Replanting a Church: Worship

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

After pointing out the need for a new vision, he writes —

a. Envision what the worship gathering could be (Acts 2:42-47).

  1. Attitude of Body during worship
  2. Music
  3. Prayer
  4. Teaching
  5. Communion
  6. Children
  7. Exaltation of God
  8. Incorporation of arts

In Churches of Christ, worship is theologically important — very nearly central, although we’d never admit it. Having the worship right in terms of having the right elements and only the right elements is so important to us that many consider it a salvation issue (that’s very, very wrong, but that’s another discussion). However, we don’t place nearly the same emphasis on doing worship well.

Indeed, when the subject is brought up, we often respond with something nonsensical, such as, “It’s about pleasing God, not man!” Well, God loves us and wants us to enjoy the worship experience. God is not pleased when we suck the joy and delight and the passion out of our assemblies. Anyone who thinks God wants dry, stale, boring “worship” hasn’t been reading the Bible.

(Luke 15:22-25)  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing.

The son “heard” dancing. Ponder that one. They were dancing with such passion that the dancing could be heard!

Who was dancing? “They.” And “they” refers back to the “us” in v. 23. And who is “us”? The father and the servants. And who is the father in the parable? God.

When someone returns to God — when someone is restored — God dances so loudly it can be heard! God dances. This is the kind of God we worship.

And haven’t you ever seen a prodigal child of God return in a worship service? God danced. God danced — and we sat with our hands folded in our laps, as though this is how God is to be pleased with our worship.

(Psa 30:11-12)  You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, 12 that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Why did God turn the psalmist’s wailing into dancing? Why give the psalmist joy and singing? Because this is to be like God.

And so, when you envision the worship of the church you’d like to have God wants you to have, it’d better be a church where we worship with passion — a passion that is expressed, not just felt.

The psalmist tells us —

(Psa 33:1-5)  Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Now say what you will about instrumental music, consider instead what scriptural worship is. It’s not quiet, sedate, still, meditation. It can be, of course, but to insist that worship must be meditative is to impose a culture (16th Century Geneva, Switzerland’s culture) rather than God’s will.

Indeed,

(1 Cor 14:24-25)  But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Okay. We are back in the New Testament now, with a passage specifically about the Christian assembly, right? And what do we see? A place where it is appropriateexpected that people “fall down and worship” and “exclaim”! “Fall down” is surely a reference to prostration before God.

We Westerners don’t do this. It wouldn’t be “appropriate.” It’s merely biblical. And it would honor God’s will for us, wouldn’t it?

(Luke 5:8)  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

(Rev 19:4)  The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”

Now, I’m not saying that we are commanded to worship as Middle Easterners do. I’m just saying that we aren’t required to worship as Western church goers do. We are heirs to a very long tradition of worship that involves sitting in a chair and being calm and quiet — which is not what God asks for and is not the way God himself is, as Jesus explains his own Father.

God wants our hearts to be moved by worship, and how that is physically expressed is a cultural thing. Therefore, we should ask what kind of expressiveness is best suited to people who worship God with an inexpressible passion in 21st Century America? What, in the American experience, is like worship but not worship? Football? Rock concerts? How about a contemporary Christian concert?

Yes, these are entertainment venues, but a Christian music concert is a venue where there are no preconceived rules for how to behave. And the “audience” is not at all passive. The musicians lead the audience in worship. It’s worship. It’s just not church. And how does the modern American audience respond when there are no traditional rules telling them how to act?

This is Michael W. Smith singing “You Are Worthy” in concert. (We sing the same song in church.) The “concert” is, in reality, a worship service. Check out the crowd shots. What are they doing?

Dancing, shouting, clapping, singing — they are honoring the scriptures. They worship as the psalmist instructs. They are being like God.

Why isn’t church like this? Well, it is some places, but in most places this is considered inappropriate — even though it’s what Spirit-filled people do when they aren’t bound by tradition — when they aren’t crammed into a pot that’s too small.

If you had no tradition constraining you, how do you think an assembly in contemporary America would look if the members were filled with the Spirit and loved God with a white-hot passion?

Oh …and a cappella music isn’t all that different, when we get out of our pots —

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7 Responses

  1. But, Jay, if the deacons prostrate themselves during worship, how will they be able to take down the names of all the people who are clapping?

  2. Jay,

    I admire your bravery!

    Applauding YOU!

    I hope the clap becomes a permissable expression of joy in all the conservative churches. It is catching on among them slowly.

    We had a baptizing and some of his kin folks came and when the person came out of the water, the visitors clapped. Tense moment.

    Keep it up!!!!

  3. Thanks for this post Jay, recently I’ve been very convicted that my Sundays are too busy with doing church and I don’t spend enough time just letting go in the Father’s arms. Thanks for this reminder my friend.

    Kyle

  4. James,

    The soloists would be standing, of course, and so could take note of the clappers.

  5. YES, YES, YES, Jay. I’ve felt this for years. The conservative churches seem boring because there is no enthusiasm in the worship. Just take the word worship: the very idea of it exudes blissful behavior toward God.

    My wife doesn’t seem to understand why, every week, I am drawn to tears during the singing of the songs. The rest of the time (during the week) I am considered a man who isn’t an emotional person. Worship does extraordinary things to my spirit and my soul. It revs me up for the upcoming week.

    The best part of my whole week is during the worship of singing to God with all the other Christians. I can’t wait to be part of the worship that will be continuous forever in heaven.

    We are not a very conservative church. There are songs that people clap to. There are people who raise their hands in praise. We have a worship team that leads the singing. They help a lot.

    I truly believe you have hit the nail on the head. Thanks so much for this much needed post.

  6. As a wanderer, I have preached to a few differnt and diverse groups. Once you have preached to the poor and the black and the fringes, and you come back to white-bread American Cof C, it is like preaching to the Frozen Chosen.
    The sermon is part of worship, and people should be free to emote, and respond and add to.

  7. Patrick Mead says that the purpose of the praise team is to teach the gathered people how to worship and praise. I like that idea, that they’re doing more than hitting the right notes (which seems to be the sole purpose of the songleader), but rather helping us understand the message of the song and letting us see how the words and music and Spirit affect their lives.

    This is one of my big struggles right now: the cold and formal and passionless worship. We have one songleader who emotes. The rest are stoic — or as they say, “reverent,” and they aren’t too keen on how the one guy leads. *sigh*

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