Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Makes Worship Good?

I have spent considerable time with the staff over the past few weeks talking about worship. We have discussed ways to make worship “better,” and we’ll be implementing some of them soon. That got me thinking – what is good worship? Can we even use words like “good” or “better” about worship? How do we evaluate a worship assembly? I’ve heard people say things like, “Last Sunday the worship was just awesome.” What makes a worship experience “awesome?”

I’ve had worship experiences that left me with a buzz afterward. So what? I’ve also been to movies and concerts that did the same thing. I’m not saying experience is bad. I’m all for designing worship services that help people experience God. I have to wonder though, if maybe we shouldn’t be taking a longer timeline into account when we evaluate worship. Rather than focusing so much on temporary weekly experiences that help people get their “God fix,” we should also be looking at the long-term trajectory of our assemblies and asking: “Are the people worshipping here gradually becoming more and more like Christ?” If they’re not, it doesn’t matter how “awesome” the worship feels. There is something wrong. God isn’t interested in our having cool weekly worship experiences while here on earth. He wants every aspect of our lives to be acts of worship to Him. Maybe that’s the problem. We see worship as something that ends with the final prayer on Sunday morning. What if we saw our lives as a never-ending worship experience being critiqued, not by us, but by God?

After a worship assembly someone once said to author, Marva Dawn, “I didn’t get anything out of that worship.” She replied, “So what – we didn’t come to worship you!” What are some of your most memorable (and forgetful) worship experiences?


Mark said...

Charles, you know I could talk on and on about our public worship.

There are three things that will ruin a service for me. Preaching in a prayer, SLOW song leaders, and LONG sermons (yes Charles...even if they are good).

However, I hate those things for very selfish reasons. They do not keep me from praising God and growing closer to my brothers and sisters.

jenn said...

I agree with Mark. Also, though, it helps me when I know the meaning of the words used in the sermons. Some preachers like to use big "words and stuff", some may even make up words to sound intelligent. I don't like having to get out my dictionary or thesaurus to find the meaning of a word.
Love ya Chuck!! :)

Public worship is just that...PUBLIC. I know I'm guilty of doing "public worship" in a building where I know most of the people, but I don't always "worship" when I am in line at the grocery store or sitting in class listening to a boring lecture. Not really all that public, huh??

Kerrie said...

The best worship is when I come before him by myself without an agenda except to listen and give him my love. Quiet time early in the morning when no one else is up is that way for me. It’s not ever the same but for the most part I spend my quiet time reading, praying in my big leather chair and walking/running (literally) in the dark with God. That is the best worship time because there are no interferences. I’m very shy and it’s more difficult for me to let go of my inhibitions around others. In the mornings I talk out loud to Him, sing, and question and argue at times. One on one I don’t have to hide my emotions and fear being judged or noticed. When I get back from my run I usually have a sense of peace that Paul describes. So I guess that is my “God fix” for the day if you want to call it that.

Group worship on Sunday morning as it has traditionally been in the churches of Christ, ironically, is probably the hardest time for me because of all the distractions with kids, schedules and interruptions. The best group worship is when it is just adults who are there for the purpose of showing God their love and seeking his will, like we had tonight. When I am surrounded by Christians all with a single desire to love God and serve each other it matters little whether we sing old hymns, or have contemporary instrumental music. I’ve been in different types and it seems to me the most important element is not the form or style but the desire of those present to put themselves aside and give honor to our maker.

It’s interesting what you brought up about our day to day life being a form of worship. As I look back over the last three painful weeks of my life I found myself in almost constant prayer begging God for strength to get through, and trying to submit my stubborn will to his. I wonder if that was worship.

Charles North said...

Yes it was Kerrie. Tonight's worship was "awesome." We turned the lights down, and everyone got to open up and express themselves how they wanted. It was special because every person left feeling not only closer to God, but closer to each other.

I don't know about these alleged long sermons Mark. I have always appreciated your passion for worship.

Jenn. I make up a lot of stuff as I go along, but never whole words. That would be ambiportalous of me!

jenn said...

I do believe that sometimes the most heartfelt worship comes when we are completely alone with God, pouring out our heart, and asking (begging) him to show us a way to make it through the day. I do believe that sometimes things happen in our lives so that it will bring us closer to the one who died for us. Sometimes I go to church and it seems that satan is sitting right next to me, if not inside me. But sometimes, even when that seems the case, it makes me listen closer, sing louder, and pray harder!

Charles, can you define the word ambiportalous? I don't have time to look it up...some of us have busy lives.

Charles North said...

I made it up. It's not really a word. That's what's ironic about it.

Kerrie said...

I know that you do understand and yes that alone time with God makes the difference in us surviving during bad times. I know the worship is supposed to be about God but yet when I'm spending time with him I receive so much reassurance and relief for myself knowing that this incredible spiritual force so much greater than myself is ultimately in charge and has promised to take care of me. However, my faith has been sorely tested lately.

You know when you feel Satan is hanging around he probably is. Just tell him to get lost and speak God's name outloud. You have the authority in Christ to do that works!!

Mark said...

I love how Kerri started her thoughts, "The best worship is when I come before him by myself without an agenda except to listen and give him my love." Isn't that what it's all about, the simplicity of coming before God with a humble heart.

But we have continued to over complicate things. From our pew arrangement to the stage (oh, I mean pulpit) we arrange things that focus us away from truly worshiping God and bearing up each other. We hire professional worship leaders, we dim lights, sit, stand, on and on it goes. We make a simple thing complicated.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love a good planned out worship service. I love the visuals from the projectors. I love a crisp, clean sound system. But that's not where the beauty of the worship "experience" is. The beauty is the simplicity.

We don't NEED song books, microphones, PowerPoint, worship leaders, etc... We NEED each other and we NEED to come before God with humble and open hearts.

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship
And it's all about You
All about You, Jesus
I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
When it's all about You
It's all about You Jesus" - Matt Redman

Ryan said...

Why would you admit to ambiportalous being a made up word when you know that is is a ship that is able to dock in two different harbors at the same time. I wonder if passenger aircraft can be ambiportalous?

Charles North said...

Yeah - I've been on some boats (and planes) that seemed that way!

Holly said...

I remember some years back, when we were still in Waco, Charles and I had a conversation about worship with others vs. worship by one's self. I can't recall the exact conversation, but my feelings then remain the same as they do now: I strongly believe that a person needs to take time to worship God alone. Some of the most wonderful calmness and healing comes from such occasions. I prefer it over group worship simply because it is so much easier for my mind and heart to be focused on God. Honestly, I am long over due for one of these sessions and am actually starved for it. But that's my fault.

Isn't it wonderful that we can just come to Him at anytime and feel so uplifted from praising him!

Other times worship has been wonderful was when we were outside the building. We worshiped together on a mountain side, on a beach at sunset, in a field in the country on a crisp morning, or on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It is so beautiful to see the delicate artistry of God's own creation surrounding you while you sing to his holy name!