What Is Worship?
Feb 19, 2010, Ivan Allum
WHAT IS WORSHIP?
(Worship) 1. To show reverence and adoration for (a deity); 2. feel great admiration or devotion for.
I think all of us would agree that the act of worship is giving of myself to God, and that this happens in many forms. This, many times, is manifested through, but not limited to singing, painting, giving, dancing, etc. We all have a form of worship that is important to us and may be our own unique expression before God.
I feel it necessary to emphasize the importance of valuing the personal desire and expression of worship that those around us have. I have seen in times past how some are not willing to respect the value of worship others have, if it is not the value they themselves have. I want to make it clear I am not talking about worshiping other gods; rather, different values and expressions of worship such as song, or dance etc. This has made me realize how important it is to value other people’s worship, since worship is the action of showing reverence and adoration to God, and not a time for us to receive; although receiving is definitely a result of true passionate worship.
There are many thoughts that go through my mind when I think of worship. I certainly believe worship is a never-ending action caused by my desire to honour my Lord Jesus Christ, which compels me to seek out His desires for my life. Yes, certainly the act of living my life to bring joy to my Lord is an expression and manifestation of worship. But, worship is also the willful action of using my voice to confess with my mouth that HE IS LORD. There is no better example of submission than the bended knee and the confession of the mouth of His Lordship. As scripture says, “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth JESUS IS LORD and you will be saved,” and, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that JESUS IS LORD”. It is obvious that in scripture, for those physically able, the act of the confession of the mouth is very important. It certainly is a proclamation to the powers and principalities that come against us. Therefore, let’s remember that there are many acts and expressions of worship, but the confession of the mouth is, and always will be, the primary way of worship.
There are many who want to make sure their value of worship is Biblical. I personally feel this is a little misguided. Every Christian holds a personal relationship with God and has different spiritual and emotional gifts. Some are musicians; some have a gift of hospitality, etc. Many feel we must return to the Davidic model of worship, which is a wonderful thought. Most churches do not have the manpower or the finances to have a worship team that will run worship 24/7. What we do learn from the Davidic model of worship is that David had a desire to worship. His desire was so great that he funded worship teams who would worship the Lord all day, every day. His heart to worship God is what we want, and even though we do not all have the means to run worship 24/7, we can have his heart, and the passion to worship with all our hearts. It is my belief that most Christians hold this value to worship God with all their hearts. Biblical worship really is the expression of the heart. The Bible does not tell us with any absolute direction how to worship God, although it does give us direction in worship. For instance, there is no formula for how many songs, what style they should be, or how long the worship time in a service should last. However, we do understand that scripture commands us to worship the Lord with all our mind, will, and strength. I feel this was certainly the heart David had. Having said all of this, the Bible certainly does command and speak of actions taking place in worship and I will discuss some of these later. Understanding this, we must make sure we are worshipping the Lord in spirit and truth.
WORSHIP LEADERS: WHAT DO THEY DO?
(Leader) 1. A person or thing that leads; 2. The principal player in a music group.
According to the Oxford dictionary, the role of a leader is to lead. This seems simple, but many people have written books on being a worship leader and have missed this point. It seems that many people have forgotten the need to lead. There are many excuses for why we should not, as worship leaders, actually lead… and these excuses are all “half a sandwich short of a lunch”. In my view, many have created these theories because they are looking for the answers to the age old question: “Why did worship not go well today?
It is true; some days worship just seems to fall flat, so we start looking for the reason, and then the blame-casting starts. It was the song selection. It’s the congregation - they do not want to worship. The sound system is no good. We didn’t pray enough before the service.
