I’ve been studying the topic of worship a lot lately, and I’ve concluded that our problem isn’t really poor worship or worship “mechanics” (music, liturgy, etc.). Our problem is poor thinking about God. It’s lack of thinking about God. And changing instruments or coaxing our people to sing louder won’t do a thing to fix it. In fact, it might just do the opposite, making us think we’re worshiping better because the volume and polish of our singing is up.
Unless we understand that the nature of the problem is a faulty view of God, our efforts to improve our corporate worship will be ironically self-defeating: we’ll end up worshipping worship rather than worshipping God. (Isn’t that the state of much of evangelicalism today?!) No, we don’t need livelier music, cute quips and perpetual cheerleading to convince our people to “sing out on the second verse.” We need to help them see God for who He is as revealed in His Word. Then worship will be genuine, not manufactured. Then worship will be focused on God, not itself. Then our churches will actually “sing like they mean it”–because they will!
D.A. Carson makes this point powerfully in Worship by the Book (brought to my attention by Jason Janz’s post for worship leaders a while back). Here are several excerpts from the book:
“What ought to make worship delightful to us is not…its novelty or its aesthetic beauty, but its object: God himself is delightfully wonderful, and we learn to delight in him.” (30)
“Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself.” (30-31)
“Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.” (31, emphasis his)
I think Carson has hit the nail on the head. I’ve gone on record as saying that worship in most fundamental churches is broken. To “fix” it, we need neither more tradition nor more innovation, though I’m not necessarily opposed to either. Some intentional thought regarding what we do in our services can help draw people’s attention to Christ. We can eliminate distractions like jokes and announcements. But at the end of the day, what we need is more awareness of God’s magnificent character, and no amount of creative service orders will make up for its absence.
Two more Carson quotes to emphasize this point:
“Pray, then, and work for a massive display of the glory and character and attributes of God.” (32)
“What we must strive for is growing knowledge of God and delight in him–not delight in worship per se, but delight in God.” (32)
So how do we help the people we lead get to that point? How do we get there ourselves? I’ll make two suggestions for starters.
First, we must emphasize God in our Bible study and preaching. We must make much of Christ and the Gospel. We must have our eyes peeled for God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture, not just sermons and commands and promises. Think about it: how much is God’s character emphasized in your preaching? “Not enough,” is my own answer.
Second, we can begin to model a heart for God before our people. We can teach them to pray God-honoring prayers by praying God-honoring prayers before them and with them. We can teach them to pray Scripture by praying Scripture. We can teach them to marvel in God’s great character by doing so ourselves. We can teach them to sing with understanding by pointing out great doctrines in our hymns. We can teach them to sing joyfully by singing joyfully. The reality is, the people we lead will not be more enthusiastic about worship than we are…and maybe that’s the problem.
We don’t just need better worship; we need a better understanding of who God is, and the latter will go a long way in improving the former. When we understand that God is “great” we will understand why he is also “greatly to be praised” (Psalm 96:4). Though our worship might be broken, “it is man’s inadequate concept of God that needs to be rescued” (Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship, 86).