Monday, March 24, 2014

Worship Leaders, Step Back and Remember: You Cannot Create a "Worship Atmosphere"

The title to this post deserves some explanation. Better yet, clarification.

Undoubtedly, we have all heard the term “worship atmosphere” or “worship environment” used when making decisions as to how the lights should be set or what style of music should be played and then how loud. All of these decisions must be made, but it is important to consider them separate from that of what worship actually is. This is my main thrust in all of these worship leading posts – remembering the real meaning of worship and who worshipers are when throwing the word around for so many other things.

In case you missed Part 1, find it here: What a Worshipper Actually Is
While it is practically necessary to consider the options for lighting and what the music will sound like, I think it would do the Church some good to stop speaking about those decisions as if they will actually create some sort of tangible worship experience. To be more blunt, I think the thrust behind most music in churches today is to create an experience, rather than drive the minds and hearts and voices of men and women of God, to God. If the stress and mission of churches were to do the latter, then they would be talking much more about the lyrics in the songs, than the lighting in the sanctuary.

When we are making decisions on lighting (a very first-world issue) then we should be thinking practically about the greater good. Can all people see where they are going? Don’t forget that grandma and grandpa sometimes need all the help they can get to stay vertical. Don’t make it difficult for them for the sake of some preconceived notion that you are enhancing the quality or quantity of true worship(ers) with every decrease of wattage. We ought to be willing to give up our rights and freedoms for the sake of others. We would not suffer from it and we would only be benefiting others by it.

To think that we can actually make an environment more “worshipful” is a fallacy that our Lord made very clear when he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. You see, when Jesus said that the time came for when God the Father was seeking true worshipers to worship in spirit and truth, He was saying this to directly and clearly correct the woman’s false view of worship, which was based on a notion that worship happened only at a physical place.

She said to Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (4:20).

In this passage, from verse 20 through 24, the word for worship is always proskuneo. In total, it is used about eight times. This word is where we get the word prostrate from. It means to bow, or kneel. It is a sign of reverence and showing someone honor and worth.

The woman said that their Samaritan fathers went to Mount Gerizim to physically bow down to God but that the Jews did the same thing in Jerusalem at their Temple.

It was at this point that Jesus said that the true worshipers (proskunetes) would proskuneo the Father in spirit and in truth. They could not just physically bow the knee and consider their act as sufficient in itself just because they showed up at the prescribed place. The true worshipers will show this reverence, honor and worth of God in their hearts, so that they will not be numbered with those who Isaiah said had mouths that drew near and lips that fronted honor, but their hearts were far from Him (Is. 29:13).

Where are the lights in this conversation? Was the time of day specified? The place? The frequency?

When something fills your heart and your mind and your soul and your strength, then it is indicative to what you worship. True worship means there is true reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28) and value ascribed to the true God defined in the Scriptures. To look again at John 4, Jesus also made clear that the Jews worshiped what they knew, at least, but the Samaritans worshiped what they did not know. That is unacceptable worship. This is why Jesus said that the true worshipers will worship in truth.

Your love and adoration of God can only be informed by God’s Word. The more you eat this eternal food, the more your heart will be full of it and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak, yes even sing (Lk. 6:45)!

This is why the lyrics in our music must also be based on truth. The lyrics are paramount! It unnerves me how little thought the lyrics are sometimes given when music is written and then selected. How many times do we hear a song and love it for the music more than for the theology? Admittedly, right theology put to really good music is one of the best compilations of all time. Bad theology put to good music is deceptive and heretical. Good theology put to bad music is a disservice to God and mockery of the theology. But accurate biblical theology put to good music – music that is easy to sing to and has a connotation of joy, is one of the sweetest gifts that God has given us to give back to Him over and over again. Our music must be based on truth – the truth of God’s written Word.

It is important to remember the fundamental definition of true worship so that we don’t con ourselves into thinking we can create an environment that can somehow stimulate it. The only thing that can stimulate true worship is the Word of God. It convicts us of sin and drives us to worship (1 Cor. 14:24). It humbles us and drives us to worship (Matt. 14:32). It gives us hope and drives us to ascribe praise and to worship (Ps. 119:7).

Only the people that come into our church building each week who have been feasting on the Word of God, the Bread of Life, will be the ones able to offer up true worship in song – even if the lights are turned all the way up! Perhaps there will be ones who walk in and though they couldn’t care less about the first couple of songs, they are convicted of sin through the means of the preaching of the Word of God and the next song sung is one that has never been sweeter in the mouth of that believer, or the ears of his God because it is finally out of a contrite and repentant heart.

There is nothing wrong with dimming lights, per se, but it can become wrong when we think we are producing more worshipers that way. Practically, people feel more comfortable singing in the dark. I can empathize with that. I’ve been there, but let me gently prod…  While it is indeed easier, is that a good thing to encourage? Shall we keep our light under a basket (Matt. 5:15) in our very own worship center?

In all corners of the globe, people are suffering real persecution and death for their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and only hope for salvation from sin and death. These people will whisper hymns with each other in a tight circle, hoping they are not caught and killed for it. These people will have bombs thrown through their windows of their meeting places and will lose their loved ones, but will continue living and serving the living and deserving God. These people worship God in spirit – the right heart – and truth – the Word of God.

May we do the same each and every week and not get caught up in the way our church looks, but in the way our church worships – in spirit and in truth.

In His Sovereign Grip,

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