We have all heard these wonderful excuses, and they are just that: excuses for things we either cannot answer, or have not taken the time to really research. It is true that song selection, sound systems, prayer, and the congregation all have a part in successful worship. It is funny that when worship is not going well all of these areas usually suffer simultaneously. We often forget there are powers and principalities working against us (Ephesians 6). This is when the blame-casting begins and the accuser grins with joy. It is easy, in this context, to see why the leader does not want to take the responsibility to lead, as it seems that much is put on their shoulders. I think many worship leaders are carrying that weight, and fear the worship will not go well and/or that they cannot perform to meet expectations. It is clear from the title we have given to the person we entrust to lead us into worship, that we need them to LEAD.
Worship leaders are not called and put into position so they can simply stand at the front of the church and worship. I wish personal worship was all that was needed -- if it were, I would love to lead worship. I can certainly worship and love to do so. But in reality, no one wants me to lead. I can worship, but I certainly cannot lead worship. There are a few requirements that must be fulfilled in order to lead worship. Let’s just look at the practical ones assuming all the spiritual issues are met:
- Be a worshiper. This is not a good place to be a performer.
- You must be able to sing. If you can’t sing, let someone else lead. (A CD player is a good idea in this case!)
- Know the songs you are singing. PRACTICE IS GOOD. If you do not have time to practice, let someone else take the position.
- It is not necessary to play an instrument on order to lead worship. (Point #2 should be reconsidered, however.)
- Have a regular quiet time where you actively pursue the Lord. Do not have your quiet time at the front of the church. Prepare spiritually before you come.
So, if you have assumed the position of Worship Leader, you need to lead. It is not a time to make excuses and pass the buck so to speak, but rather, to prepare for where God wants to take the congregation you are leading. Remember, you are a leader and any good leader knows what he or she is leading people into.
“I AM NOT A TOW TRUCK.”
This is one of the most common statements that I hear from worship teams and leaders, and it is a completely ridiculous idea and point of view. Unfortunately, this thought (that you are a tow truck) implies that you need to force everyone into worship. This will kill even the best worship leader. However, it is amazing to see how the world is led by music that inspires the soul, to lust after the products the world is offering. The world has no problem understanding the role of music in reaching the soul, and they use that to encourage, manipulate, and control what people buy, wear and think. Are worship leaders meant to control and manipulate the people of God? Absolutely not, but we are to encourage the soul to worship. We must understand that the soul is the mind, will, and emotions. It takes all three to enter into worship. If you do not engage the soul, the spirit will not be able to rise up and worship.
What does it mean feed the soul? The soul is bad isn’t it? Not at all; God created us body, soul and spirit. To reject the need of the body and of the soul to worship is ludicrous. I am sure many of you like to dance before the Lord, which is your body engaging in the desire to worship. The soul engages when joy begins. Remember that it is the mind, will and emotions. You hear a worship song you like and your mind says, “This is good!” and the emotions respond with joy. (“I will give you the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isa 61:3) This response is the act of worship imparting into you a spirit of joy. Simply put, your mind told your will to speak joy to your emotions. Of course you cannot force, drag, or even inspire people to worship if they are not willing to do so. A tow truck is capable of, and is even made for dragging things against their will or ability, and placing them where they may be dismantled or repaired. To think that a worship leader has this kind of power or control over the congregation is absolutely wrong, and invites a spirit of control and Jezebel. Similarly, if you do not acknowledge the soul when leading worship, you are not leading the people in worship, but you are simply worshiping alone.
This certainly defeats the call, or at minimum the job, to be a worship leader. At this point, if you have rejected the idea that you are to lead worship, this is then all redundant and you should quit because you will be frustrated and will have many frustrated worshipers around you.
Some other Godly mindsets in this subject are:
- I don’t have to drag the congregation into worship.
- The congregation is here to worship and love Jesus.
- GOD will inhabit the praises of HIS people.
