I was in Israel a few weeks ago at the Western Wall, praying. As I left the courtyard, I noticed about 15 young Israeli soldiers coming to pray at the wall.
When they finished, they headed to the courtyard and began singing songs from the book of Psalms at the top of their voices and clapping their hands.
Soon, passers-by gathered around the group of young men and began clapping and singing with them. Then, the young men, clad in military uniforms, grabbed one another by the arms and began dancing in circles. An elderly rabbi passed nearby, and they reached out for his blessing, pulling him into the group. There was no sound system, no worship leader, no banners, no PowerPoint presentation or slick overheads. There were simply the musical prayers and declarations of these sons of David, being lifted toward the heavens not only with their voices, but also with their hearts and souls--and feet.
I tried to imagine a cultural equivalent in the American church to what I was observing. I could not.
One of the concerns I have about worship in the church today is that we've become much too professional. Somehow we've begun equating music and worship, as if they're the same. Clearly, that's a mistake. Worship is the "intangible" that is released when the soul begins to proclaim the greatness of God and enter into His presence. It's a spiritual thing that goes much deeper than the music that accompanies it.
So let's consider our current worship paradigm: 90-minute worship-team rehearsals, well-rehearsed modulations, carefully written horn parts, color-coordinated outfits for the vocal team, slick video productions to "enhance" the experience with scenes from nature. Selah.
My concern is that in our motivation to worship with excellence--which, by the way, I support and agree with--we may be falling prey to the spirit of entertainment and performance that pervades our society.
God's Word suggests He receives our worship not because its style or level of excellence but because of our sincerity and the condition of our hearts. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart--These, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17).
The true goal of any worship service must be for people to encounter the presence of God. Authentic encounters evoke a variety of reactions in people--crying, repentance, joy, celebration, silence and deep, intense, gut-level shouting.
Genuine worship means people let go of their desire to control the worship experience and their response to it, and let the presence of God meet with them in a way that only He can.
Where is our undignified worship? Where are our tears, our shouts, our heartfelt love songs, our ecstatic dancing and leaping, our genuine, silent awe of His manifest presence? When is the last time we were undone?
And what about excellence?
First, let me say that I have a degree in music and place a high value on musical excellence. To me, there are few things worse than bringing sloppy, half-prepared offerings and saying, "Here You are, Lord."
But the biggest need for excellence relates to the condition of the musicians' and worshipers' hearts. The goal should be to bring together skilled musicians who play skillfully before the Lord because this is who they are. This is markedly different than aiming to perform a perfect rendition of a certain song or planning an extravagant number of key changes and segues. When this happens, the worship service becomes little more than a mini-performance.
Perhaps with all of our church correctness, we need to be confronted by a wildly dancing David once again. What we need is for sweaty, wild, joy-filled, single-minded David to interrupt our air-conditioned, PowerPoint worlds and remind us that worship is about the heart--about God.
In the final analysis, the question is fairly simple: Is our emphasis on aesthetically pleasing our senses or on a spiritual, authentic encounter with the God of the universe?