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The Difference Between Worshiping God and Worshiping Worship

“Idolatry happens when we take good things and make them ultimate things.”  ~Tim Keller 

“One mark of Christian maturity is being easily blessed.”  ~Unknown

“Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  ~Psalm 139:23-24

The following comparisons are convicting.  These observations have risen to the surface of the boiling pot of my own ministry, and I've probably got a story for every one of these.  (Half the time, the stories will be about me and my own wandering heart.)  You may not agree with all of them, but they certainly help get to the heart of the matter.  They convict me.  At one time or another, I have been guilty of crossing the line into all of these.  Truth be told, for followers of Jesus, “worshiping God” versus “worshiping worship” is less an issue of either/or and more an issue of both/and.  Christians who have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and yet still fight the "sin in our members” know that even our best praise is mixed with some idolatry.  May God continue to root it out and make us more wholeheartedly devoted to Him.  Lord, have mercy.

Worshipers of God prioritize God’s glory and pleasure in worship.
Worshipers of worship prioritize “being fed” in worship.

Worshipers of God care less about their personal preferences in worship.
Worshipers of worship care intensely about their personal preferences in worship.

Worshipers of God are more easily blessed in worship.
Worshipers of worship are more easily bothered in worship.

Worshipers of God approach worship as instruments and vessels.
Worshipers of worship approach worship as appraisers and evaluators.

Worshipers of God tend to approach their pastors and worship leaders more often with words of encouragement and thankfulness.
Worshipers of worship tend to approach their pastors and worship leaders more often with words of criticism and admonishment.

Worshipers of God more instinctively flex when elements are out of their comfort zone.
Worshipers of worship more instinctively bristle when elements are out of their comfort zone.

Worshipers of God are inspired by beautiful art to love God more.
Worshipers of worship are inspired by beautiful art to love beautiful art more.

Worshipers of God easily overlook and forget glitches and “errors” that happen in worship.
Worshipers of worship fixate on and can’t get past glitches and “errors” that happen in worship.

Worshipers of God tend to leave a “good” worship service loving God more.
Worshipers of worship tend to leave a “good” worship service loving worship services more.

Worshipers of God tend to leave a “bad” worship service loving God more.
Worshipers of worship tend to leave a “bad” worship service bothered.

Worshipers of God tend to leave worship with a renewed sense of awe and thanksgiving.
Worshipers of worship tend to leave worship ready to dialogue about what worked and what didn’t.*


*An important tweet from @iwsfla (Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies) clarifies that this distinction (and probably others above) may not pertain at all times to those who plan and lead worship.  Evaluation is, indeed, helpful for leading and planning worship.

Treating Sermons Like a Wine Tasting

Walter Kaiser writes:1 

According to the “New Homiletic” [a term coined by David Allen], every sermon or lesson from the Bible must chiefly be “interesting.” But what biblical support could we give for this assertion?

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Worship Leading Requires Leathery Skin and a Buttery Heart

I received my zillionth bit of criticism this past weekend.  The jabs come in all forms—to my face, behind my back, anonymous notes, vitriolic emails, sarcastic statements, condescending “suggestions,” anonymous notes dropped in the offering plate, snide remarks. 

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Worship as a Cross to Bear: John Wesley’s Anti-Consumeristic Approach

The following is part of a series of blog posts dedicated to exploring John Wesley’s Rules for Singing.

1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.

For every Sunday that I have led worship; for every special event where I have led congregational singing, there is always at least one person (but usually a measurable percentage, such as 5-10%) who refuses to sing, and stares at me or the band or the screen.  Their look almost always communicates one of four things—boredom, distraction, disgust, or anger.

The following reasons are the “usuals” that I’ve heard:

  • They refuse to sing because it is a certain style
  • They refuse to sing because they don’t know the song
  • They refuse to sing because the song is too hard to sing
  • They refuse to sing because they dislike congregational singing
  • They refuse to sing because they believe they have a bad voice
  • They refuse to sing because they don’t consider themselves a follower of Jesus and don’t want to give lip service to praising Him (in my opinion, ironically, this is the most honorable reason).

There are more, but these are the biggies.  Wesley has some important words to speak to the matter.  First, we must admit that his words seem very forward and maybe even offensive: “Who are YOU to tell ME how and when to sing with the congregation?  That’s MY choice!”  The individualism and idolatry of self had not yet wrapped its gnarly fingers around the neck of America when Wesley was writing this.  (But obviously something was going on which was significant enough for Wesley to put it into his rules…and put it first, at that.)  Why would Wesley demand that we “sing all”?  Because there are many reasons why it’s tempting not to.  Notice the word “tempting”?  Yes, the enemy takes pleasure out of robbing God of the worship He is due, and all our many “reasons” play right into his hands.  Wesley was aware of this.

