Understanding God's original intention for corporate worship can mean the difference between people experiencing God's power or just falling asleep in the pews.
She came into the service with great expectations of meeting with God intimately. The week had been extremely difficult, and her need for connection with God was intense. Nancy had recently lost her job, the rent was due, and her boyfriend had just informed her he was interested in someone else.
The personal pain she was going through was excruciating. I could only imagine the depths of despair she felt as she came into the worship gathering. Seeing her from a distance that morning, I knew there must be some deep inner conflict in her soul.
Obviously she was thoroughly distracted by her personal need, and God definitely cared about that. His love embraced her, healing her as she wept before His presence. Yet God desired the entire community of believers to worship Him corporately that day. He wanted every believer to connect with Him regarding their pain--not just Nancy.
God wants each believer to connect with Him so that He can heal us. Why heal us? Just to make us feel better so we love Him more? No! It is so we can be more equipped to follow Him and to fulfill His plan for our lives on the earth. It's really not about us--it's about Him.
A recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group (BRG) revealed that more than 90 percent of surveyed adults said worship is very important, but they struggle to have a consistently positive worship experience. One-third said they always sense the presence of God; one-third said sometimes; and the last third said seldom. The survey also showed that most people do not personally prepare for worship before the event and struggle to clear their minds to focus on God in worship.
God never meant corporate worship to become a drudgery. Worship times are intended to connect us with God, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and to realize the purpose for our presence in the earth as His hands and feet.
WHY WE WORSHIP
There are a number of things God intends for us to achieve while we're together. If we remember that the gathering is for God, set apart for His purpose, we'll see that ministering to Him is our main concern. Worship is for God--we need not be upset if it doesn't meet our criterion for personal gratification. Following are seven of the purposes and goals for corporate worship:
1. Minister to the Lord. What does it mean to minister to the Lord? To minister to someone is "to attend, care for, wait on, nurture and serve them." Times of worship should be designed to perform service for the Lord. An illustration of this would be a server waiting on a table at an exclusive restaurant.
After being seated, one expects to be asked a number of questions. The query usually begins with, "What is your beverage preference?" Following a list of exquisite specials not printed on the menu, the server allows the patron a season for perusing listed items before a selection is made. At just the right time, the server returns to the table to receive the order and is delighted to make any change necessary to accommodate the specific tastes of the patron.
Timing must be impeccable to suit those being served. Between the first and second course is a brief respite for initial digestion. Then drinks are refreshed. When the main course comes, the patron is observed to see if everything is to his liking. Any necessary adjustments require immediate attention. Of course, during the meal drinks will be refreshed before clearing the dishes for dessert and coffee.
Obviously, this is a dramatic interpretation of attending a table. But the server here parallels the attitude of the believer. When we minister to the Lord, we are like the server hovering over the table. We ask what would please Him the most, what flavor does He desire, or how can we refresh His spirit? "How can we serve You, Master?" is our only concern.
In his book Improving Your Serve, Charles R. Swindoll talks about those who desire to be great in the kingdom, declaring that they must first learn to be servants. Servanthood is the trademark of those who believe in Jesus, and serving Him is our first priority. Discover what God likes, then see to it that He receives it.
Serving Him and ministering to Him ought to be our delight and pleasure. We offer Him our worship as a means of serving Him. As we bless and praise His name, laying aside our personal agendas to focus on His goal, it's fulfilling to know He considers that a place of maturity. In response, it is His delight to meet us at the point of our need.
Celebrating and seeking the Lord is our primary goal. The psalmist said, "One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple" (Ps. 27:4, NKJV).
2. Experience the authentic presence of God. Connecting with God is not a mystical or magical thing. It's not about using all the right words like an incantation or thinking the right thoughts like psychokinesis. It's not about pretending or fantasizing. It's about faith.
The writer to the Hebrews said, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11:6).
God requires faith when we come to Him. We must first believe that He is there and that He desires to meet with us. Regardless of what we may have faced throughout the week, God wants to meet with us as a whole body of believers. He wants to communicate with us His acceptance, His will and His desires so we can be encouraged in our walk of faith and our fight against darkness.
Based on what many of us have been taught about worship over the years, we think it's holy to concentrate our mental and emotional energy on being alone with God in congregational worship. We want no distractions as we personally commune with Him, so we close our eyes and "tune out" everything else while enacting a visualization exercise. When there is a distraction (God forbid), we feel it "grieves the Holy Spirit."
