I was recently asked this question:
What is your theology of worship? Specifically, how do you understand God at work in corporate worship and your purpose and role in worship?
And I wrote a really long answer. Here’s what I said:
God is infinitely worthy of worship because of who he is and because of what he has done. He is great, he is greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. His greatness and his glory are supremely displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God has lavished his children with undeserved kindness and the glorious riches of his grace. God, the creator and ruler of the world, the judge of all men, and the loving Father who sent his Son as a ransom for many and poured out his Spirit on all flesh, is the object of all of heaven’s praise, and will receive unceasing worship for all eternity.
The glory of God in Jesus Christ must be the central element to a theology of worship. That is the core to which we attach all secondary, yet essential, discussions of corporate worship, music, songs, services and worship leadership. When the core is compromised, all the branches will die. Worship is, fundamentally, the revolving of oneself around the greatest greatness in the universe: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Why should we revolve our selves, our lives, our families, our songs, our Sunday mornings and our chapel services around this God? Is it because he’s needy? No. It’s because we’re needy.
In the words of John Piper, “God’s demand for our supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness.” Is the deer that drinks from a stream to be accused of being deer-centered? No. Is the baby who feeds from her mother to be accused of being selfish? Certainly not. When one expresses his worship, her neediness, his longing, her utter dependence on another, this is not selfishness. In the same way, we worship God, in view of his mercy, in the light of his great glory, as objects of his mercy who should have known wrath, because it is only in worshiping him—in making much of him—that we are satisfied.
With the glory of God in Jesus Christ as the core of a theology of worship, and his demand for our praise (with the goal of our supreme joy) as the impetus for our corporate worship, we can see that God is at work during corporate worship drawing people to himself. The Spirit of God is moving in the midst of the people of God, pointing them to Jesus, convicting them of their sin and neediness, filling their hearts with songs of praise, guiding their prayers, illuminating the very Word he inspired, comforting the afflicted, and stirring up gifts that he gives as he pleases. The Spirit is not pointing to himself. He is pointing to Jesus. And Jesus points to his Father. We are invited into this community of joy during corporate worship, and reminded yet again that it is purely a gift of grace.
My role as a worship leader is to use music as a tool to help people exalt and encounter the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. With a pastoral heart of humility, musical gifting, prayerful preparation and skillful leadership, I primarily serve as a pointer to Jesus. I should be like a tour guide at the Grand Canyon who points out the greatness of what the onlookers have come to behold and then gladly steps back so they get as clear a view as possible. My role is to not overly interject myself into the process of God’s revelation to, and work amongst, his people. At the same time, if he really is great and greatly to be praised, then I should do the best job I can to help people see him and encounter him. A worship leader doesn’t lead anyone into God’s presence. Jesus leads us into God’s presence by his blood. So a worship leader points to Jesus.
Music won’t save anyone’s life. A good song won’t bring anyone eternal joy. A good show won’t feed anyone anything nutritious. Jesus changes lives. Jesus brings eternal joy. Jesus is the bread of life. The fruit of a theology of worship that revolves around Jesus is corporate worship and worship leadership that exalts him above all things.