What we do in the corporate times of worship has greater influence for making disciples than how we do it. Ultimately, culture is what drives an organization. There is not enough strategy in the world to overcome culture. Culture eats strategy for breakfast. This means that the culture of worship in a church will eventually win out over the style of worship in the church.
The word worship can conjure up several different ideas. However, I would venture a guess that everyone’s thoughts about worship include the element of singing. Here is my working desription 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). A God-glorifying 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.
Style of worship is not what I am talking about here. I addressed style of worship in a previous post. Do not misunderstand me, the subject of the style of worship is important for the local church. But, just having a style does not mean a church has a healthy culture of worship. Regardless of style, worship can devolve into merely an attractional event on the church calendar rather than an intentional opportunity for the church to come before God in adoration and praise.
There is a difference between a culture of worship and a concert of worship performance. I am not drawing a negative distinction. For example, a culture of worship should emphasize participation by everyone in the worship service. A concert of worship performance may be attending a concert by our favorite musician, quartet, worship band or even concert choir. I sang in the concert choir in college. We travelled all over the state of Georgia performing. I have also attended the concerts of my favorite southern gospel and contemporary Christian music artists. The format of these performances, though, tends to be that the persons on the stage are the performers and the people in the seats are the audience.
In church, the worship paradigm must change. The Holy Spirit is the worship leader. The platform persons, along with the rest of the congregation, are the performers. And God is the audience of One. Participation is incumbent for a person to worship. It’s not enough to say, “I really enjoyed the song the choir sang” or “I liked the last song the band did.” This represents a consumer approach to worship … what did I get out of it?
After all, wouldn’t a singing church be more attractive to newcomers and outsiders than a church that does not sing?
The culture of worship in a church will eventually win out over the style of worship in the church. This means that if the worship is consumer driven (ie, What did I get out of it? I don’t like the new songs.), the consumer will become disinterested if the change is not sufficient to keep up with his or her changes in taste. Churches cannot change fast enough to satisfy some people and change too fast for another segment of people.
So, what is a church to do when trying to create a culture of worship that is Holy Spirit-inspired and sustainable over time?
- Preach theologically sound messages from the Bible that direct people’s attention to the holiness and goodness of God. Teach them about the One to whom you are trying to lead them to worship.
- Start by leading a church to like to sing. It is easier to steer a car that is moving than one that is parked. Don’t worry about style, too much. Incorporate songs into the worship service that the people will sing, even if this means you have a small selection of songs to choose from. If you get the people singing, you can always incorporate new songs as you go forward. If you get the people singing, other forms of worship expression are more naturally to follow (ie, raising hands, clapping, praying).
- Avoid trying to replicate the radio. First, not every song that is played on Christian radio should be sung (on the radio nor in church). Second, not every song on the radio is singable by everyone in church. The range of the song may be too high for most men or the meter to difficult to discern at one time by several dozen untrained ears. Just because your worship team can sing it does not mean the rest of the congregation will be able to sing the song. Remember, the worship team has spent considerable time learning the song.
- Select songs that have ranges, melodies and structure that do not require formal music training to sing. People are hesitant about singing to begin with because they can be heard by those around them. Encourage them to sing by leading them in songs that they can actually sing.
- Incorporate “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” in the worship services. Songs that sing the Scriptures underscore biblical truth in the heart of the worship. Hymns have an easy to follow melody and repetition that make them simpler to sing along. Spiritual songs are the legacy of new songs for worship that God births in each generation.
- Plan and lead in worship with excellence. Whatever style you use, do it to the best of the God-given gifts and talents that you are able to find and mobilize.
A culture of worship, glorifying God, in a church begins with a right view and understanding of God. It is then nourished by an approach to planning and leading worship that aims to engage people to sing of God’s great glory.