Friday, 4 June 2010

Thoughts and reflections on worship

Reflections on worship.

I must start by saying that these are 'random' reflections and are more for thought and discussion than any attempt to say 'this is the way it is'.....
It is interesting to reflect on the journey we are all travelling with regard to worship both as a church and as individuals. When we consider ‘worship’ as an activity and as a subject it is immediately obvious that there are a significant number of elements come into play and questions to be asked.
These include the ‘purpose’ of worship (as perceived by those involved AND those worshipping), theological and biblical considerations, the calling and character of those involved in planning, leading and participating in worship, the place of worship in the life of the believer, and I am sure more could easily be added to this.

What is worship?
There are obviously a number of ways in which this question can be answered but I will say that ,primarily, worship is an attitude of the heart, flowing from a passion for God, that spills over into and actively shapes our attitudes and activities in everyday life. The bible shows us that worship finds perfect expression in ‘heaven’ and we can infer such a lot about worship from that truth and from accounts of ‘heavenly worship’. Worship flows from, and is offered from, lives that are fully oriented towards seeking increasing closeness and obedience to God and in the uninhibited overflow of God though our life. This will include our acknowledgement of His Kingship, glory and greatness, His worth and His deservedness of our worship and praise and it will also include an increasing passion to see His character formed in our lives and shape our daily living. True worship is a very real engagement with, and service of, the living God from which we will not depart unchanged. Indeed, Paul, prompted by the Holy Spirit, speaks of being transformed and changed from one degree of glory to another, which is a theme borrowed heavily by Charles Wesley as a concept and truth in his worship.

Notice that, in beginning to seek to understand and describe worship, we have not yet focussed on singing or on music. That is because worship is primarily about something much more ‘core’ than that, as Paul teaches in Romans 12:1:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

If we do not have that core desire – to offer ourselves as living sacrifices – then whatever else happens, it is unlikely to be worship.

What is the purpose of worship?
I have asked this question specifically because it is a strange question to ask. It is a one that often gets asked but I am not sure it is the right question. The question, on the lips of Christians, almost gives away a fundamental misunderstanding about worship. What does the word ‘purpose’ mean in common usage?

Purpose is a result, end, aim, or goal of an action intentionally undertaken.

Once we escape from seeing a particular time on a Sunday as being ‘worship’ then the question becomes either harder to answer or less meaningful.

The ‘intentional act’ on our part is the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices, the worship is a direct and unstoppable effect of that. From that point on it is about how where and what are the best ways to express our worship. This is where one of the important contexts for worship, meeting together with fellow believers to express our hearts’, becomes very important. Within this understanding it makes a lot of sense to ask about the purpose of this particular overflow of our worship.

The intentional act of expressing our worship by meeting together in order to hear from and respond to God does have purpose. Whilst Christianity is personal in terms of our relationship with, and obedient response to, God in Jesus, it is communal in almost all other aspects. When we meet together for worship, and that worship is God honouring and Spirit lead, then one of the ‘purposes’ is that of strengthening the church.

How do we ‘order’ proceedings when the church comes together?
Orderly Worship (1 Cor 14:26)
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
As people together express their love for God, together sit and listen for God, together are open to the Holy Spirit to lead through them, then the believers are strengthened and encouraged as individuals but also we find that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts and the church receives strength and encouragement (and vision and passion and......) that is beyond simply adding up what has happened to individuals.

For most of us it is our expression and overflow of worship in fellowship with other believers (often but not always Sundays) that contains elements of music and corporate singing.

We need also to consider another basic scriptural principle when it comes to any activities that involve elements of ‘leadership of God’s people’
1 Peter 4:10
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
This verse from 1 Peter is representative of a range of important teaching on the ministry of the church and how that ministry has been ‘ordered and equipped’ by God.

Firstly, while we use the word leadership (which is correct) we are reminded that in kingdom terms leadership equates to service. Another crucial truth in the biblical teaching about ministry is that it is God who calls and equips and He equips by giving gifts whose source is primarily spiritual as opposed to ‘just’ natural talents. This is not to say that he will not take what is ‘natural’ and purify and magnify it......

The next part of the verse underscores the responsibility of those called and gifted in a particular area of ‘leadership’ / service. This concept is important in understanding the ways in which God’s calling and gifting operate, or should operate withing the church.

