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.
I am a simple man, and like my simple philosophy of ministry, I have a simple philosophy of worship. For me, worship is the practical act of surrender to God, that which He gave me in the first place. This begs the question, “What did God give me?” – to which I respond, the longer I walk with Him, the more I realize that everything I have and every thing I am, even to my very life and existence flows from God. Why do I surrender to God – because He is worthy. What is the purpose of worship, of my surrender? To the end that God receives all glory and honor, to acknowledge that it is His name that is above all names. The more I surrender to Him, the more I focus on His role and the less I focus on mine. In the end, I am asking God to use me to accomplish His purposes, because I know they are higher than my purposes, and specifically, I am asking Him to use me, in ways that honor Him and not me, because His name is higher than my name. Worship is the the practical acknowledgment of my right positional relationship with Christ as my Lord.
So what does the worship we do in Church have to do with this? How are they connected? Our corporate worship is supposed (i believe) to remind us that we are to surrender in this way. It is a way to allow us to participate in these symbolic acts on a regular basis. The church service is not worship. It is the symbol of worship that reminds us of what should be taking place in our heart day by day, hour by hour. While we “practice” worship on Sunday, together, while everyone is watching, we are to “perform” worship every day all day long whether anyone is watching or not.
Our performing worship is simply to remain intentionally surrendered to God’s purpose so that we are continually available to do His work, in whatever way He calls us to do it. Worship is an exercise in humility and joy in which we set our own agenda aside – content in the wonder that we are ever allowed to have any part in God’s accomplishment.
If this is worship, then why do we get so hung up on “style” and “content” of a recurring event that is ever only intended to point us back to what we should be doing in our heart anyway? When you are alone, do style and content matter? Or is your total focus on the object of your worship? Why then, when we are congregated, do we focus so much on these elements? Is it that we somehow think that some styles or content is more or less honoring to God? Is it just the way He made each of us to prefer some things over others? Formal or Casual, Ritualistic or Free Flowing, Loud or Quiet, Contemporary or Traditional? We seem to debate over any number of dichotomies. Or is just it the way we came into the faith, what style and content we are familiar with?
Or is it that we have confused practice with performance? That we somehow have lost the plot, and think that what we do as a congregation is worship, and what we do alone is another thing altogether?