4 Missing Words in Today's Worship

The church, striving to be current, contemporary and relevant, occasionally throws the baby out with the bath water. I asked colleagues from around the country to tell me what words they’re missing the most these days. They were more than willing to offer up several examples. Here are the top four…you probably have a list of your own.


The dictionary has a fairly direct definition for this noun—a place of refuge or safety, a trusted place in time of trouble. It would seem that a place where people gather to get away from all the unsafe places in the world would be aptly called a sanctuary, yet increasingly, churches shy away from this “ancient” title. Is a “worship center” the same as a sanctuary? It’s probably intended to be, but does it really convey the same thing? One concerned friend in Portland suggested, “Why don’t we teach some of the rarified lexicon of the church to those looking for a rarified haven from the distractions of everyday living?” 


Somewhere along the way, in a drive to undo the perceived damages of the “hell and brimstone” school of evangelism, we sought to downplay things like “original sin” and the “fallen” nature of humankind. In the middle of that shift in emphasis, it became less likely that the word “confession” would find its way into our platform vocabulary. A colleague in Kansas City said, “I miss the overt value of confession practices I enjoyed in an earlier time. In an attempt to make everyone feel good, we took away some of their most important work in worship.”


Tithing, no surprise to you, is a concept straight out of the Bible, but language like “giving, responding, sharing, and supporting” has replaced the “T” word in many places. Slightly off subject here, Dallas Willard said, “It is pathetic…that you cannot get people to give a tithe. If the Christians in this country tithed, the church would be awash in money and there would not be a single legitimate social need that couldn’t be met, at least in financial terms.” Tithing is not a nasty word; it’s a necessary word for real Biblical worship.


I was surprised when a Houston church buddy of mine remarked recently, “My pastor said ‘Jesus’ in a sermon last Sunday, and it made me cry.” When pressed for more information, he said that his pastor talks about Jesus all the time, but rarely says “Jesus” in the context of a personal relationship. As I examined my own experience, it has been mixed. One of my favorite pastors was very comfortable talking about his personal closeness with Christ, yet another was very careful about being too “Jesussy.” Check your own church platform language on this. I’m finding it rather common these days for Jesus to make it into songs, scriptures, and prayers, but not into sermons in an intimate way. It’s actually rather shocking—lots of stories, lots of jokes, not much Jesus.

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Doug Lawrence is an internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, who helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences. In 2007 he founded and continues to serve as CEO of Speaking as a Performing Art, a firm which coaches leading executives and their teams and includes pastors from across the country. Doug co-authored GPS for Success, published in 2011, with Stephen Covey and others. You may reach him at dlawrenceconsult@mac.com.