The result: Our focus in worship becomes idolatrous of perfect surroundings where the Spirit remains and hovers over our personal pew. Yikes! (Please understand that the Holy Spirit is not as unstable as we may think!) So here's the million-dollar question: Is personal, private spiritual euphoria at the top of God's agenda for congregational worship?
I am definitely to worship Him intimately in the privacy of my own pew, but hopefully not at the exclusion of the rest of the members.
3. Encourage ministry to the body. Romans 12:4-16 gives a clear picture of the basics of New Testament church life. Although instructions for life, many of the directives can be related to the corporate worship service as God joys in nurturing the community of believers:
"For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another...Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord...Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion."
4. Repentance and transformation. When Isaiah saw the Lord seated on the throne, he was so overwhelmed by the glory and the majesty of the living God that he fell on his face, recognizing his uncleanness (see Isaiah 6:1-5).
When we see the Lord for who He is, His penetrating light shines into the darkened areas of our souls and brings conviction. To see His holiness is to see our worthlessness without Him.
The purity of Christ in all His glory reveals every blemish that humanity can name. Nothing is hidden from Him. If we're crying out for His presence and glory, it is imperative to realize what we're asking for. There is a legitimate work of repentance that must take place in our hearts before He can show us His fullness. Remember, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.
The message of John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself, was simply, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." If we do not repent, we cannot experience God's kingdom. Jesus told Nicodemus that until he was born again, he couldn't even see the kingdom, let alone enter or experience it. He was trying to communicate that until a change of heart and mind transpires, one cannot even begin to comprehend the message of God's rule in his or her personal life or over the earth.
God wants to unveil our eyes in worship so we can see His kingdom--righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. We need a fresh view of His greatness and majesty before we can truly be changed into His likeness. One way to begin is found in Paul's exhortation to the Romans:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Rom. 12:1-2).
When we present ourselves to God in worship, this act of repentance leads to the development of Christ's character in us. The essence of each worship response is a desire to be transformed by a superior power. Thus, the metamorphosis of the Spirit begins conforming us into the image of the Son as we behold Him. Looking at Jesus changes us into His likeness.
"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).
5. Release the prophetic. Because God now makes His dwelling place with man, His voice is heard in the congregation of the saints: "And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God'" (Rev. 21:3).
A story in the Bible about the prophet Elisha and a musician helps us to see how corporate worship can facilitate the release of a prophetic word. Joram, the king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom called on Elisha to give them a word from the Lord regarding their present circumstances. Elisha was unimpressed about being there, for he had no respect for the king of Israel. But he decided that he would stir up his gift out of respect for Jehoshaphat.
"And Elisha said, 'As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you. But now bring me a musician.' Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him [Elisha]" (2 Kin. 3:14-15).
As the musician played, the spirit of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he spoke the word of the Lord to the three kings. Either Elisha simply liked good music to work by, or this illustrates a spiritual principle recorded for our education. In any case, the prophet was able to soothe his soul and stir up his spirit via the musician's music.
Worship stimulates our spiritual sensitivity that we may hear His voice. Often the prophets are stirred during worship times to deliver the prophetic word. There's something about the worship of God that elevates our awareness of His presence and the voice of His Spirit.
6. Warfare. The element of warfare in worship is a very strategic aspect. The fact that God judges His enemies through our praises is a fascinating phenomenon that many have tried to explain through the centuries. It is well worth studying 2 Chronicles 20, which records the time when the Lord set ambushments against the enemy of Judah and destroyed them as His people worshiped.
When we lift up the name of the Lord, we defy the rulers of the dark realm. There's no middle ground in the quest for establishing righteousness in the earth, and the war for ownership has concluded by Jesus' overwhelming victory. According to Psalm 24:1: "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness." That means everything belongs to Him.
The issue of rulership has long been established. Jesus rules. Satan does not. As God's voice in the earth, one of our responsibilities is to declare that simple truth and reinforce its ramifications through the worship of God.
7. Evangelism. Though our methods of outreach have changed or been modified through the centuries, the fact remains that the Great Commission is still indeed valid. People need the Lord. Worship can draw people into the kingdom.
Graham Kendrick, noted for his pioneering work with praise marches on the streets of London and for the International Marches for Jesus, was speaking to a group of worship leaders in Dallas. Introducing the concept of the March for Jesus, he said: "People are not brought into the kingdom by mere miracles alone. Jesus did miracles, then they killed Him. They need a spiritual encounter with God."
I remember participating in several Marches for Jesus through the years. The onlookers, though overwhelmed by the number of people brave enough to profess Jesus on the streets of the city, were captivated by the exuberant and joyful praise. Many unbelievers have come into the kingdom by experiencing the presence of God through these marches. It's a graphic illustration of Jesus being lifted up and drawing all men to Himself (see John 12:32).
