I was recently asked, “How would you describe an effective worship service?” Sometimes trying to quantify what only the sovereign God of the universe can decide is daunting. Only true worship is acceptable to God and only He decides what is acceptable to Him. We can only seek to respond in worship as best as we know how based on how He has revealed Himself to us in the Word. Personally, I have allowed my understanding and practice of worship to be defined (really limited) by style concerns. I would say something like, “We should seek to worship God in spirit and truth and not be driven by our personal preferences.” Yet, all the while I was holding my own personal preferences as the standard to which everyone else should strive … even unknowingly and unintentionally.
In a recent conversation with a friend who is a worship leader in a local church, this subject of personal preferences came up. He asked me, “Is there a place for personal preference when worshipping God?” For the first time that I can remember I had to stop and evaluate this long held prejudice that I had been holding against other people’s personal preferences. There seems to be something beautiful about people worshipping in the corporate context when they can connect with the style. What I began to realize through the conversation with my friend is that the preference issue is when people try to make everyone conform to their preference as the only acceptable style. I do not get into bluegrass music or responsive readings (at least not on a consistent basis). However, I would imagine that there are contexts in which Bluegrass music goes over well. And for those inclined to a more liturgical style, I am sure they would feel lost without a responsive reading. Who am I to say what is the best or even right style? I can only tell you what my personal preference is. [I wish I had understood this better earlier in my days of ministry. I have had to repent of past arrogance in the worship wars that have been played out even in the churches I have been a part of as member and pastor.] If the effectiveness of worship is determined by my personal preferences, then the “worship” is self worship (idolatry).
Here is my working definition of worship: Worship is communion with God in which believers, by grace, center their mind’s attention and their heart’s affection on the Lord, humbly glorifying God in response to His greatness and His Word (Bruce Leafblad). An effective worship service is one in which God is glorified in every way. I realize that there are important elements in planning a worship service such as theme, flow, transitions, etc. And I desire that there be public responses of salvation and life surrender in each service, because obedient faith is a glorifying response to God. But the most important thing in worship is that God is to be glorified. God is glorified in our worship when we worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4).
Only true worship is acceptable to God. And only He decides what is acceptable to Him. So we can only seek to respond in worship in spirit and truth as best as we know how to as God has revealed Himself to us in His Word. In an effort to quantify “effective” from a human perspective let me offer this proposition: An effective worship service communicates, through music & proclamation, the truth of God as revealed in Scripture, is culturally relevant and compels participants to respond to God in faith by applying His truth to their lives.
The question we tend to ask is, “Do I like the worship style?” When the ultimate question is, “Was God glorified?”