Worship is not about us!

For some time I have been troubled by my ‘well developed’ orientation of self in the arena of worship. This stance of self has been brought about firstly by original sin, but is fuelled by modern culture which unashamedly embraces the notion that the individual, me, is the most important person in the world. I constantly, to my shame, succumb to my own egocentric desires for self gratification in worship – more regularly than I would like to admit. To this end I suspect most of us are like the rest of us…in a constant battle to maintain a God focus in our worship/lives while “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5, ESV).

We know about the ‘worship wars’ that rage in the modern western church today, but do we take time to consider the impact of this war on civilians – average church going folk like you and me? The battle is often fought on the ground of ideology, but the impact is observable in the lives of Christians practically.

Worship practices that only evoke good feelings and thereby foster a character that seeks instant gratification might be enormously successful at first, but the costs, though not immediately obvious, may be high. The very methods that attract crowds might also prevent the development of habits of reflection and learning. A focus on self and feelings limits the nurturing of a godly and outreaching character. (Dawn, 1995, p. 111)

Now before you jump to the defence of contemporary church liturgy or alternatively, haughtily thank God that he has not made you like other men (Lk 18:11), i.e. Pentecostal; consider that the same heart attitude that causes one man to over indulge in his own emotional experience also leads another man to lean on his own understanding – revelling in his mental aptitude towards the ‘more weightier’ things of God. Both position themselves as self first, God second.

We cannot assume we know how to approach God…If we assume that we know how to approach God, then our own preferences, predilections, and cultural biases will be major sources from which we draw when we ask the question, ‘How should God be worshiped?’ (Lawrence & Dever, 2009, p. 232)

If only we had to engage in this skirmish 1-2hrs a week on Sunday morning! No. The conflict continues, or should continue, into our everyday life; at work rest and play. Kent Hughes (2002) in Carson’s Worship by the Book states, “Under the new covenant Christians are thus to worship all the time – in their individual lives, family lives, and when they come together for corporate worship. Corporate worship, then, is a particular expression of a life of perpetual worship” (p. 140).

Essentially…and it is good to be reminded, “Worship is not about us” (Kimball, 2004, p. 228). Carson (2002) orientates us in our expression of a life in worship to God. He writes, “We should not begin by asking whether or not we enjoy ‘worship’ [emphasis in original], but by asking, ‘What is it that God expects of us?’ That will frame our proper response” (p. 29). Whether you engage in emotive worship (contemporary) or cerebral worship (traditional), or even if you believe you have struck the perfect balance of both, our focus should not be centred on Christ as if we are the point from which to orientate; moreover our worship should be found in “Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live” (1 Cor 8:6, NIV).

Carson, D. A. (2002). Worship under the word. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 11–63). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Dawn, M. J. (1995). Reaching out without dumbing down: A theology for worship for this urgent time. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Hughes, R. K. (2002). Free church worship. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 136–192). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Keller, T. J. (2002). Reformed worship in the global city. In D. A. Carson (Ed.), Worship by the book (pp. 193–249). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Kimball, D. (2004). Emerging worship: Creating worship gatherings for new generations. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Lawrence, M., & Dever, M. (2009). Blended worship. In J. M. Pinson (Ed.), Perspectives on christian worship: 5 views (pp. 218–268). Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Muehlenberg, B. (2008). On christian leadership failures. CutureWatch. Retrieved from http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/08/23/on-christian-leadership-failures/


About Dr Daniel K. Robinson

Daniel is a freelance artist and educator. In 2011 Daniel completed his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. He has served as the Australian Voice Association (AVA) National President (2018–20), National Vice President (2009–11) and National Secretary for the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing (2006–11) and was awarded the ANATS National Certificate of Recognition for service to the profession in 2012. Daniel is the principal Singing Voice Specialist for Djarts (www.djarts.com.au) and presents workshops and seminars to church singers across Australia and abroad. He and his wife Jodie have three children and live in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Posted on May 18, 2010, in Orientation, Religion, Worship, Worship as Lifestyle, Worship Wars and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This left me with some unanswered questions.

