workers in this church, and your job is to give us what we want.”

Of course, it’s easy for worship leaders to point an accusing finger at church members. We blame our members for holding us back from true worship. But we worship leaders are not immune to idolatry. We become the self-appointed local authority on worship. We develop a worship plan and style that keeps our members happy; then we deify that order of worship. Or we may be worshiping our own personal preference for classical works or contemporary choruses or Southern gospel songs or hymns. Who are we to stand before God and tell him what he needs?

Judson Cornwall, in his book Worship as Jesus Taught It, wrote: “Whenever the method of worship becomes more important than the Person of worship, we have already prostituted our worship. There are entire congregations who worship praise and praise worship but who have not yet learned to worship God in Jesus Christ”.   — Mark Powers

Cornwall, Worship as Jesus Taught It, 70.

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When Worship Methodology Becomes Idolatry

 NOLA Cathedral 004

Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:23-24, NIV

I have friends who travel the country as consultants for church growth with churches of every denomination, size, and style. I ask them: “What do you see across America in worship?” Many have replied: “Worship idolatry is rampant in the church today. Most worship leaders in our churches are little more than performers putting on a good show.”

Does God need us to put on a really great show to sell him to the masses? Is he just waiting in the wings for some help from my worship team? Is God nervously hoping that his people will somehow “get something” out of our worship service? Has God postponed winning the world until all our church members are happy with the music and preaching? We have taken the King of the universe, the creator of all things, and cast him as a pleading old man who begs us to come to him.

Over the previous blog posts I have mapped the institutional-attractional track that the Church Train has followed to get on the wrong track. Next we defined the essence of authentic worship that transcends style and denominationalism. Now it is time to take a hard look at our worship to identify sources of idolatry.

Recently, I had a heart scan. The heart scan shows everything in my heart without threatening my health. My family history is genetically marked with heart disease. Our human family is marked with heart disease called sin. We need a daily heart scan to measure our worship lifestyle by God’s standard. May this chapter be our heart scan.

Who makes a god or casts a metal image for no profit? Look, all its worshipers will be put to shame, and the craftsmen are humans.    – Isaiah 44:10–11, HCSB

Bob Kauflin said on his Worship Matters blog: “When someone mentions idolatry, we can picture some tribesman in New Guinea bowing down to statues of wood or metal, and think, ‘Thank God I don’t struggle with THAT.’ Idols, however, are far more pervasive, insidious, and deceptive. Idolatry is attributing ultimate value, authority, or supremacy to any object other than God. Whenever I think I can’t worship God unless “X” is present, I’m making a profound statement. If “X” is anything other than Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, I’ve moved into idolatrous territory. Idolatry is always evil, but the idols we pursue aren’t necessarily evil things. They are evil for us because we value them over God.”1

Let’s be honest. Whether as worshiper in the audience or worship leader on the platform, the temptation of idolatry grips us all. We project our personalities above God’s glory. We present performances in place of broken and contrite hearts. We replace proclamation of God’s Word with positive-thinking techniques. It’s easy to depend on personal charm and skill to draw a crowd. But God always calls us to be reflections of his glory, not enamored with our own glory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5: “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom . . . For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified . . . My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (NIV) God will not overlook anything we put in his place of glory, especially if that thing is me.

According to the Great Commission, engaging in worship services is not the essential work of the church. When we make weekly worship an end in itself, we are easily tempted to worship the very acts of worship. We are tempted to worship our favorite style of worship. We are tempted to worship our most meaningful experience of worship. And when we worship the acts of worship, we are missing the only worthy object of worship—God incarnate in Christ manifested in the Holy Spirit. If we worship the way we “do” worship, our methodology has become idolatry.

When Jesus gathered his followers on the mountain he did not say, “Go ye, therefore, and worship.” Worship is not an end in itself! Worship is a means to an end. What is that end, that ultimate goal? Jesus’ commission to the church is to make disciples and win the world, pure and simple. Jesus’ followers fell down and worshiped him, but then they arose and moved out into the world to make disciples. Our commission from Christ is to win the world by making disciples for him. Worship idolatry has become a huge distraction from the process of making disciples who make disciples.

Where do you see ‘worship idolatry’ at work in your church?  Submit a comment and let’s confess and repent together.   – Mark Powers

1. Kauflin, “Idolatry on Sunday Mornings, Pt. 1.” No pages.

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Personal Meditation/Worship Team Devotional: “And Can It Be?”


And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Savior’s blood?

Died He for me, who caused His pain?

For me, who Him to death pursued?

Amazing love! How can it be,

That thou, my God, should die for me?

Life hurts. Dad develops a malicious lung condition which steadily drains life. Mother-in-law is silently overcome by Alzheimer’s, a slow goodbye to awareness. Betrayal invades a marriage, and loved ones divorce. Where are you God? Are you real? Or are you just an idea cooked up by desperate humans afraid of insignificance in a lonely universe? Question marks abound in life.

He left his Father’s throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace;

Emptied Himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam’s helpless race;

‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;

O praise my God, it reaches me.

Reach me, Lord. Can you reach me? I am desperate to feel the wonder of your presence. Doubt threatens, but faith yearns to rise and lift me to you. Be merciful and free me from captivity to self.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;

My chains fell off, my heart was free;

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Your light invades; darkness runs to the shadows. Strength overtakes weakness; healing overcomes pain. Lord, I worship you!

No condemnation now I dread;

Jesus and all in Him is mine!

Alive in Him, my living Head,

And clothed in righteousness divine,

Bold I approach the eternal throne,

And claim the crown, thro’ Christ, my own.

Amazing love!

                     How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?

– Mark Powers ——————Wesley, “And Can It Be,” Public Domain.