A while back I read an article that stated that the majority of Christians choose which church to go to based primarily on the worship at that church. That means most Christians today would rather sit through a long boring sermon than a bad musical performance. At first I thought that was a ridiculous idea until I experienced it firsthand.
I grew up in a Vineyard church, which, if anyone has ever paid attention, is where most of the modern worship material played in contemporary churches comes from. For most of my life, I just took for granted that worship would last about an hour and the pastor would speak for about 20 minuets. Being a musician, I loved it.
When I was 17, the Lord called me to a different church. I had been working on Tuesday nights with the youth program at the local Baptist church. I had never attended a Sunday morning service, but I was so excited about what was happening with the youth that I decided that this was where I was supposed to be. So I started attending the regular Sunday morning service, where I heard my first hymn. That’s right—I heard my first hymn when I was 17 years old. It was quite a bit of culture shock. People sat down during worship, there was no band, just some old lady at an organ, and they only did three songs before the pastor got up and gave an hour-long sermon. I think if someone would have raised their hands or started singing with their eyes closed, they would have been lynched.
Eventually I moved to Sacramento, Calif., and became the youth pastor at my church. Needless to say, I was really excited about getting involved in the worship department. The problem was that this church had formerly been just like the Baptist church. They used to have an organ and a choir; it was only within the last three years that they started doing contemporary worship, and even in that area, they were about 10 years behind the current trend. Being on the pastoral staff, I have seen an entirely different side to this whole situation. For most of the older people, if we don’t play at least one hymn on a Sunday morning, we get complaints about not upholding tradition. If we don’t incorporate new songs, the young audience has a heyday making complaints that we aren’t meeting their worship needs. In all honesty, the whole situation started to make me sick.
I’ve seen both sides of the debate, I’ve heard all the arguments, and there’s only one thing I had never heard before … what God thinks of our worship.
As Christians, we primarily identify worship as music. We have worship services where we sing for an hour. We go to worship concerts. Worship even has its own section in the Bible bookstore, and guess what … it’s in the music section. The really interesting thing is that when worship is referred to in the Bible, it’s usually not associated with music. The Greek word that is most translated into the word worship is proskyneo. Proskyneo literally refers to reverence or awe displayed by one person to another who is vastly superior to them. It is mostly shown by prostrating oneself facedown on the ground; in Jesus’ time it was common for people to blow kisses as they bowed. I know that there is a huge difference in terms, but people use scriptures including this word to get people excited about worship. But Jesus says in the book of John: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
I am not going to go on some rampage saying that all music should be removed from our church services; instead, I hope to give you an understanding of God’s idea of worship. This scripture says that we need to worship God “in spirit and truth.” I don’t see “in guitar and drums” or “in hymns and organ” anywhere in there. So what does worship look like?
First, let’s think about why we worship. Most of us worship because that’s what we are supposed to do in church. Biblically, worship is a response. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care” (Psalm 95:6-7). In the Psalms, David, perhaps the greatest worshiper of all, always had a “because.” He would say things like, “I worship you Lord because of your great mercy.” He didn’t just worship; he responded to something he experienced in God. Many Christians worship in response to the song being played, but we are commanded to worship God for what He has done for us.
Second, let’s take a look at what worship itself looks like. “In spirit and truth”—we’ve all heard it, but what does it mean? Let’s look at spirit first. Some people may disagree with me, but I firmly believe that no matter how conservative or charismatic your church is, if you want to have true worship, the Holy Spirit must be a part of it. The Holy Spirit is our counselor, the one who makes things clear to us. Before I had the Holy Spirit, the Bible was just a bunch of gibberish; now it is life to me. It is not God or the Word that has changed; it is me—through the Holy Spirit. How can we respond to what God has done if the very Spirit, whose job it is to make the things of God clear to us, is not present? Our very worship depends on the Spirit showing us a God we can exalt.
Now let’s look at truth. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). In reality, we have no reason to worship without Jesus; He is the truth that brings us to God. If we want to worship the Lord in truth, we need to be a part of Jesus. Just like the Spirit, who shows us why God is worthy of worship, Jesus gives us access to God so that we can worship Him.
Above anything else, worship needs to be about showing reverence, thanks, awe and so on to God. So many times we make it about ourselves. How many songs do we sing that are focused on us asking God to give us something or do something for us? Those things have their place, but worship is about adoration for a God who saved us. If singing gets you to a place of adoration, then sing. Maybe you’re a poet or a writer; maybe you can worship God by painting or dance; maybe you just need to get on your knees and lay prostrate before the Lord. Whatever your outlet, it needs to be about God.
Finally, worship is not your worship leader’s responsibility. If you can’t worship the Lord on your own, then a worship leader won’t help you get in that place. In fact, you will probably never be content with the worship at any church.
So worship—sing, dance, shout, write, read, run around—but worship “in spirit and truth.”