    Your article illustrates how church (or worship) shopping can be a bad thing, and how looking for an ‘enjoyable’ service is a focus on the self and not on Christ. I agree. But then ultimately every worship service is shaped by the personal preferences of those conducting it. How is what I look for in worship any less valid than those who shape the worship? (I admit that attitude sounds so 21st century)

    So if I don’t like the style of a particular church, what would that mean for me? Should I stick at it because to not do so would be selfish?

    Given that today we live in an age when our choice of church is not limited by geography, can’t the spiritual fulfilment of a church be measured by its attendance (as cynical as that sounds)? How else does a church know it is reaching its congregation?

    I guess ultimately it is (dare I say it) an individual decision each of us must make whether to stay or move on from a particular church. Only Christ will know if we made that move for the right reasons.

    • Hey Victor…or should I call you Lachlan?!

      You have raised some excellent points. It could be argued that one never escapes their selfish intentions. The deeper I go, the harder I try – holiness remains evasive. Or does it? It’s a well worn point – we are ultimately made holy through Christ – not our own works/thoughts/deeds. Using this as a foundation from which to move forward I know that my ‘worship preferences’ will be, intentionally or not, bought to bear upon my choice of church. I would hope that before I consider the ‘style of worship’ being employed by a particular church that I first analyse the biblical stature of the church.

      To further illustrate, there is a measure that many pastors and music directors use when choosing songs for Congregational singing. Kent Hughes (2002) states, “The selection of appropriate worship music is not merely a matter of choice between traditional and contemporary Christian music. The decision must be made on principle. Whatever the genre of music, it must meet three criteria: text, tune, and fit” (Worship by the Book, p. 169). Importantly the selection is made in that order – text: the lyrics must be doctrinally accurate and edify the body of Christ. If the lyrics pass the test; then tune: it must be singable. If a song can only be sung by a vocalist with years of training then it makes it difficult for corporate worship; and finally fit: the song should be appropriate to a particular congregation. Singing the latest Hillsongchorus in an Anglican church made up of members in their senior years (even if it has passed the first two tests – text and tune) would not be a contextual fit.

      Might we bring the same idea to bear upon our choice (albeit selfish preference under the rule of Christ) of church and ultimately worship style? The proforma might look something like doctrine, style and context (working labels). As with the test of songs we might step through the points systematically. First doctrine: if the doctrine of a church is questionable, then there is no reason to consider the next two criteria (look for a different church and recommence the test). Secondly, style: each of us has a preference of worship style. This often centres on music, but can also be seen in the traditional or contemporary manner in which the liturgy is exercised. Finally we consider the context: this could take into consideration matters pertaining to locality of the church in reference to our place of residence, offering of Children’s program for young families or the language in which the service is conducted. It is true to say that the order for many people is often style first and then context and doctrine. And I guess this is partly what my article is highlighting. We must first orientate off God as the fixed point (doctrine) and then style and context can follow accordingly.

      Regarding your point about spiritual fulfilment of a church being measured by its attendance I would simply respond by stating that numbers is not always representative of what is right. The Bible clearly states that heaven will have far less in attendance than its fiery counterpart (Matt 7:14) – are the masses correct; not always! This is not to say that I am anti church-growth. We have been called to ‘go’ and ‘make disciples’ but,

      First, we must refuse to regard either church growth or worship as a means to an end. Neither is the summum bonum (highest good) for Christians. Nothing is ultimate except God [emphasis in original]… Second, we must actively resist the temptation to manipulate people in worship services for our own purposes, especially if those purposes are determined by a church growth strategy. (Basden, 1999, The Worship Maze p. 31)

      Your final point about the decision to leave a church being made ‘before God’ (Only Christ will know…) is as true a statement as there can be. I humbly submit that all our actions public or private, conscious or subconscious are made before a God who is ‘all-knowing’ and ‘all-seeing’. Fortunately He is also a God who forgives – even when I get it terribly wrong!

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