Last week I found this great quote from A. W. Tozer:
“The church that can’t worship must be entertained. And men who can’t lead a church to worship must provide the entertainment.” A.W. Tozer.
One of my friends commented back to that quote (I’m paraphrasing here): “How many of our churches are entertaining vs. how many are truly worshiping? How many are doing neither?” The question really struck me. A. W. Tozer was a pastor in the Alliance Church many years ago. Most of his writings are from the 50’s and 60’s so he is not speaking to our “contemporary” worship situation, and yet his words ring true.
I do think we need to be careful here, because what I may consider worship, others may consider entertainment and what I consider entertainment, others may consider worship. I know that over the years, from time to time, I have been accused of trying to entertain vs. leading in worship. So, what makes the difference between entertainment and worship?
Part of that answer lies within our heart attitude. Why are we doing what we are doing? To quote Matthew West, are we “going through the motions.” I will readily admit that I have the talent and the skills to “put together” a “worship set” in my own power. This is a danger for those of us in the ministry of Worship Arts. It’s easy to get caught up in “designing a cool worship service.” Over the past few months and weeks that has been my primary responsibility. One of the challenges I face is “keeping it fresh.” Then there’s also the internal pressure to one-up the week before. Again, I will readily admit that it is easy to get caught up in all of this as worship leaders. Maybe it’s obvious and maybe it’s not, but we must constantly be relying on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in all of this.
You may ask, “Dale, how do you guard against worship planning being ‘of the flesh?’” That is a great question. Somehow as worship leaders, we must be willing to go beyond what we can do on our own and rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. In our ministry here, I have my own place to get away. My office is at the back of the church, away from the main office. Yes, I share it with the teens (It is a really multi-purpose room, being used whenever the church meets for services) and with children’s church. However, it is quiet and I also get to play a variety of music. I have most of my music library on my laptop with a nice dedicated speaker system. In fact, I’m listening to an old Allies album as I type this. In my office, I have all the typical tools. Because we use a screen for worship, we have the flexibility to use various hymnals and songbooks. The hymnals also have some great congregational tools like responsive readings and such. Again, I can pull from any of these resources. Since I have been here, it is not uncommon for me to have six or seven songbooks/hymnals on my desk while planning worship. In addition, I try to take time each week to get into the sanctuary and spend time in personal worship. I value highly our corporate time of worship – in fact, this past Sunday was incredible as we sang. Hearing all the voices lifting praise to God is an awesome sound. But it makes it very difficult to be the lead worshipper, if I have not spent time in worshipping God during the week. There is another A. W. Tozer quote that goes like this: “God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship.” Again it is not uncommon for me to spend several hours in planning worship – spending time in prayer, spending time in God’s Word, spending time worshipping, and then finally picking out the songs and various elements (videos/readings/special music if the praise team is providing it.)
Even in all of this, it is easy to get caught up in the moment perhaps even crossing the line from worship to entertainment. I would say that sometimes the difference between the two is a fine line. So how do we know? Is it possible to know if we have crossed the line?
I think there are signs that we have crossed the line. One of those signs is if the congregation is not participating and simply observing. Back in the Middle Ages this is what the congregation did. The worship was in the hands of the professionals – the priests, their helpers, and musicians. One of the results of the Reformation was that Luther brought worship back to the people and made it a work of the people which (by the way) is the definition of liturgy. Perhaps that is one reason I like being the worship leader when I can see the people. There’s something about looking out while you are worshipping and see others abandoned in worship. That happened this past Sunday and it was so cool.
Another way we can tell if we are starting to cross the line is when we look toward the coolness factor. Are we more concerned with how relevant or how cool our service is rather than honoring God? That in itself is a key factor. Is our worship honoring to God? If it is then we are worshipping. If it isn’t then we are entertaining.
I like what Tozer says about worship: Now, worship is the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism. We’re organized; we work; we have our agendas. We have almost everything, but there’s one thing that the churches, even the gospel churches, do not have: that is the ability to worship. We are not cultivating the art of worship. Perhaps that is what my friend was getting at. Perhaps some churches are doing neither – they aren’t entertaining – and they aren’t worshipping either. If you put a gun to my head and said that I had to worship in a church that was doing neither vs. a church that was entertaining, I suppose I would take the church that was entertaining. That being said, I would much rather (at anytime) be in a church that is worshipping in spirit and in truth.
One of the things that would help us renew our worship is to recapture our concept of God. Again to quote Tozer: “Worship, I say, rises or falls with our concept of God …. and if there is one terrible disease in the Church of Christ, it is that we do not see God as great as He is.” We need to recapture our concept of God – to see how great He really is. This is a key no matter what style of worship we claim – whether that would be traditional, contemporary, blended, modern, post-modern, or whatever other label you want to put on your worship. Some claim that one style of worship is more conducive to worship than another’s choice. This creates false division within the body of Christ. As I mentioned earlier, some would call what we do entertainment, simply because all of our words are on the screen and we don’t do all hymns. I have been to churches that even though they just sang hymns, it simply seemed like it was the entertainment before the sermon. There are churches that handle the music just that way – it is the pre-service. I’m not equating music with worship, but some people would like to skip everything that comes before the sermon and just have the sermon.
As I preached several weeks ago, worship is the heart of everything we do – what we do on Sunday should be a natural expression of the way we live our life. I challenge you, is your worship simply entertaining or is it worship in spirit and in truth?