One of the most important and misunderstood parts of faith is worship, especially worship as it pertains to a community gathering. It is at the core of who we are as a faith community and, yet, it can be the source of the most complaints and frustrations within a community. Why? Because it is the largest gathering of a faith community each week and, also, the only time some people will step into a door.
Worship is the act of giving praise to God. It is at the heart of everything we do as followers of Christ, but it has its most powerful connotation as the body of Christ comes together to praise God. When we gather as a community for worship, we are joining the entire global body of faith, and those who have gone before us, to express our joy in Christ and to reflect upon where God is leading us as individuals and a community.
That is a very basic definition of worship. Many of us recognize this definition, but we will come to worship with our own expectations. We come to hear from God, but at the same time feel the need to be entertained or affirmed in our basic ideas of how the world should work. So, what is worship and, as well, what is not worship?
Let’s focus, first, on what worship is not.
Worship is not a performance. We do not gather to watch a weekly religious theater performance where the pastor, choir, and a small number of lay volunteers are the actors and the congregations sits back and somewhat watches. This attitude has led to the idea that worship should be mostly entertaining, so keep people coming back for next week’s performance. It is only enhanced by how many of our congregations are designed that could easily be confused someone who has never walked into a church that they are, in fact, going to a show. This attitude, as well, has led to a consumeristic-based approached to worship decisions that can easily ignore the direction of God for the community and focus, instead, upon what will make people happy.
Worship is not a pep rally. Often times, we come to worship expecting our basic beliefs about the world to be upheld and honored, especially in the sermon. We say we do not want politics spoken from the pulpit only when our basic ideas about the world are not affirmed or we feel challenged by the proclamation of God’s word. We come to worship, then, to raise up our own ideas and to see how God affirms us in what we already believe about the world. That is not worship of God. That is worship of the self.
Worship is not about the music. The most hotly contested aspect of worship is the music. Should we sing hymns? Should we sing more traditional songs? Should we have a band? Should we play the piano? All of these questions are function questions, but are not at the heart of what it means to worship. Deep and effective worship can take place with an organ or a praise band. What matters is the connection to God that is made through the act of worship.
So, what is worship?
Worship is about glorying God. The act of worship is the entire congregation coming together as performers in the drama of worship. We have come to tell the story of God’s redeeming love and to respond to that love with our lives and service. Thus, the only person we are truly giving attention to in worship is God. The only thing that matters, as well, about worship is was God glorified and praised through the prayers, sermon, and celebration together.
Worship is about hearing God’s desires for us and responding to them. We come to worship to hear the word of God proclaimed through music, the sermon, and around the table of communion. Each act of worship calls us to hear God’s message for us as a people and how the Lord calls us to be people of faith beyond one hour on Sunday morning. Worship, as well, inspires within us a response to take what we have shared together out in the mission field to express the love of Christ with all people.
Worship is about a deep awakening to the presence of God in all aspects of life. In this, worship is more than about the music and preaching. It is about a spiritual awareness of God’s love in our lives in such a way that it calls us to recognize God’s presence in every moment. Worship brings us into the deep upon the deep of God’s redeeming love and invites us to see how God is in the ordinary and mundane, as much as the high holy moments of life. Worship reminds us that in all that we do we give praise to God.
Worship is, truly, a critical aspect to our shared life together. It is about seeking the heart of God and growing in Christ’s likeness. When we have our heart focused in the right area, worship is truly powerful, transformative, and leads us to renewed and deepened life in Christ.