To understand the struggle that evangelicals have with worship you must first define it. Frankly, I think, like many things that we evangelicals struggle with, we have placed our focus on method, rather than purpose. When we argue over music and liturgy and all kinds of stuff “that happens” but what is underneath that, I think, is that we have lost the plot on the purpose of worship.
In the North American Evangelical Church in the last 30 years, there have been several emphases on worship, corporate worship, worship experience, especially around worship music.
Worship is the act of surrendering your (time, money, thoughts, abilities, praise, fill in the blank) to God because He is Worthy. Yet in practice, we can become “dissatisfied” with the worship experience. It seems to me a complete subversion of the meaning of worship, to make something that is essentially about giving, and to say that one is dissatisfied with the experience of it.
The worship experience that we talk about in church is really about praise, adoration, and the recitation of truths, in prose and song. It is this part of the experience that we sit in judgement of. Whether the quality of the musical performance is adequate, the style is to our taste or whim, or whether those presenting or performing were somehow distracting us from our experience. We experience dissatisfaction when we are not induced to surrender our praise to God.
That said, I wonder what the corporate worship experience can do to improve our fruit production. I use the worship experience at church to bring my heart to a place where I am ready to hear a message from God through the preacher. I try to focus and empty myself of my selfish desires and focus on Him. I submit that the purpose of the corporate worship experience is not to induce us to surrender our praise, but to teach us how to surrender in different ways and circumstances.
If you want to build a church that worships in spirit and truth, then I expect that ministry participants will need to learn how to worship. While one does not need to be at church to worship, church is a great place to learn to worship. I am convinced that worshiping together should be about helping participants learn to worship. So elements of the worship should be designed to appeal to different types of worshippers so that all can learn how to worship in different ways and find those that are the most conducive to each of them entering a deeper state of surrender.
Worship in some churches appears more to be about “going through the motions” – whether it is an old school liturgical service, or a new breed rockin’ service, people are just doing what everyone else is doing, either so that they don’t look out of place – or because they think that doing it like everyone else is the right thing to do. Of course, the Holy Spirit can work in both styles, and mature believers can be deeply affected by the spirit regardless of the style, music, venue or process. Yet, what is our corporate worship doing to help newer, less mature believers to grow in their ability to worship?
In my understanding, the purpose (fruit) of corporate worship is to encourage and teach believers how to worship (surrender), so that they translate the corporate worhip experience into private worship, and their private worship becomes more meaningful. Design your church’s worship experience towards that goal, and your fruit will increase.