Worship – the word is everywhere. We hear about worship artists, worship bands, worship planners, worship retreats and even worship wars. Believe it or not, there are worship emojis you can purchase for your smartphone (go ahead and check). It seems that worship has become an adjective rather than a verb.
Churches graciously invite community members to worship services, with multiple options depending on your personal preference. Believers have debates over the various forms and styles of worship. And it seems that inevitably the subject of worship comes around to a discussion about music. I fear that many believers now equate Christian music with worship. Perhaps this has happened because one previously titled as the “minister of music” is now referred to as the “worship leader.” Or perhaps this has happened because a greater amount of time in many standard church services is now devoted to musical performance.
Worship is Not Simply Music Nor a Genre of Music
I love good music and have a rather extensive collection of music categorized under the “Praise and Worship” genre. There are times when I’m singing along (or trying to sing along) and I worship (i.e., I ascribe worth to God)1 because I’m singing with an engaged mind (1Cor 14:15) and from the heart (Eph 5:19). There are other times when I am singing but am totally unaware of the lyrics’ meaning. I may only be focused on trying to learn the notes the tenor singer is belting out and wishing I could do the same. I can be worshipping while singing a hymn, but I can also sing the same hymn without worshipping.
Many believers have sat in concert halls and been tremendously stirred by exceptional musical performances. As the lyrics and beauty of human voices and instruments all combine, we are touched to consider the greatness of our God or the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may even shed a tear. We may even worship.
Perhaps there is a strong temptation to bring such performances into assembly meetings. We may think, “Why can’t we have this in our assembly? Would this not aid us in our worship?” The short answer is that the Lord has not asked for it. The record of the NT, while giving us the many reasons why believers gathered together as an assembly, does not include a gathering with musical performances as has been described. We might enjoy them outside of assembly gatherings, but they do not belong to assembly gatherings.
Music can lead us to worship, but music is not automatically worship. There are other modern misconceptions about worship.
Worship is Not Exclusive to a Church Building
Church signs inviting people to “come and worship with us” may give the wrong impression (even if it is unintentional) that worship is something we do only in certain locations. Again, as worship is ascribing worth to God, it may be done anywhere. I may worship in my home, my car, my place of employment, etc.
Worship is Not Exclusive to a Set Time
I have seen signs outside of church buildings (and gospel halls) announcing that worship is scheduled from 9:30 to 11:00am on Sundays. Undoubtedly, worship will occur during that period of time, but if it causes us to think that worship is exclusive to those times, we have missed out on the fact that a believer’s life is to be permeated with worship no matter what time the clock reads. It is not God’s intention for us to be worshippers 90 minutes per week, and once we have “done our duty” we can then press on to other “obligations.”
Worship is Not Exclusively Congregational
“Come and worship with us” signs may give the impression that worship is only a corporate activity. True enough that God values and desires for us to worship Him when we gather together as an assembly of believers, but I may ascribe worth to God individually in many ways (sharing the gospel with a friend, financially supporting the spread of His gospel, spending private time with the Lord, etc.). Nor is our gathering together congregationally any guarantee that I will actually worship. We can sit through an entire assembly meeting and never worship if our hearts are far from God. Worship is from the heart (Matt 15:8-9).
Worship is Not a Title for an Assembly Meeting
Often, we may refer to the Breaking of Bread as “the worship meeting.” It is called “the Lord’s supper” (1Cor 11:20), but not “the worship meeting.” When we use this title, we imply that other assembly meetings are not characterized by worship. Certainly, as we remember the Lord Jesus Christ at the Lord’s Supper, we ought to respond in worship. But we also worship (i.e., ascribe worth to God and to Christ) when we proclaim the gospel of His grace. Also, meetings devoted to teaching involve worship when we study and submit to the truth of God’s word. Meeting for prayer is another way to ascribe worth to the One “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20, KJV). Worship should occur in every assembly meeting, thus none is referred to exclusively as “the worship meeting.”
Worship is Not the Act of Being Emotionally Moved
I have been greatly moved listening to a song, hearing a message being preached, or enjoying a brother in Christ express his appreciation for Christ during the Lord’s Supper. But worship is not the act of being emotionally moved by any of these things, but, rather, my response to being thus moved in ascribing worth to God, either in word or by deed.
Perhaps it is time to stop using the word “worship” so much as an adjective. Worship is also a verb: let us ascribe worth to our great God and to the Lord Jesus in all that we do and say, no matter where we are, who we’re with or what time of the day it is.
1 See article entitled What is Worship? by Joel Joyce in this same issue for further definitions of worship.