A WORSHIP LEADER IS CALLED TO LEAD
By this point, we have realized that we cannot mandate or control people to worship. We must realize that worship leaders are called to lead worship. Leading worship, as previously stated, is not what every musician is cut out to do. Just because someone has an ability to read the Bible does not mean they should teach. By the same token, every person who plays an instrument should not lead worship. Leading worship is a gift and a skill. Remember, gifts are given and skills are learned. You may have a gift, but without the skill you will certainly be frustrated. Or, you may have the skill, but without the gift the skill will fall to the ground. I have seen many people who have the skill but lack the gift, beat up the congregation because the soul takes over and the need to manipulate kicks in. Other people can put on a great concert, but lack the engaging of the Lord. You cannot lead people to where you have not been. Many worship leaders have not been into deep worship because they are so busy performing, even in their own closet. Worship leaders must learn and actively pursue worship for themselves.
Worship leaders need to learn to come out from behind their instruments and worship the Lord. An instrument can become a great place to hide behind and will inhibit intimacy if it becomes your identity. Years ago a fellow pastor told me that he put a rather expensive coffee machine in his church, which “allowed people to feel comfortable” while relating to one another at the church. His statement illustrates the need for people to feel comfortable hiding behind things. Many musicians have learned to hide behind their instrument, which obviously separates them from God and the people they are trying to lead.
Practicing worship from the standpoint of being the worshiper will help the worship leader to understand the need of the people they are trying to lead. To be a good worship leader you must be a good worshiper. The moment I believe this fails is when worship leaders forget that the time when they are leading worship is not the primary time for them to have their quiet time with God. When you come to lead worship it has to be out of the overflow. If you are leading worship out of the overflow you do not need to enter in, because you are already in before the Lord. As a result, you are able to lead others where you already are, and have been resting. In this case, you are able to set aside personal need and minister out of the overflow, because you have been encountering God for yourself. Remember that you are a leader and naturally, people are looking to you to take them to where your spiritual excellence has taken you. If when I stand at the front of the church to preach, all I do is preach to my own needs, the congregation will never go where the Lord wants to take them. If I prepare before the Lord and He gives to me what the body needs then inevitably, I get blessed and grow as well.
I often hear the statement, “The people just do not want to worship.” It is amazing to think people have gotten up early and come to church on a sunny day and they do not want to worship. If, as a worship leader you truly look at this, you will recognize that the people truly want to worship and need to be led. Leading worship often comes down to some practical details many of us miss, because we are looking for all of the spiritual conditions that we feel have to be met. Surveying the congregation and seeing the need they have is a good start for worship.
I have already discussed the need for the soul to be engaged in worship and this is an area many worship leaders do not address. However, they certainly relate to their own soul particularly when picking music, song selection, and style. I have heard more than one worship leader remark on how overdone a song is that the congregation loves, or comment, “Please do not make me do that song. I don’t like it.” This is certainly a matter of choice and purely a soulish comment. I don’t like country music but sometimes it needs to be done for those who are there. This simply is the tool that will take them into worship. True leading is putting the needs and desires of the people you lead above yours, and above your own dislikes.
SONG SELECTION AND STYLES
Song selection and styles are often the source of argument. Many churches get stuck on styles and this often becomes elitist. When we become elitist about our worship and feel that our style is better, we have missed the LORD. I personally have travelled to many churches and have seen many styles of worship, and the Lord has inhabited all of them. I have been excited to see this happen in churches where hymns are the mainstay of worship. That does not mean we all have to start worshipping to hymns. Let’s put it this way: if there is only one form of anointed special worship, then God is a liar. Scripture says God inhabits the praises of HIS people. He does not say what genre or song has to be played. He simply inhabits our worship. Unfortunately, many of us have adopted a mindset that says we need to perform. This simply does not line up with scripture and is a deception. It simply pushes us into a ‘works’ mentality and causes striving and separation between the worship team and the people. Whenever I have seen this attitude in worship, I have also seen the spirit of division, the spirit of Jezebel, and control.
Song selection is important. It should not be the controlling factor in worship, but a good song selection will help people to enter in. Remember we do have to minister to the soul to engage it into worship. Some will have problems with this statement but remember your soul is the one that is working out salvation and it wants to learn to worship.
