I’ve now spent most of my adult life (30 years) thinking about, leading and teaching on the topic of worship. It’s been central to my life’s call to reflect on why we do what we do in worship in settings like local churches, conference events and universities. After interacting with contemporary worship ideas around the world over these past three decades, here are the top five most important things I believe every congregation needs to understand about worship.
As each of the following sections is a summary, I promise that I will leave out language about worship that is important to someone. But in this setting, the summaries will have to suffice.
Under each point, I suggest “What We Get Wrong” and “How We Get It Right.” I hope these insights are helpful to our shared understanding of worship.
Five Things Every Congregation Must Understand About Worship
I will use the words 1) Who, 2) What, 3) Where, 4) Why and 5) How to cover these five ideas.
1. Who Do We Worship? We Worship the God of the Scriptures.
If Christian worship is distinctly anything, it is a response of affection to the God who has pursued us since the beginning of time. That God is not the generic God of all faiths, or all religious narratives.
That God is the specific God revealed in the creating Father, the saving Son, Jesus Christ, and the empowering and comforting Holy Spirit.
Creational stories (not to be confused with “Creation” stories) may resonate with similar human virtues between religious faiths, but our Redemptive stories are radically different, as are our Descriptive stories of Who God is and how He works in our lives. (I explored that idea in 2008 here.)
According to the Gospel of John, where the Spirit is, there is Jesus and the Father. Where the Son is, there is the Father and the Spirit. Where the Father is, there are the Son and the Spirit.
We worship the trinitarian God, and we worship each Person of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and give thanks for specific things each does and has done.
If we mess up who we worship, we become lost in idolatry—and when we miss who God is, we skew who we are as well as others around us. Injustice always follows idolatry.
We worship the God who is Creator (Gen. 1:1), King (Ps. 142:1), Trinity (Deut. 6:4) and Savior (Matt. 1:21).
What We Get Wrong
It is cool to be “non-specific” about God today. But not everything everyone believes is true. It can’t all be true, as many things people believe contradict other views of the world—and the results of belief systems have extreme impact.
Christians worship the specific God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ. It sounds good to today’s tolerance-generation to say we’re all worshipping the same God, but the reality is this: Not all of the competing stories about God can be simultaneously true, and we are being lazy if we think they are.
The Trinity centers us. The Trinity keeps us focused on worshipping God in the Person of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who reveals Himself in both Love AND Truth.
We also sing too generically about God. It reminds me of some of my Hindu friends whose homes would have hundreds of images of gods in them, along with a picture of Jesus, just in case one of the other religions is right!