‘Responsibility’ has certain implications inherent within it. Firstly there is a general recognition within the church that the person is called and gifted in a certain area or areas. Next there is the acknowledgement that this person has not just the responsibility but also the authority to serve in the appropriate calling. And finally, they are accountable, to God and the church, for their service in the areas to which they are called.

In the light of this brief background we can now consider the particular subject of ‘corporate’ worship, when the church comes together to use Paul’s phrase.

There are generally (in our ‘type’ of church) 5 main people or groups involved in planning, leading and participating in what we commonly (but perhaps mistakenly) call ‘worship’, (only number 1 is in order of priority)

1. The Holy Spirit
2. The person sharing God’s Word
3. Worship group (musicians and singers)
4. Worship leader (who may or may not be a musician)
5. All gathered believers

In terms of 2 – 4 we would expect there to be both calling and gifting present and acknowledgement of this by the church. Also, in each of these areas, it is likely that there will be a mixture of spiritual gifting and natural ability. Each also bears a responsibility and accountability and has been conferred spiritual authority to serve in the area to which they are called.

Whilst there will of necessity be much overlap, there are also specific areas that each must focus upon as well as some basic requirements we would expect all to be active in.

The foundation areas in which we would expect all to play an active role are:

a. Personal prayer and bible reading
b. Openness to, and active seeking of, the presence and gifts of the Spirit
c. Participation in the prayer, fellowship and study life of the church
d. Attitude of ‘being called to serve the church’
e. A sacrificial lifestyle marked out by discipleship
f. Giving our attention to those things God gives His attention to (it’s all in His word)

These areas are crucial if we are to emphasise the importance of not just ‘gifting’ and ‘calling’ but also ‘character’.

Then we have areas that are more specifc to the particular area of service:

Sharing God’s Word (Preaching)

The calling:

To serve and equip the Church through sharing what God is saying through His Word, and to do so in ways that are faithful, prophetic, relevant and engaging.

We can expect, encourage and hope that people called to this area of service go well beyond the bible reading and study that is referred to in a. and c. Above. This would include reading around the bible and commentaries in order to better understand it, having an active interest in theology, seeking to develop as a communicator and so on.

Worship group (musicians & singers not ‘worship leaders’)

The calling:

To serve and strengthen the Church by leading the musical aspects of the worship ministry in submission and openness to the Spirit and serving and supporting the worship leaders and the congregation

A passion for worship, natural abiliities given over to God as well as spiritual gifts and openness, activley setting aside quality time for rehearsal, fellowship and creatively exploring how God is developing their gifts.

Worship leader

The calling:

To lead and serve the church through the planning and leading of specific aspects of worship and ministry activities that are honouring to God, true to His self revelation, prophetic in nature, accesible by the church and which offer the opportunity to meet more intimately with God in ministry. To be responsible and accountable for the worship times they lead.

Passion for worship. We could expect, encourage and hope that they would be eager to seek understanding from acknowledged worshippers and worship leaders past and present through reading, prayer and personal spiritual development.

Gathered believers
To offer themselves fully in worship and to be open to the promptings of the Spirit and the realisation that ‘to each one the manifestation of the Spirit has been given for the common good’

Each of these ‘groups’ must be allowed, encouraged and enabled to fulfil their calling to service.

I think one of the most important concepts in teaching on worship that I have read is that of God operating ‘in seasons’, as this puts the focus on what we believe God is doing among us at this time and how best this can be reflected through worship generally and our gathered meetings partcicularly. This includes the important truth that God so often does things among his people for a season (which of course varies in length and is about the prophetic nature of what God is doing and intends to do among His people)

This is reflected in the bible when we read about ‘times of refreshing’ , ‘times of repentance’ , ‘times of celebration’. These phrases are rarely talking just about a single event – such as one worship service – but about a period of time in which God’s Spirit focuses upon certain things.

In 1 Chron 12:32 we read about:
‘men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do’
There has always been great importance placed on God’s people seeking a prophetic understanding of where God is leading them and of then reflecting this in life and practice. This is no more important anywhere than in that aspect of our lives together that is worship.
 Interestingly, in the Greek, the final phrase ‘spiritual act of worship’ seems equally able to be translated ‘your reasonable service’ and both concepts would be correct. This gives us an important connection between offering ourselves to God, our service resulting from that offering, and the heart attitude and corresponding actions that flow from that sacrificial relationship (worship)