A fellow who used to come to our church would often come to the front of church during the testimony time and bring a song from the Lord. It usually was a very different style from what the worship team was bringing, but always touched the congregation mightily. I was always amazed at the variety of songs and music styles he brought. One day I heard him say to the worship team, “You need to prepare many different styles and types of music even if you personally do not like them.” His reasoning was that there are many people in the church and by bringing different styles and songs you have the ability to draw them into worship. A good worship leader will put their own taste aside and be ready and willing to play many different styles. I have heard some musicians say, "This song stinks -- I don’t like it." I have personally said I do not like a particular song. What we need to remember is that a song is an expression of another person’s heart towards God. This is ultimately why we are leading worship -- for others, not ourselves. Remember, we are trying to engage the soul to enter into worship. The soul is finicky and has needs. It needs to work through the spirit of heaviness. Keep in mind that song selection and styles are a very important part of worship and cannot be ignored. If you feel this can be ignored, you may have a great time in worship but you may be the only one, because you will not be leading, but rather you will be feeding your own need.
Practical ideas of song selection and style – and these are not rules, but simply observations:
- A fast song will stir up a slumbering congregation.
- A song with clapping will engage the body and often encourage dancing.
- It is better to start with a song that engages the congregation and captures their attention right off the start. Remember that the first song is usually a song that gathers the people, and that they usually enter in after the first or second songs are over.
- Intimate or minor key songs are better left for the second half of the set, or until the congregation has actually engaged in the act of worship.
- Preaching at the congregation and demanding that they enter in will not produce the fruit you want.
- Be willing to expand your music selection beyond your own preference.
- Keep your eyes open when leading worship and watch the congregation to see if they are following you.
- Get a recorded video or audio copy of the worship, and review it from time to time. If you can’t worship to it, others might have the same problem.
- Always listen to complaints to see if they have any merit. If they don’t, simply dust yourself off.
- The songs and styles you choose will determine the course of action in worship. If you expect people to dance, sing a faster song; if you are leading them into intimacy, a fast song will work against you.
- Be a servant. When you are leading worship you are simply a servant to the congregation. You are there for them. They are not there for you.
I hear the term “Prophetic worship” a lot, and have even used it myself over the years. Unfortunately, I have to say that I did not think much about the comment as I made it. I am now looking at the whole idea of prophetic worship and realizing the word "Prophetic" is absolutely the wrong descriptive to use, and definitely needs to be corrected. Psalm 33:3 says: “Sing to HIM a new song.” A new song is not a prophetic song, since it is sung to the Lord. Worship is not prophetic since God is not worshipping us but rather we are worshipping Him. Prophecy is an act where GOD speaks to us, not us singing to Him. We certainly may have a prophetic word come to an individual or the congregation in a song, but this is not worship (since it begins at the Lord’s initiative of the communication cycle) but rather a prophetic song. A prophetic song still carries all of the requirements of accountability a prophetic word does:
- It must be tested. “Let the prophets speak two or three and let the others judge.”
- Prophecy is for encouragement. 1 Corinthians 14:3: “But the one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation.”
- It demands a response from those who have received it.
A prophetic song is wonderful if the Lord chooses to reach out to His people during worship and is certainly not unheard of. But we must realize that just because a worship session is not structured, that does not mean it is therefore "prophetic." Spontaneous worship is another name for worship that is not structured and is one of the frustrations a church can go through. Whilst spontaneous worship can be exhilarating for the worship team, it often leaves the church behind, which is a problem. The job of the worship team is to LEAD.
In a worship team or as a worship leader, one of the responsibilities is to look at the congregation and gauge their response to the worship in order to help them get where the Lord wants them to go. If everyone is sitting down and seems to be a spectator, you are not leading them but have left them behind.
