What Is Worship?
Throughout my ministry, I’ve heard different ideas tossed around about what constitutes holy worship. These ideas and definitions have come from a number of sources from those who fill the pews each week to those who help churches and communities reflect on their worship practices.
You hear a lot of concepts about worship. I’ve heard worship described as a “performance,” “entertainment,” or a “show.” There are also the other words that get tossed around: “boring,” “distracting,” or “long.” Of course, within all of that you hear people describe worship as “holy,” “necessary,” and “vital.”
We describe worship, because we know how important it is to our spiritual growth. Worship is about connecting our hearts and lives together, as a community, in praise and adoration of our Lord. The worship of a community is about remembering who we are, so that we can go out to live as the people of God.
Worship gives us an opportunity to be centered in our love of God and hope for one another. That is why community worship is important. We gather, as one body, to be connected in our mutual love of the Lord and our sent out in shared ministry and mission to share God’s love. If we do not come together as a community worship, we run the risk of living in isolation or putting ourselves as the center of our universe and existence.
Worship is who we are and what we should be about. But, what does holy and Christ-centered worship look like? It will look differently based on contextual and theological needs. You can have holy and Christ-centered worship that is traditional, contemporary, blended, uses only an organ, or has a fully-functioning praise band. Style of worship is not the same as the content and focus of worship.
Holy and Christ-centered worship should be participatory. We do not gather for worship on Sundays to sit on our hands and count the seconds for worship to conclude. We are not here to watch a show. We have come to be gathered up in a story of God’s redeeming and everlasting love for all people and creation. It is a story that we are a part of and play a major role in. Worship demands our participation and full attention, so that we can be engaged in and remember the story of God’s creative power, love, and hope.
We participate in worship by coming prepared to give our fully attention to God and one another. Often times we come to worship distracted. We are thinking about a church meeting that we need to schedule, a conversation we need to have with someone, or fuming about an argument that we had on our way to church. Even more, we come distracted by our worries and anxieties about life. All of these things, and others, prevent us from truly hearing from God in this sacred moment. The best practice is to allow yourself to breathe before you enter the sanctuary, but also to remember why we have gathered together in the first place in worship of God.
Holy and Christ-centered worship should also lead us towards deeper discipleship. Faith is a journey of continual growth and discipleship in following Christ. Worship plays an important role in helping us grow in our love of God and our understanding of who God is in our lives. It gives us space to love God, to learn more about what it means to follow the Lord, and enables us to respond to the grace of God in our actions towards one another and the world. What that does is produces disciples who are more engaged in their personal walk with Christ and leads to more committed and connected to congregation.
To get there, though, it means worship, and especially the proclamation of God’s word, should be challenging. One of my deepest worries is when we believe worship should confirm our assumptions about how the world should work. That was never Jesus’ intent when he taught. Jesus routinely called those who would follow him to be a counter-cultural witness of God’s holy love. He never called people to remain where they were, but, instead, to “follow him.” That means worship should challenge us in a way that leads us to reflect upon who we are and where God is leading us as a people.
Holy and Christ-centered worship, finally, should be focused on sending the congregation out into the community. Worship reminds us that we are gathered as a community to worship, to grow, but also that we are sent out from the sanctuary to be the hands and feet of Christ. We give witness to our faith by our words, actions, and deeds throughout the week. Worship should prepare us for this work, and then send us out with a mindset to engage the world for Christ.
When we think of worship in those terms, it forces us to think of how worship leads us into the mission field of our community. We often think of a mission field in terms of a place you go to and experience, but our mission field is the context in which we seek to be the church. Our mission field is Beverly Hills, Washington Boulevard, Marcum Terrace, Norway Avenue, and portions of 20th Street in Huntington. This is where God has called and planted us to be the hands and feet of Christ. Worship then reminds us that when we leave the sanctuary that we are called to be missionary agents in this neighborhood.
Worship is truly everything. When placed in its context as a holy and Christ-centered engagement of a community in praise and adoration of the Lord it puts our focus in the right place. That worship is not about us. It is about loving God, growing together, and being sent to share the love of God with all the people we meet.