Everyone is in ripped jeans, little dresses, and oversized tops. They huddle to one side of the room as the band walks on stage. Lights strobe and turn from blue to green and back to blue again. The beat pushes through their chests as the music quickens. Hands launch into the air, feet hop up and down as each person sings and dances.
What is this?
This is not a concert, club, or hipster band practice. In fact, this scene describes a typical church youth group’s worship service. Despite positive intentions, many churches have subconsciously equivocated worship with praise. This phenomenon, caused by attempts to reach a postmodern nation, shifts worship culture away from Biblical intentions. This article seeks to expose the reductionism in worship culture and clarify misunderstandings about Biblical worship for church youth groups.
Worship does not require a band.
Pastors.com, a Christian leader advice site, presents a list of 8 steps necessary to have a successful worship team, including tips like, “Provide opportunities for music training.” The Christian community identifies worship with music.
But here’s the secret: worship does not require a band. In fact, it doesn’t require any music at all. The Church has forgotten the dichotomy between praise and worship. We use the words so interchangeably that many forget there is even a difference at all.
To praise is to “express one’s respect and gratitude toward (a deity), especially in song.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) Praise is an expression. It’s primarily verbal. As Psalms 138:1 declares, “I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart; before the ‘gods’ I will sing your praise.” (See also Judges 5:3, 2 Samuel 22:50, Psalms 35:28, Psalms 92:1, Psalms 101:1, and Psalms 138:1)
To worship is to “to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power.” (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary) Worship is reverence, action and heart-based. Romans 12:1 clarifies this principle, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (NIV)
Music can be an act of worship, however, worship is simply not limited to song. Picture a worship service. There’s the student body, the worship band, and the youth pastor. While students face the stage, the band faces the students, elevated on a stage. And it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid the ideology of perform-and-react. The band performs for us, and we respond, causing the specific ambience. We’re reactors and receivers. Where is the worship happening? Here, the Church misses the holistic experience.
Sermons, tithes, offerings, and even praise: It’s all collective unified worship of God. Praise is a part of worship, but worship is a broader concept. Like love, it’s more than a feeling. It’s the whole.
As Christians, we should be in a constant state of worship not contented to a time or place.
There’s no such thing as a “worship experience.”
The idea that you experience a particular feeling when you worship is a myth.
As Relevant Magazine put it, “worship our worship experience.” Worship is no longer the heart beyond an action but instead has become a genre of music and passionate hand-raising. This can quickly become self-focused. If worship is only about feeling good, then what are we really worshiping? A holy God or a flippant emotion?
This is the postmodern problem. Today’s culture emphasizes the individual and holds to the principle that, if it feels right then it is. Postmodern values affect worship culture by replacing God-focused reverence with self-focused feeling, and therefore subject worship to non-Biblical and dangerous standards.
When worship becomes identified purely as the music and the corresponding feelings, then we have dumbed down an essential part of the faith. I’ve heard students joke about getting “high on Jesus.” Is this the Biblical view of worshiping our Lord and Savior? I beg to differ.
In response to worship culture, the Lutheran World Federation organized their third international dialogue in Nairobi, Kenya, in January 1996. Their project sought to reconcile Scripture’s original intent with contemporary society and culture. The Study Team, representing five continents, concluded with the Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture. It begins:
Worship is the heart and pulse of the Christian Church. In worship we celebrate together God’s gracious gifts of creation and salvation, and are strengthened to live in response to God’s grace. Worship always involves actions, not merely words. To consider worship is to consider music, art, and architecture, as well as liturgy and preaching.
Worship is the action, mindset, or lifestyle directly intended to further the Kingdom of God, glorify the Lord, and use one’s gifts to exemplify Christ’s love for us. It is understanding your place in the presence of majesty, recognizing your own insignificance compared to the one who made you. It is acknowledging your depravity and depending upon your Creator for all things. It is honor, respect. Deep admiration. Worship is the demonstration of gratitude with genuine solemnity.
The only experience related to worship is the overwhelming desire to serve the Lord because of His immense glory; that desire bleeds into every activity in life.
Depending on emotions for worship causes the youth camp high…and eventual drop.
It’s the classic story. Kid attends youth camp. Kid meets friends. Kid hears passionate speaker, has amazing worship experience, and returns with the promise to change everything and evangelize to everyone they know.
Then life happens. And somehow all the excitement dies down as the flood of deadlines fills the air and suffocates the zeal.
On the outside, youth groups and camps thrive on the worship experience, but the longterm results say otherwise. When youth groups feed off of the postmodern-affected view of worship, students translate emotion as spiritual renewal or life transformation when in fact their hearts — and therefore their lifestyles — have no guarantee of change. If worship is only emotion, then when the emotion is drained so is the faith.
Emotion based worship is like sugar. There’s the sugar high and crash without longterm satisfaction. Similarly, we value worship based on emotional high, and, like sugar, you have to experience more and more emotion to get the worship high.
True worship involves less raising hands and more falling on one’s knees in awe of the Lord Almighty.
But this commentary is less of a critique and more of a caution. If we don’t instill the next generation the true meaning of worship, then what does that mean for the future of the church? Will we buy more and more into the relative standard of worship?
What is worship?
In City of God, St. Augustine of Hippo described, “To love his neighbor bids him to do all he can to bring his neighbor to love God. This is the worship of God.” To worship is to live in a manner that is pleasing to the one who first loved us. To worship is to focus on the Creator in all of His majesty. While sometimes emotion can seem to be the genuine manifestation of a true repentant heart, other times it’s loved for it’s own sake. And that is the central problem with the trendy worship culture.
Guest Writer: Haley Horton is a freshman at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where she will study Physics and Art. She received the National Academy of Future Scientists and Technologists’ Award of Excellence and helped represent her state as a Delegate to the Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders. Having committed hours volunteering as a speech and debate coach, she is an Ambassador for the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) as well as a Claes Nobel National Scholar, Ronald Reagan Student Leader, Disney Scholar, and Prudential Spirit of Community Award Honoree. She hopes to use her talents as acts of worship to further the Kingdom of God.
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