Friday, 19 October 2018

What's the deal with Sunday worship? Eight characteristics of Christian worship

At FUEL, the congregation I lead at East Taieri Church, we have been exploring what worship is. When FUEL first started up eleven years ago, an intentional decision was made to not have singing. A couple years after it began, some sung worship was introduced (like a couple songs two or three times a term). I'm grateful that FUEL is a church where singing isn't simply assumed because it's created space for meaningful conversation to occur around what worship really is.

As a community, our latest conversation has been asking what worship is and how we want to express our worship to God. While we recognise that worship is all-of-life and that everything that happens on a Sunday morning is part of worshiping God, this conversation has particularly focused on how we want to express our worship as a congregation on a Sunday morning.

And what we've decided is that we want to have more sung worship. But we don't want to just have sung worship. We are going to have sung worship fortnightly and on the alternate week explore some other expression of worship like art, poetry, drama, sharing of testimonies, even games (especially as we think about how we incorporate the youngest into our expressions of worship).

I'm really excited about this, and what it might look like. I'm excited to be a part of a congregation that's willing to experiment and try new stuff. I'm excited to be part of a church that wants to worship God in ways that are surprising and meaningful!

As part of this fascinating conversation, I wrote a list of eight characteristics that I feel should be a common thread for any Christian worship, and I hope will shape our worship in whatever expression it might be.

1) Worship is always a response to God

We worship God because God has first spoken to us. God has spoken to us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. God has spoken to us through Scripture. God has spoken to us by calling us into relationship with God. Our worship is a response to the love, grace and holiness of God. Whenever we gather on a Sunday morning to worship, God is already there calling us to come and worship, not us calling God to come and gather with us.

2) Worship is a human response

While we worship the God who speaks to us, worship is also deeply human. We offer our lives, our voices, our actions and our gifts to God. We adore God. We praise God. We confess to God. We cry out to God in our pain. We celebrate with God in our joy.

3) Worship is more than music

Worship is not just the singing part but the entire service. Worship is people gathering and eating together. Worship is the prayers. Worship is the children’s talk. Worship is the singing. Worship is the reading of Scripture. Worship is preaching. And worship is our response to God’s Word. This means that our expression of worship can come through prayer, exploring the Bible, singing, poetry, art, drama, dance, silence, communion, the list goes on.

4) Worship is dialogical

In worship we speak to God and we hear from God. Worship are these two dynamics occurring together. Our engaging with God in worshipful ways and our listening to God.

5) Worship is something we do together

While we can worship God by ourselves at home, it’s also something we do together as a community. When the psalms were sung they were sung to God and to each other. They expressed our hearts toward God and reminded each other of who God is and God’s promises to us. In this sense, worship is something we do to God and for each other.

6) Worship should be a generous outpouring of ourselves before God (this point is taken from The Worship Sourcebook)

 Worship should not be stingy. Like the perfume that anointed Jesus’ feet, our worship should be a lavish outpouring of our love and praise to God who has created us and redeemed us. Worship calls for our best offerings.

7) Worship should be honest

When we worship, we offer our whole selves to God. That means our joy and our thanks. Our pain and our fears. Our laments and our sin. Our successes and our failures. A number of times I’ve heard worship leaders say, ‘Leave your troubles at the door and come in and worship God.’ But what if God is so generous and kind to us that God calls us to bring our pain and sorrow into our worship so that God can truly form us as the people of God.

8) Worship is for all ages

Jesus says, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’ (Matthew 19:14). Jesus dignifies all people—especially children. Children and young people are important to God’s heart and should be important in the life of the church. A question that all Christians need to consider is not just how worship impacts me, but how worship is beneficial for the participation, growth and discipleship of the youngest and oldest in our community.