Worship in a Variety of Churches

After serving five churches, three as Senior Pastor, for the first time I’ve moved to a new region without a call to a church. This has afforded me the opportunity to attend various churches and get a feel for what is happening in worship in the body of Christ. Before offering my feedback on these churches, it’s important I disclose my background, biases, and theological views.

I have served the gambit in worship style.

worshipDuring the course of my ministry, I have served more formal churches, and very informal and contemporary churches. I have not served a highly liturgical church, but I have served churches where the pastors wore robes and followed a very set order of worship (Yes. That was a very, very long time ago). A call to worship, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, and doxology were weekly occurrences in those churches.

I confess my bias is not liturgical. Too often I get the sense that the “form of worship” is the focus rather than the “content” of worship in liturgical churches. In other words, “Did we do it right liturgically?”

I once had a conversation with Robert Webber and he said to me, “Liturgical churches are growing. Evangelicals want more substance.” I asked him if he could cite any data to support that.

Webber’s answer: “No.”

I would contend the opposite is true. We have seen Evangelicalism that leans informal often growing while the Mainline churches that lean liturgical have become the declining “sideline.” No news there. Much more is going on here, but worship style may be one cause among many.

I have also pastored churches that were contemporary, had no choir, and used the worship team for all the music. In one church, about fifteen years ago, I quit wearing a tie when I realized I was the only man in the building with one on! Because of my biases, we still sang the occasional hymn and sporadically would confess our faith during the opening worship with a historic creed.

I personally prefer blended worship, a mixture of the ancient and the contemporary. Some have called this “worship that makes everybody miserable.” I don’t think this has to be so, and I have pastored growing churches that were blended.   Hymns, the historic creeds, responsive readings, and scriptural calls to worship can regularly be incorporated in worship when explained and done well.

So much for my biases. What about my theological views?

  1. Authentic worship is first and foremost about God.

One persistent experience I have been having in visiting churches is that main focus is human. So sad, for what should be so basic.

  1. My definition of worship, following Donald Carson, is that “worship glorifies God and edifies believers.”

Worship does have a human dimension. It is impossible to enter into the transforming presence of God and not be effected. As we draw near to God, He draws near to us, nourishing us and building us up to be more like His Son.

  1. Worship is not a spectator sport.

In Evangelical churches – which tend to be non-liturgical – sometimes the only way worshippers participate is singing. A few decades ago, the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and scriptural Responsive Readings were commonplace. Now they are largely absent. I’ll seek to address this and offer suggestions as I reflect on the churches I’ve been visiting.

  1. True worship should elicit a response.

Whether it be Isaiah’s awareness of his sin in the face of God’s holiness, or Peter falling at the feet of Jesus upon realizing that he was “the Christ, the son of the living God,” true worship effects us. Worship and preaching should clearly call for a response from God’s people.

So get ready to go on a worship journey.