How Now Shall We Worship?

i'm in the process of reading a book for my worship leadership class called, "Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views" and it has renowned leaders in each of their areas discussing their styles of worship (formal-liturgical, hymn-based, contemporary, charismatic, blended, and emerging) and then each responding to the other author's commentary.. its a great book and offers a great perspective on worship and a remembrance of why it is we worship, regardless of the preferred style..

anyhow, i just finished reading the chapter on contemporary worship by Joe Horness (worship leader at Willow Creek Community Church, which really spurred the contemporary worship movement back in the late-70s/early-80s).. he not only argued for contemporary worship which meets the community with a message they can understand, but also argued a strong reminder of why we worship, how we are called to worship, and to the greatness of God as the primary purpose for all worship.

the chapter was very well written and i wanted to share some of his commentary with y'all, not simply for sharing's sake, but also to get your responses back and maybe spur on some dialogue about "modern worship" - ways you perceive it as being relevant, ways it isn't, encounters you've had with various (anonymous) churches (both positively and negatively) and what the church could have done in those negative instances, and should do in the future, to help reach the lost/unchurched/disconnected people. please be brutally honest. i welcome all thoughts on the matter, whether i agree or disagree - disagreements fuel growth & reflecting on something helps to understand why/how we do anything in life & how/why we can & should do it better.

below are excerpts from Horness' chapter on contemporary worship. i've pulled out the parts i thought were extremely relevant and/or thought-provoking, while trying to maintain the context of his discussion. its a little long, but definitely well worth the read. i hope you enjoy.

"Above all, our God - the God of the Universe, the God who is above all gods, the God who is holy and powerful and wants our obedience - longs for a relationship with us. Can you imagine? God longs for something! The One who is above all and who created all still desires something. And that is to be our God. To be my God. To be in a relationship with all of us... He desires [our] worship, not to somehow meet the needs of his heavenly ego, but because it is an indication of the relationship he shares with the people he loves."

"[In Isaiah 29:13], God is not condemning huge sins or child sacrifices or debauchery. Something else is breaking the heart of God: dutiful worship, expressions of love that are not really expressions of love at all, tradition that becomes rote, going through the motions, lip service. Impossible as it seems, the people's hearts simply are not moved in any real way by the continued love and mercy and faithfulness of the God."

"If our worship is just about singing songs, getting people in the door before the announcements, or killing twenty minutes before the message, then do not bother. If we are reciting creeds simply because that is our tradition, knock is off. If we seek supernatural miracles simply for our benefit and for what we will receive, we have missed the point. If our hearts are not engaged in authentic expressions of love for him, if this is not about a relationship with our Creator and Redeemer, then God is not honored. 'We cannot honor God is our hearts are far from Him. Where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead' (John Piper)."

"I do not think God is overly concerned about whether we are singing a chorus or a hymn. And I do not think he really cares whether you are playing the organ or the drums. What I think God cares about is the disengaged heart. I do not think he is particularly interested in our theories or techniques of worship except as they are effective in genuinely drawing hearts to him. Worship that is not heartfelt and authentic simply does not interest him."

"The passion to see hearts fully engaged, to radically eliminate dutiful, going-through-the-motions song times, and to bring people into a powerful time of relationship with our living God is what is at the heart of the contemporary worship renewal. [It] endeavors to use modern instrumentation, contemporary musical styles, and freshly written or arranged songs in the language of this generation to lead people into authentic expressions of worship and a genuine experience of the presence of God."

"People of this generation are longing to experience the genuine presence of God. And God is longing to move in and among the hearts of his people. If we will learn to worship from hearts that are fully engaged, God will be glorified and set free to move in us and among us... [Growing up in a traditional church], I began to realize that singing about God was somehow not enough. I wanted to know him. I wanted to interact with him. I wanted to experience the things I was singing about and find them to be true. I began to understand that worship, as it is described so vividly in Scripture, was meant to be a dialogue, flowing from the outpouring of a relationship with God... Worship is more than one-way communication from us to God. It is a two-way communication between God and his people. We exalt God. He reveals his presence and changes our hearts. We pour out our hearts and remember his greatness. Refusing to be outdone, he meets our needs for intimacy and grace."