I remember one day while the worship team was playing, suddenly the lead electric guitar started to "sing." It was glorious as it sang to the Lord. There are times when the instruments prophesy over the congregation, and times when they sing to the Lord as if they had their own voice. This is not just spontaneous but also inhabited by the Lord. The important thing in that example was that the worship team didn’t set out to manufacture this, but it just happened; The LORD inhabited the praises of HIS people. When He inhabits the praises of His people there is always an encounter, and that is exactly what happened. At that point, I remember examining and testing what was taking place:
- The congregation was completely involved.
- The word was encouraging and exciting.
- The people responded to the word.
There is a great pressure for worship teams to feel they need to be more spontaneous and less prepared for worship. As a speaker who travels extensively I understand the need to prepare both in prayer and in practical study of the Word, beforehand. I often have a message I plan to give and when I get to the pulpit something happens. This does not happen every time, but often enough. I make my way to the pulpit and another message different than the one I had prepared comes out. This makes me realize that my preparation was not a loss, but rather a blessing as it helped me to be ready for what the Lord wanted me to share. I know when the Lord is redirecting me as there is no fumbling around trying to figure out the direction. The benefit of this is that since I have prepared, I can follow my original direction, which I believe the Lord has inspired, or I can follow a new direction He chooses at the moment.
I have often seen worship teams fumbling at the front trying to find the spontaneous flow and put away their practiced and planned worship set, only to have a very frustrating time, both for them and the congregation. The rule of thumb is that if the Lord is not redirecting and it does not flow, then you must follow what you have prayed through and practiced. I believe some feel that if we practice and structure beforehand, it cannot be GOD. What a ridiculous idea! I personally believe the Lord can speak on practice night what He wants to do on Sunday. If worship teams and leaders are so capable of hearing the Lord on the fly on Sunday, then they should be able to follow the Him so much more if they take the time. How great would it be if we took time to prepare musically for what GOD wanted to do? The level of excellence would be worthy of the Lord, and there would be no awkward moments of being lost.
Now all that being said, remember, I absolutely believe the Lord does speak in the moment and we need to be ready to follow HIS redirection (ready in season and out of season!). But, when we are not sure where to go, we then need to proceed with our original preparation. The idea of spontaneous worship often moves into a style of worship, which leaves many wondering, “What is happening?” I have challenge people on the fact that it seems that the worship team is just jamming at the front of the church, only to be told, "The team is ministering in the spirit." This certainly seems like a great idea, but practically, Paul said it very well in 1 Corinthians 14:14 - 17:
But if I pray in a tongue my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. What is the outcome then I will pray with the spirit and I will pray with the mind also I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with mind also otherwise if you bless in the spirit only how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the amen at your giving of thanks since he does not know what you are saying for you are giving thanks well enough but the other person is not edified.
Paul is saying here that it is great to minister in the spirit, but we need understanding - especially in the company of the congregation. The congregation needs to be able to agree with the spirit of worship that is being offered and therefore, it is important to worship with understanding; simply put, worship in the common language of the people you are leading.
Soaking is fairly new to many people in the church, and this concept is a “whole other ball of wax” in terms of worship. I know there are those who are better equipped to speak on soaking, and the few lines I will write are certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject. I feel soaking is a deeply important concept for the church at this time in history, and the life we live. But, I must say this: soaking is not a replacement for worship in any way. It is exactly the opposite. When we worship we come to give our thanks, praises, and expressed offerings to the Lord. Soaking is a time when we come to receive from the LORD and sit/be in His presence.Soaking often involves listening to worship and letting someone pray for us as we wait upon His presence. I feel many people actually increase their spiritual life while soaking since they take the time to actively engage the Lord. It seems in this time of heavy schedules that soaking is an important spiritual tool of rest that makes a difference in a lot of people.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CONGREGATION IN WORSHIP
Up to this point, I have been examining the job of the worship team and worship leader, and have not really talked about the responsibility of the congregation, or otherwise put, the individuals who came to worship. The need for individuals to choose to enter into worship is pivotal to the corporate experience of the whole church. Each person coming to worship must examine their heart and ask the Lord to deal with any unforgiveness they may be carrying. It is important to enter into worship with an open heart wanting to engage with the Lord. But, it is important to realize why we come to worship. It is not for what we can get but rather what we have to offer/bring.
