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.