"To assist this generation with such an exchange, the contemporary worship movement has indeed made adjustments in how people approach God. For much of the post-Christian America in the 1970s, church music had become a stumbling block rather than an avenue for connecting with God... Bringing a nonchurched friend to church was like bringing them to Mars. The music was different and unfamiliar. The quality was often poor. Even the language we used made it difficult for them to understand the life-giving message we were trying to communicate. The whole experience was designed for the already convinced."

"If we reduce the contemporary worship movement to a definition of worship that uses guitars and drums, or if we define it to the exclusion of liturgy or hymns or charismatic movements of the Spirit, we miss the point. At the heart of the contemporary worship movement is the longing to connect with God... On the day when those instruments no longer serve us best, we'll lose them. If the congregation we are leading best connects with through liturgy, then that is the tool we will use. The instruments, and even the worship style, are only tools. They are not ends in themselves. There is no competition with other worship styles. Ours is no better than theirs. We simply use what will serve our people best and help them encounter God most readily. The end is to meet with Jesus, to know his presence, to fully engage our hearts in authentic expressions of love to him... Musical styles play an important part in helping each generation communicate with God in a way that is familiar and that frees their hearts to meet with him. But the goal is not style. The goal is to produce authentic worshippers of Jesus Christ."

"God desires that we worship in his presence so that he can move in our lives! God desires our worship - not just because he is worthy, but also because he knows that when we fully engage in worshipping him, it puts our hearts in a place where he can move and stir in us as at no other time... Even the sun, the moon, the stars, and the heavens are implored to worship the Lord. Worship is clearly one of the most important things God's people can do. It is their first and ultimate calling... When we do that, God will be there. Psalm 145:18 says that God will draw near to those who call upon him.... When we worship, we will develop nothing less than a yearning for God, joy, a passion for God's presence, an increased faith, a love for God's Word, comfort, an increased love for God, adoration, exaltation, celebration, thanksgiving, praise, unity, and repentance."

"[However], contemporary worship can also become a performance. We forget that worship rises or falls on our concept of God. We forget that one of our primary challenges is to paint for people a great picture of God to which their hearts can respond. We forget the power of Scripture. We forget the power of prayer... Our first priority is not to perform. Our primary purpose is to lead God's people to meet God. If the congregation is disengaged, we are simply back to where we started with a different cast of characters."

"The prophet Malachi writes that they have figured out that it costs a lot less to put a lame lamb on the altar than to offer the best of the flock. They know that offering the sick lamb that will die anyway makes more economic sense. But they have missed the heart of God that simply longs to be honored as their God. After all that God has done, is this the best the people could muster in return? A lamb that costs them nothing? An offering that is convenient? A dutiful, going-through-the-motuons expression of thanks? Tradition? Lip service?..."

"...We must know that the offering that we bring to God each week is of utmost importance. It is not enough to preserve the classic hymns. It is not enough to utter ancient phrases. It is not enough to play the latest praise songs with a really hot band. It is not even enough to speak in tongues. It must be our passion, and our calling, to lay upon the altar the very best offering that we can bring to God each week. Bringing God our best does not come without effort and sacrifice. It requires prayer and careful planning. It requires prayerfully listening to God about where and how he would like us to meet with him. It requires authentic, godly worshippers who will model to our churches what it means to love Jesus and to love being in his presence. And for our congregations it will involve their hearts, their minds, their souls, and their wills. Fully engaged. Emotional. Surrendered. Heartfelt. Pouring out authentic of love to the one who gave his life for us. The band, the choruses, and the worship leader are all secondary. They are the tools we use to help engage the hearts of our congregation in meeting with God."

"A final thought. Following the book of Malachi, God is silent for hundreds of years. No more prophets. No more visible activity. The people had brought the cheapest lambs they could find. Now they wondered, how would God respond? Would he respond? They waited... The very next thing they heard from God was this: 'An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord'' (Luke 2:9-10). God brought his best Lamb. Let us do the same. Give him praise!"

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