(Published in The Christian Leader, c. 1987)
Does Your Church Worship?
by John C. Darrow
For too many years, our church did not have a worship service. Oh, we thought we did - the bulletin said so - but what we had was only a preaching service. We had some singing to keep Sunday School from bumping into the sermon, but worship was absent, and we didn't know it. Unfortunately, this situation exists in many churches today.
The Biblical warrant for worship certainly exists. Jesus told the woman at the well that the Father seeks worshippers (John 4:23). In Psalm 33, we read that praise is appropriate. Jesus on another occasion said that if people do not praise Him, the stones will! (Luke 19:40). Yet because we fear that worship will be either too formal or too emotional, we neglect to worship.
What is worship? In Nehemiah 9, we see an example of corporate worship in response to hearing the Word as the people gave glory to God for Who He is and what He has done: God created the universe and gave life to everything; He is righteous, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love; He made a covenant with Abraham and He delivered Israel from Egypt; He is just and faithful, delivering His people time after time; for all this, we praise Him. This is the essence of worship: recognition of God for Who He is and for what He has done.
The book of Revelation tells us that our future consists of worship and praise, as we join every creature in singing out around the throne:
"To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"
(Revelation 5:13, NIV)
This is an emphasis that permeates the book of Revelation.
Whom do we worship? Many pretenders to the throne have demanded and will demand worship through the ages, such as Satan (Luke 4:7; Matthew 4:9), Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:5,18,28), and the Beast (Revelation 13:4). Yet Scripture tells us that not even the angels are worthy of worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:9), but only YHWH Almighty (Exodus 20:3-5; Matthew 4:10; Isaiah 45:21-24). With this in mind, Jesus' acceptance of worship (Matthew 2:11; Matthew 28:9,17; Luke 24:52; Hebrews 1:6; Matthew 14:33; Philippians 2:10-11) precludes the possibility that we can consider Him to be a great man or a good teacher unless He is also Almighty God.
How do we worship? In Scripture, we see people bowing down, standing up, lifting their hands, shouting with joy, dancing, weeping, and holding an awed silence. All of these, then, (and many other responses recorded in Scripture) are Biblically appropriate responses to our God. However, the posture of our body is not the important aspect of worship. Rather, our worship must be "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23). Whatever else this passage teaches, it includes the fact that our spirit or true inner self must be right, and we must worship in accordance with the truth of Who God really is, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
How do you introduce worship in a church which has not practiced worship? The most essential element is to teach from Scripture about worship. Then time can be set aside to practice worship. Single-sentence worship (similar to conversational prayer), singing of worship choruses, and other activities may be included, all oriented to Who God is and what He has done. Themes can be set, with songs and Scriptures selected in advance to develop this theme - for instance, tonight we want to praise God for how He has acted in bringing us individually to salvation (perhaps several people would share their testimonies of faith); another time we worship Him by naming things He has made or qualities He manifests. In one service, we asked for spontaneous praise items in alphabetical order ("We praise You for being Almighty", "Thank You, Father, for my Boys", "Jesus, we love You for dying on the Cross", and so on). This may be more comfortably done in small groups at first.
As people begin to learn worship, freshness and spontaneity can grow. The atmosphere of worship will spread throughout the church, and you will then have a worshipping church, with true worship services.