One of the great blessings of my ministry is the opportunity to worship in many different settings. One Sunday, I may be in a very contemporary worship experience with theater lighting and a stage set for a rock concert. Guitars and drums punctuate each song with sounds unfamiliar to my country church experience. The next week, I may be in a church with a choir and orchestra. Most weeks, I am in a setting with a style somewhere between the two approaches.
We all have likes and dislikes in styles of worship. In many ways, we have become consumers looking for the church that fits our personal style of worship. Oh, I understand that these stylistic issues may help us to engage in worship, yet it seems to me that while worship may be enhanced by stylistic approaches, that is not the essence of worship. Just because I like the music does not mean I experienced true worship. I would suggest we must go deeper.
Worship is not a spectator sport. I don’t worship by watching someone on a stage worship. Far too many leaders and groups resort to performance. Worship is about engagement, not performance. The measure of a good worship leader is whether he engages the people. When I walk out of the worship center, one significant measure of whether I truly worshipped God is if I participated.
But what do I mean by participation? Worship means I have expressed my heartfelt praise and adoration to God. My heart connects with God and expresses love and joy in my Savior from the depths of my soul. Expression of worship is a full-body activity—I engage my mind, heart and soul. Corporate worship also means I have connected with fellow believers, and through singing, prayer, and Scripture we have joined in adoration of our God. Sometimes we bow down; sometimes we stand up, but at all times our horizontal relationships are turned upward in freely expressed praise of the Lord Jesus who has redeemed us.
But is worship only an act of inward or outward expression? I would say that worship is also marked by reception. I connect with God through hearing Him speak into my life. The Holy Spirit uses music, preaching, reading of the Word, prayer, and other actions during worship to speak into my life.
Worship comes full circle when what I receive moves me to carry the joy and adoration of my Lord into my work-a-day-world. Worship does not stop at the door of the church, but finds multiple ways of expression day in and day out through service in the name of our Savior.
So don’t settle for a self-centered feeling about worship. Just because you like the style of music or the lighting and stage set does not mean you have worshipped. Worship engages us to express love and adoration to our Lord and finds open expression in the way we live our lives.
When I walk out the door, I know I have worshipped if I have had a divine human encounter with the living Lord of the universe. No matter how much I like the music or the preacher, in the end I measure my worship experience by the level of my engagement with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.