But it is important to make the distinction, before we move on, that while the church is a worshipper, church is not worship. A Christian does not walk into a "worship service" on Sunday morning; that would be to say that he was not in a worship service prior to coming to church. Just because I am not at the gym does not mean that my muscles are not working. Right now, my muscles are working, my heart is pumping, my fingers are twitching, my core is keeping me from falling forward onto my computer and my neck is holding my head in an upright position. When I go to work out, it is not that my muscles were not being used before, it is merely that I am taking time out of my day to focus on and enhance my muscles which were already being used. Bicep curls are not the fullness of working out, but it is a tool for the whole effort. No single issue (worship, preaching, communion...etc) is the fullness of worship, rather each effort hopes to push you into a life of worship. This is the right view of the church's role in worship.
The church gathers each week not to initiate worship, but to intentionally focus on God in such a way where worship is highlighted and encouraged so that when one leaves the building they have a greater capacity for worship than when they entered. Harold Best calls this a "continual outpouring" of worship. In Colossians 3, Paul stresses the fact that our lives and the life of Christ are irreversibly tied to one another, our life is "hidden in Christ" (3:3). Christ who is "our life" (3:4) demands that we no longer focus on our old life of sin, but a life of response to who he is. If Christ exist in perfect Trinity (and he does), he also lives in a life of continual worship. Christ, the Spirit, and God all find a beauty balance of self-worship which culminates in the Father.
We therefore are worshippers because of the Imago Dei. Because all created humans bear this mark of their creator, all humans worship. D.A. Carson defines this broad scale worship as, "the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to their Creator-God precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so." Because sin has corrupted the image, not all people worship God, therefore Christian worship is unique, "[Christian] worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provision that God has graciously made." Christians have the only object worthy of worship, this is the God Paul proclaimed at the Areopagus. Christian worship is the restoration of the Imago Dei in light of the one who performed the rescue.
While this is in no way a full theology of worship, I wish to stress this introduction because it communicates three things which ought to shape our worship: 1.) Worship is innate to all human beings (this is confirmed in the Imago Dei, as well as Rom 1:24-25), 2.) Christian worship is unique in that it responds to God in true worship. 3.) Worship is more than music and church it is life encompassing.
In the remainder of this paper I will show that this brief definition of worship demands a philosophical and logistical response when it comes to planning the worship of the church.
In Psalm 33 David calls his congregation together in worship: "Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts." David has righty commissioned his congregation to worship through music, but he is not yet done with his introduction. David offers one more stanza in his call to worship: "For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD." Worship is not strings, harps and songs playing a song together, worship is strings and harps, voices and actions, words and deeds responding together out of the reality of who God is. In the 33rd Psalm David's command to praise is rooted in the reality of who God is. On this side of the cross we get a fuller glimpse of who God is by looking at the Gospel of Christ. The first corporate worship song was sung in Exodus 15 after the people of Israel were brought out of slavery in Egypt. As the new Israel, the Church now responds in worship as Christ has delivered us from death and slavery (Heb 2:14-15). Worship in the context of the church should therefore seek to respond to the 1.) Reality and Qualities of God, and 2.) Respond to salvific actions of Christ on the cross. When these two realities of worship are held in high regard, worship in proskyneo (prostration, humility, meekness..etc) and leitourgeo (service) are achieved. When Christ is our focus, we humbly submit to Christ as Christ submits to and worships the Father. When the cross is our focus we serve and labor for others in the same way Christ served and gave himself up for the Church. To attempt to worship in either manner outside of Christ lacks long-term motivation and steadfastness because it fails to anchor itself in true worship. Because worship (in both senses of the word) are a practiced both inside the church and outside the church, corporate worship ought to reflect the practical and continual emphasis of worship (some of this will be addressed in the practical section).
In order to achieve both of these results, a church's worship must be God-Centered, which bears a practical application in being Bible centered. Songs should, in some way reflect on what the Bible says as a whole, what the Bible says about us, what the Bible says about God, and what the Bible says about the gospel. Sermons should be rooted in what the Bible roots itself in: A Triune God sending his Son as salvation and sacrifice (Luke 24:44). Desires for true worship present a full and glorious picture of Jesus so that the congregation responds to the beauty of their Savior King. To detract from this message is to lean dangerously in the direction of worship in a non-Godward direction.
This Jesus-centered philosophy produces a broad range of practical applications. On a wide scale, those who hold to such a philosophy establish the sermon as the key piece in the liturgy of the church. Scripture should be held in high regard, and therefore often times churches employ extra-scripture readings which are outside of the text of the sermon (call and response, call to worship, benediction...etc). Songs (not worship style) aim to be rooted more directly in the theme of the gospel. Redemption, the cross and response dominate the words being sung by the congregation.