Second, Wesley points out another worship-robbing idol: our own comfort.  The fact that, for some, to sing may be a “cross to bear” insinuates that it is still a worthwhile endeavor despite its difficulty.  In fact, it is a way that we become more like Christ.  For the person who says, “I just don’t like singing…I don’t get a lot out of it.”  Wesley’s answer is, “It’s not about you. Deny yourself and take up your cross.”  What a different approach to worship!  Worship (specifically singing) is not a product to be consumed by some and left on the shelf by others.  It is something we all must do, even if it means it is at times (or permanently) difficult for us.


On Worship: Consumerism, God as the “Sky Fairy,” and Authenticity

I’ve got a new friend, colleague, and ally in the quest to raise the bar on evangelical worship.  His name is John Gooch.  He’s a new M.Div. student (worship emphasis) at Denver Seminary, and even as he leads worship at various churches, he’s been a part of our pastor’s group committed to weekly reflection, mentorship, and accountability in ministry.  John recently wrote a paper reflecting on Mark Driscoll’s, The Radical Reformission (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).  This was part of an assignment for a pastoral ministry class, and he had some unique and insightful angles on worship stemming from the book.  Here’s the section of his paper, which he gave me permission to publish on my blog.  I find his thoughts valuable, penetrating, and prophetic.  Let us know your thoughts!


Driscoll’s treatment of the “seven demons of postmodernism” lends important insight into several aspects of a worship leader and pastor. The fifth demon, “the customer is always evil,” correctly identifies the reality that “we all long for the world to bend to our needs,” and that our culture particularly believes “that the market should provide whatever people think they need” (p. 170). It is apparent that we often apply the worship of consumerism in our common practice of “church-shopping” and in treating our worship of God as a profitable business. Driscoll’s statement that “we tend to cast God as a product, and as mainstream a product as possible” is highly convicting as a songwriter and worship musician. The Christian music industry is not immune from clever marketing strategies and the adoption of mainstream cultural musical trends, and I personally confess a temptation to want to become the “next big thing” in Christian music. However, I do not think it is sinful in of itself that there exists a Christian music “industry.” Christian music serves to edify and encourage believers, as well as preach the gospel to non-believers. But we must remember that worship ministry is an outpouring of the spiritual gifts God has given us. It is not a religious service or product that we sell. Thus, our goal is not to become the “next big thing” in Christian music, but rather, to share the gospel of Christ through the beauty of music to as many people as God deems appropriate. We must be careful to continually humble ourselves and remember that worship must always be directed towards God, not allowing innovative marketing strategies and popular musical trends to supplant the sovereignty of God in our ministries.

Driscoll’s first demon of postmodernism, “the Sky Fairy,” plays an extremely important role in the theological and lyrical foundations of my worship songwriting. Driscoll identifies that the Sky Fairy “is the neutered and limp-wristed god of pop culture that wants to bless everyone, does not care what you call him/her/it/they, never gets angry, and would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell” (p. 166). Indeed, “ours is an increasingly spiritual age, but God’s people should in no way perceive this as an indication that lost people who believe in the Sky Fairy are any closer to the true God that the atheists of a previous generation were” (p. 167). How appropriate this is in the context of modern worship music! Admittedly, much of popular worship music today caters to crowd-friendly lyrics and weak theology that sings praises to a hyper-spiritualized Sky Fairy instead of the awesome and glorious God who holds all authority and power over the universe. Thus, in our songwriting, we should guard ourselves against the wide road of easily-digestible, catchy lyrics and theology that does not sing the true Gospel and the powerful work of the cross. As worship music should preach the gospel, so should we approach our songwriting with a careful and thoughtful hermeneutic that strives to root itself in scripture and seeks to be made manifest through the power of the Holy Spirit. Writing catchy and singable music does not mean that responsible theology must be sacrificed in the process.

Finally, Driscoll’s second demon, “keeping it real…sinful,” has a much subtler application in worship ministry. Driscoll identifies this demon as the underpinning that “God’s people need to be more real and authentic” (p. 167). In the context of praise and worship, being more “real and authentic” in this area is usually taken to mean becoming more emotive and expressive in personal and corporate worship. This may include pastoral exhortations to push expressive boundaries such as encouraging the raising of hands, clapping, and dancing while worshipping. This is under the assumption that such emotive practices surely demonstrate “real and authentic” worship. However, “because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as a license to sin without repentance” (p. 167) In praise and worship, this sin usually manifests as pride; in believing that because I am raising my hands, my worship must more honoring to God than the man standing next to me silently bowing his head and not singing. This is simply a false belief that we must repent of. True praise and worship comes from the real work of the Holy Spirit in the heart and soul of believer, not an artificial emotiveness rooted in pride. Raising hands should be celebrated as much as quiet reflection, as long as both activities are an outpouring of the genuine work of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, the action of repentance should be regarded as much of an act of worship as the action of praise, and worship music would be well-served to remember the theme of repentance in lyrics instead of always just focusing on the theme of praise.