Now understand…the act of worship in and of itself is noble and a natural response to God’s saving grace. The precarious nature of worship I’m referring to is the methodology. Our style. What we do and don’t do, and how we do and don’t do it. To make matters even more complicated, this can be as varied (and unusual) as the number of people in any given church meeting.
For example, some want to just sit and be reverent, while others want our worship to be a big pew jumpin’ party. Some churches believe spiritual gifts should be evident, while others don’t want any kind of expression or emotion. Still others think hymns are the only way to sing praise, while others want to sing something written yesterday. A pipe organ is preferred in one place, while a rock band is liked in another.
What’s a worship leader to do? As Hemingway wrote, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
The Real Issue
There are two elements involved here. Worship. And, worship style. The problem comes when we confuse the two. Personal preference – “I like hymns”, or “I like it when we clap” – is all about preferring one style over the other. And, that’s fine. It’s fine to choose to worship at a church that only sings contemporary music. The problem comes when we confuse our preference for worship style with the act of worship itself. When that happens, the Church is thrown into chaos and division.
The only indicator of true worship is our heart. The heart is crucial because it is the barometer of what lies at the core of our faith. It involves what we feel, think, and choose. It is the “tell” of who we fundamentally are as believers. In other words, if our faith is genuine, then it will be demonstrated in the intentional living out of obedience to God.
Singing hymns doesn’t make us holy. Raising our hands and singing along with the praise band doesn’t make us relevant or real. And, it certainly is not an indicator of whether we’re worshiping or not. The real issue is whether our hearts are engaged in what we’re singing, praying, hearing, and saying.
The Biblical Case for Expression
God’s Word does give commands for physical expression in worship. We can shout, clap, bow, and kneel. We can play instruments, and we can sing to each other with “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” We can also “Be still and know that He is God.” In addition, we are directed to encourage each other, to fellowship, and to preach the Word.
What is most important, though, is that we are authentic in our worship and that, above all, God is glorified for who he is and what he has done. Our worship is a response to God the Creator for sending Jesus Christ, the Son, to save us from his wrath, so deserved because of our sin. An almighty God has saved us – that’s why we worship.
As the writer of Hebrews tells us,
…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:22-25 ESV