As I mentioned, a Word-centered approach to worship contains a multifaceted web of different church liturgies and worship experiences. I do not wish to over generalize or even say that my way is the best way, but I will now speak to the content and order of worship at my church as applied from our philosophy of worship.
I will briefly begin with the sermon in a church service. We will begin with this because in a word-centered church, this is the epicenter of worship. It is the location where the word of God and will of God are so clearly presented that the Holy Spirit is given adequate venue to stir hearts to respond to the work of Christ on the cross. Our church finds that the scriptures point to a complementarion view of gender roles. In our church the message will be preached by a male pastor. That does not mean that females cannot be used as scripture readers, announcement givers, worship singers, or instrument players, but we believe that an elder (pastor) is given the burden of preaching, and the Bible describes elders as male (Titus 1). In our presentation of the word we choose to turn off all other periphery items (music, colored lights, video announcements...etc.) so that the main focus of the church is on the presentation of the gospel and the pastor applying the text. We set aside 35-45 minutes (sometimes longer) for the proclamation of the gospel. This is the largest uninterrupted aspect of our worship. We also choose to worship in music before and after the sermon. We sing after the sermon because we want to emphasize worship as a response to the word.
In addition to the sermon, a member of our worship team leads a scriptural call to worship between the 1st-2nd song in the opening worship set. We are also moving towards a scripture reader to read the sermon text to the congregation prior to the sermon.
Worship should be inclusive rather than exclusive, and it should be accessible as compared to inaccessible. While I realize that no church sets out to make an exclusive and inaccessible worship experience, we have found a balance that seems to do the two well given our geographical location and culture of the city we minister to. Our building, service, and style would be considered contemporary. We believe this is the most inclusive worship service style as most people who are turned away from this modern style are already Christians who prefer to worship in a more contemporary style because that is what they like/or are used to. Most unbelievers find a more comfortable experience in a context that they are used to. This is why we lean toward the contemporary side of the spectrum in presentation.
The atmosphere of our building is relaxed. We do not play up the aesthetic, while still producing a building that is warm and welcoming. The sanctuary is set up with the stage at the forefront and a large cross fixed to the center of the stage. Our stage is equipped with lights and screens. In the OT we see references of praising God with banners, and we see lights as the 21st century banners. They add color for celebration, they can harken feelings of victory and jubilation, but they can also be dimmed and darkened for times of intentional focus or introspection. We do realize that this may be the most excluding part of our worship service. Critics from more conservative services might throw around words such as "production" and "distraction," but our media team is dedicated to using them as a seamless background to the flow of the service. On some Sundays, depending upon the text, we may choose to use lots of lights and colors, on others low light and static light. We use them only to enhance an atmosphere where the word is read and celebrated.
Our worship style is "contemporary." We have guitars, drums, bass, and vocals, but we have also featured pianos, organs, violins and other stringed instruments. We realize the role worship plays in participation and preparation for worship and a church should not take that role lightly. We use modern music styles because it is most appealing to new people in the church. We also realize that there are some people who prefer a more hymn based traditional service. We fully acknowledge that there will always be stylistic differences inside of a church, and we try to offer newer songs by modern artists as well as redone hymns and golden oldies. But it is in this stylistic difference that our philosophy of worship comes to the rescue. We do not want our church to be caught up in the music, we want them to be caught up in Christ. Our songs are chosen for their lyrics and content, not purely music composition. A Christian with a proper view of worship should be able to worship according to the lyrics not the tune. If worship is based in faith in God, and the reality of Christ's accomplishments on the cross, we should be driven to worship by things that directly reflect him, namely the lyrics. All this being said, we do want to care for our congregation. Our team of musicians and leaders are committed to making songs sing-able, music palate-able and lyrics clear and understandable.
But the presence of good lyrics does not negate the power of quality musicianship. All of our musicians are required to meet certain standards of quality before being allowed to play on Sunday's. Our musicians can be male or female, but they must be Christian. We believe that there is a present and invisible aspect of leadership even for a backup guitar player when he/she is on a stage in front of the church. Being in that assumed position of leadership, we require that they are equipped to lead and worship from a distinctly Christian perspective. On the last Sunday of every month (and for special occasions) we choose to feature a choir along with the band to aid in sung worship.
We believe that the Bible's worship is a word-centered, Jesus-exhaling worship. We want our worship service to honor those themes as well as presenting itself as welcoming to its contemporary audience.