When the people of the world see the relationship we have while worshiping the only true and living God, they are intrigued. Their spiritual curiosity is piqued, and we can actually become salt and light to them, pointing them to the Savior. Our relationship with Jesus uncovers their spiritual nakedness and reveals the lack of genuine fulfillment in their lives.
Most do not realize that they lack any true meaning in their lives until they come face to face with the giver of life Himself. When He is granted permission to demonstrate His love, the emptiness of life seems to be even more intense in comparison to the fulfilling presence of God's all-consuming being.
When the psalmist encountered God's intense demonstration of love, his response demonstrated this principle: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth--praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord" (Ps. 40:1-3).
In our pursuit of information and knowledge of God's purpose for corporate worship, it is critical for us to see the ultimate goal of David's tabernacle. It was not for the purpose of enjoying God's presence and hoarding the blessings. It was for God's dream to be realized. It was so the nations of the earth could gather before Him in worship.
"'On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles [nations] who are called by My name,' says the Lord who does this thing" (Amos 9:1112).
God's heart beats for the nations of the earth to encounter His presence and to know that He alone is God.
Qualifications for Worship Leaders
The six most important qualities to look for when considering prospective worship leaders and team members
The following standards are important enough to put down on paper so that staff pastors, worship leaders and members of the worship team can review them regularly. These rules are not rigid, just clearly defined for the sake of the whole team and its growth together.
1. Motivation. Motive identification should be the first thing you find out from all who audition for the worship team. The following questions can help you find out why each person wants to participate in worship ministry:
Why do I do what I do?
Is there something I need to prove to others or to myself?
What do I hope to accomplish by doing this?
Do I feel more accepted by God when I perform this function of ministry?
Is my sense of validity or significance found in this activity?
Must I be seen by others in order to appreciate myself?
Can I allow my individual gift to be a contribution to the whole without fear of being absorbed?
What if I am not chosen as part of the team?
2. Authority. Who is the leader, and how well can you follow? Where does the proverbial "buck" stop? With regard to time limits and acceptable forms of worship, who governs--the worship leader or the pastor?
What infrastructure of understanding is in place to administrate spontaneous expressions such as dance, banners, prophetic acts or the gifts of the Spirit? What is the relationship between the worship leader and the pastor? Are they working together, or is there competition?
3. Faithfulness. Faithfulness by its mere mention screams commitment. For some musicians, commitment is one of the scariest words in the dictionary. But if someone cannot be faithful to a rehearsal, what makes the pastor think that person will be faithful to services or special events?
Faithfulness includes the personal disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading, accountability to a prayer partner or discipler and loyalty to the policies described by the leader's vision.
4. Holiness. Holiness is our response to the privilege of knowing God and being called His own--a people for His own possession (see Deut. 7:6; 1 Peter 2:9). The pursuit of holiness begins with the simplicity of accepting what Jesus accomplished on the cross--nothing more, nothing less. He created a way for us to be holy through His blood, so we should daily allow it to cleanse and purify our deepest parts.
5. Sensitivity to the Spirit. Sensitivity to the Spirit in a worship service can either "make it" or "break it." Because the Spirit knows the mind of God, and God knows everything, it stands to reason that the Spirit knows the hearts and minds of people before they come into the worship center. If we can sensitize our ears to the Spirit's voice, we also can know the needs of the people and lead them accordingly.
6. Skill. Musicians and artistic creators should continually increase the borders of their territory, going beyond what they think they can do. There's nothing wrong with studying to perfect one's craft. In fact, within our current culture, it is imperative.
Kingdom musicians should have a better grasp on chart reading, dynamics, interpretation and spontaneity than non-kingdom musicians. We have the power of the Spirit to energize our hearts and minds to comprehend and communicate through music. Many say they don't have the time or money to invest in lessons. That's understandable, given the busyness of our culture. Still, the choice is up to us.
Determine what the call of God is upon your life, and do whatever is possible to build an altar with it. Some things must be sacrificed for the sake of the call. Find out what they are, and offer them to God. What consumes your time that can be given up to increase your craft?
Leading worship is taking the congregation to a place where they are introduced to God's menu and agenda. He wants both--to feed us and to lead us to implement His will.
David Morris is a songwriter, musician and worship leader who has ministered worldwide. He is author of Called to Radical Devotion (Charisma House), from which this article was adapted. Visit www.charismahouse.com for ordering information on this and other books in the Journey of Faith series, designed for small-group study.