Monthly Archives: January 2016
Week by week I visit churches, lead worship, talk with Christians from various churches, and interact with those who plan and lead worship. I’ve heard about the “train wrecks” that have been described when worship teams crumble. I’ve listened to the frustration of musicians who are bored with the music on the one hand, or not skilled enough to play the music handed to them on the other hand. I’ve counseled, taught, and written on worship planning for years hoping to equip those who will listen to plan, prepare and present more satisfying worship.
For the most part, there seems to me to be more frustration with modern day worship than satisfaction. Although I could craft many arguments for the underlying reasons for this from a theological and philosophical perspective, in this article I want to focus on the one thing that could – in a very practical way – improve the corporate worship in every church this week.
Yes, that’s what I meant. This one thing could improve corporate worship in every church this week: there is a direct relationship between the quality of the worship presentation and the quantity of the elements during the service. Basically, the more you try to do in a worship service, the lower the quality. The less you do, the higher the quality. Note the chart with this article for a visual representations of this idea.
The reason for this is that the worship team will have more time to focus on each element of worship, thereby working on details that will improve the presentation. For example, practicing three songs in more detail will result in higher quality than cramming six songs into a rehearsal and hoping everyone remembers what to do during the service.
Also note on the chart that this quantity-quality relationship is dependent on the skill level of the musicians. Musicians with more skill and experience will be able to produce at a higher quality level, whereas those musicians who have less skill will be limited in their ability to produce quality (unless they can focus on less).
A good thought to keep in mind is this: doing fewer things really well will give everyone a higher quality worship experience. From the planners, to the worship team, to the congregation, each will have the opportunity to worship God more fully without the distraction of a poor presentation. Like it or not, the quality of our presentation in worship can either help or hinder a connection with God’s presence in our corporate worship.
I was struck recently by the thought that worship in the modern and popular mode may be a manufactured worship, rather than a responsive worship. In other articles, and in my book (The Life of Worship), I have discussed the mischaracterization and mishandling of John 4:24, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” Often directed at some kind of feeling one must have to truly worship, the verse is actually about the spiritual reality of the believer and has little to do with feelings, atmosphere, or other elements of the worship experience.
In his treatise on the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Martin Luther swerves into this idea and places some perspective on the manufactured praise that was offered in his day as worship. I will allow his words to speak for themselves, but I wonder how much of our modern worship is manufactured rather than responsive? Are you sure that your corporate worship is a response to God’s person and work?
…to think to worship God with many words and a great noise, is to count Him either deaf or ignorant, and to suppose we must waken or instruct Him. Such an opinion of God tends to His shame and dishonor rather than to His worship. But when one ponders well His divine works in the depths of one’s heart, and regards them with wonder and gratitude, so that one breaks out from very ardor into sighs and groanings rather than into speech; when the words, not nicely chosen nor prescribed, flow forth in such wise that the spirit comes seething with them, and the words live and have hands and feet, yea, that the whole body and life with all its members strives and strains for utterance — that is indeed a worship of God in spirit and in truth, and such words are all fire, light and life. As David says, in Psalm 119:140, 171, “Lord, Thy word is exceeding refined;” and again, “My lips shall utter a hymn” even as boiling water overflows and seethes, unable to contain itself for the great heat within the pot.*
*Martin Luther, Works of Martin Luther, Vol. 3, “The Magnificat” (Philadelphia: A.J. Holman Company, 1930), 160.