Diverse Forms of Worship: Trying to Get It Right
DIVERSE FORMS OF WORSHIP: TRYING TO GET IT RIGHT
In today's churches we have every form of worship from the very high church ritual to the very informal and unstructured assemblies. Most churches give attention to a number of the aspects of worship found in the Bible, which they may have perfected, but few if any give a balanced attention to them all. For example, some equate worship with liturgy and ritual—and it all runs smoothly and richly; but there may be no place for individual praise and thanksgiving and very little attention given to preaching or teaching. Or some may designate a time of singing songs and praises as their worship, leaving the impression that the rest of the activities of the service are not worship.
Most churches do not have a worship committee to evaluate what they are doing and ensure that all the needs of the people are being met. And there are scores of people who would love to step into more meaningful and glorious ways of worshipping if given the opportunity, but they are limited by their church's format.
But things can go too far in the other direction as well if churches simply give people what they want, that is, adapt worship to what is popular or appealing rather than instruct and inspire people in what they should want. This is the easiest thing to do; it is most often prompted by the desire to have a well-attended church. Accordingly, there may be a greater emphasis on making worship more enjoyable, more entertaining, and more attractive and convenient to modern Christians. While these efforts do have value in the whole ministry of the church (the festivals in Jerusalem were appealing), the form and substance of worship is not to be set by popular preference (in Israel that led to idolatry) but must draw people out of the world. In the final analysis we must recognize that entertainment is not worship, that simplifying and shortening sermons, music, and prayers weakens worship, and that good attendance does not in and of itself mean that worship is taking place.
In other churches the service may be predominantly filled with teaching or preaching. No one would ever fault the desire to instruct and exhort people from the Word of God. In fact, an emphasis on this may be refreshing to those who have grown up in services that had short, ten-minute homilies. But if the sermon fills up most of the time, too many aspects of worship will be crowded out, and as a result "worshippers" will become listeners and observers. The sermon, so important to worship, is not by itself worship.
— Allen P. Ross, RECALLING THE HOPE OF GLORY: BIBLICAL WORSHIP FROM THE GARDEN TO THE NEW CREATION. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2006, p. 61-62. ISBN 0-8254-3578-1. This book is a treasure—highly recommended.
[RECALLING THE HOPE OF GLORY is not a how-to book (in terms of musical styles, instrumentation, or handy lists and orders of worship), but rather a why-to book. It goes on my shelf right next to David Peterson's ENGAGING WITH GOD and Noel Due's CREATED FOR WORSHIP, two other excellent books that put forth a thoroughly biblical theology of Christian worship. Take a look at the quote index for the WQOTW—www.wqotw.org/quotes.php.]
Have a great week,
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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