Worship God. Those words are so common in churches and Christian circles that they have become a simple formula for “what we do on Sunday morning.” We worship God. Ask a worship leader what he or she does on Sunday morning, and some of the more astute ones may say, “I worship God and invite the congregation to join me.” Some may simply say, “I lead worship,” or, “I serve on the worship team.” OK, so what do you do the rest of the week? “Oh, I’m a dentist...”
In the North American church we have a problem. Worship has become synonymous with the standing and singing and clapping of hands and the playing of instruments and maybe dancing before the throne of God. It has become a performance for people, and it shows as a four-to-seven piece band and six member vocal ensemble leads an assembly in singing an assortment of Chris Tomlin, Robin Mark and Casting Crowns songs, possibly mixed with some well-loved hymns for the older folks to enjoy as well. “Good morning, and welcome to this year’s annual Promise Keepers National Conference. We’re going to start with some worship to warm up before we get into our program...” And so, as the drums set the beat and the electric guitars begin to wail, the acoustic playing leader steps to the microphone and begins to instruct the assembled throng in how worship will be done. Standing, singing, clapping, dancing, or listening and praying and silent, the congregation follows along as the band “worships.”
The tragedy of this painful vision is that it is more common than we care to admit. So this is where it is vital that worship leaders everywhere truly seek God’s will and his anointing in their lives and in the lives of the band, if there is one, and in the life of the church. The single most important way of doing this is to constantly and prayerfully search the Scriptures for God’s teaching as to how he is to be worshiped, but also why he is to be worshiped, and who he is that he should be worshiped. Further, the Bible teaches what indicators to watch for that confirm that the leader’s worship is pure and correct in God’s sight. As worship bands pray and seek wisdom, the Holy Spirit reveals sin, rebukes offenses, revitalizes dead spirits and brings God’s truth into the group’s preparations for “performance.” Submission and obedience; discipline and surrender; in these acts, in the seeking of God’s kingdom before anything else, God will be faithful to add the needed elements, as he provides sustenance for his creation (Luke 12:21-31).
Hebrews 13:15 teaches that our praise is a sacrifice, a proclaiming of allegiance to his name. Obviously this doesn’t just mean worshipers get to wear a badge and say they are on God’s team. It means we deny our allegiance to our flesh and submit to God’s leadership and lordship, and in that place of trust, praise is the by-product, and so then it becomes a genuine expression.
The reason the psalmist will sing to the Lord as long as he lives (Ps. 104:33) is that he has given his life in service to God and has discovered the joy and worship that God has given in order that they may be returned to him as songs of praise, and continued submission to his sovereign will. Philippians 3:3 affirms that believers’ worship originates only with God. A gift of worship is unacceptable to God unless it is first cleansed by Christ’s blood and placed by the Lord Christ before the throne of heaven, perfect and spotless. Therefore a worship band cannot rely on any skill or talent they themselves possess in order to generate a suitable “performance” that will bring glory to God.
There must be surrender, by worship leaders and congregations alike, to the eternal will of God and to the knowledge that he alone determines the parameters of worship. He defines worship and provides worship, and how that worship is expressed is not nearly so important in the bigger picture than that it is expressed with the correct heart. Worship is not performance art, but performance art can be worship, as can many other things, provided it is done for God’s glory, and his glory alone.