If we look at the example of the story of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, we see that those who came brought gifts; they did not receive them. We must understand that worship is our time to bring to God what is His: our worship. Many come to the service to see what they can get out of worship, and this attitude has to change. We need to come with an attitude of giving. What do we come to give? We give ourselves and our passionate thoughts of who He is to us, taking the song that is being sung, and making it our words to Him. Sometimes this is hard because the words of the song being sung are not our experience, but this is a great time to enter into the realm of faith and choose to make it ours. You have control over your soul. You commanded your soul to come to JESUS, and now you can command it to worship Him. You have the ability to enter into worship and honour the Lord. We need to remember not to come to worship for what we will get but rather what we have to give.
The amazing thing here is that when we truly worship with abandonment, He will inhabit our praises and we will receive. Wow -- He will inhabit our praises, and as a result, the spirit of joy will fall over us and will fill our being causing the things of this world to become "strangely dim."
The job of the congregation in worship is to take their individual experience of Christ and make it a corporate one, to see where the worship leader is leading them and participate with all their hearts. When this happens, there will be a corporate experience that will shake the soul and move the spirit. The congregation must come to the service prepared to worship. As I indicated when addressing the worship team earlier, it is imperative to practice worshipping at home and in your daily routine. Worship needs to be something that is continually flowing from us. The more we worship, the more we will be open to the things that God wants to minister to us.
It’s time we deal with our attitudes about different styles of music and songs that are played. We all have our favourites and some of us are frustrated when our favourites are not played. We need to understand there are many in the Body, and from week to week the team prays and asks the Lord for direction as to how to lead worship each week. We need to be praying for the worship team and the direction the Lord wants to take us. We need to remember it is not "us" and "them" (or "us" vs. "them"). Many times worship teams begin to feel alienated from the congregation, and this is usually the work of the accuser. Remember, we are all part of one Body and we are all bringing our gifts and anointings to the church.
As a congregation we have to get over our elitism; we also have issues of pride and “this is how God wants us to do it”. Bear in mind that there are many styles of music and songs, and none of them are the absolute formula for worship. Worship is a matter of the heart being expressed to God. Here are a few practical things that will help your worship experience:
- When you come to church, forgive those who have hurt you that week.
- Pray for the worship team of your church weekly.
- Remember, you are coming to give to the Lord. Speak this out a few times before coming to the service.
- If you are feeling heavy when you get to church, have someone pray for you.
- Have a regular prayer time throughout the week. Sunday morning is not the only time you should be encountering God.
- Get the recordings of the worship from church from time to time so you can flow with the worship team.
- Develop a lifestyle of worship so you can be prepared to give when you come to worship at church.
- oak at home or during soaking times at church, but not during worship; again, worship is about giving to God, not taking from Him. It is all about Him.
WHAT WORSHIP SHOULD BE
As discussed earlier, let’s now come back to some of the scriptural commands and instruction for Worship. Please note this is not an exhaustive look, just a small sample - and I encourage you to look for yourself.
From a Biblical perspective worship should be:
- A time full of power. Acts 16:22 – 26
- A time to taste and see that the Lord is good. Psalm 34:8
- A time to shout for Joy. Psalm 35:27, Psalm 66:1
- A time to clap your hands, all you peoples, and shout to God with the voice of Joy. Psalm 47:1
- A time to shout joyfully to God, all the earth, and sing the glory of His name; make His praises glorious. Psalm 66:1 – 2
Obviously, you can see that worshipping the Lord is a joyous event and something we should get excited about. Sitting in our seats and being spectators is anti-worship.
My final words are this: Let’s worship, sing, dance, paint, shout; whatever it takes. Let’s let the world know we are in love with our God!