Early in the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce sits in a field of wet grass enthralled with finding God in the intricacy of a spider’s web. The legendary abolitionist is in his early 20s and on the cusp of political stardom, yet at the time he’d gladly give up his career aspirations just to “meet in secret” with God. Wherever he turns—from feeding beggars who arrive at his doorstep to staring at the passing clouds—the young Wilberforce finds himself lost in worship. And it’s from this disposition that he embarks on a journey that eventually shapes world history.
Pastors, it’s time we re-acquaint ourselves with this life posture. For years, we’ve echoed such mantras as “Worship isn’t an experience, it’s a lifestyle,” or “Worship isn’t taught, it’s caught.” We’ve preached on how each believer must be worshiping on his own all week, how the Sunday morning service should never be the culmination of his week’s spiritual journey. And yet every weekend we continue to handicap our own people within the template-driven confines of what has become corporate worship.
Not long ago it was a hymn, announcements, two more hymns, the offering and “special music” time. Now we’ve expanded the menu to include radio-friendly praise choruses, a few prophetic ad-libs and the familiar closing love song brought to a perfected fade-out. (For those of us on the more radical side, of course, this all gets interspersed with such elements as intercession, warfare, dance and drum solos.) But all along, everyone has known worship was more than what we did in church, right?
I’m not so sure anymore. As I listen to comments made after services or notice the dead looks from congregants during an “off” week for the worship team, I realize there’s a younger generation whose frame of reference for worship is as limited and incomprehensive as the treatment we give this fundamental part of the Christian walk each week in our church life.
Yes, we have created this culture. As church leaders, we’ve contributed to the mindset that limits worship to songs, music, special conferences and specific times. We’ve segregated its direction to special teams of singers, musicians, dancers, banner-wavers and (in the rare case) painters. We’ve even helped an industry blur the lines of entertainment by inviting worship artists to perform—er, minister—at our churches.
None of this is wrong in and of itself. But in the process of finding a pure, biblical vehicle for worship (music and the arts), we’ve set up camp, erected an idol or two, and conditioned ourselves to not venture outside the boundaries of what we know and have experienced.
Think about it: What if we placed the same emphasis we give to the first 30 or 45 minutes of most church services (i.e., worship through music) on serving the poor? Or cleaning a toilet? Or being persecuted for our faith? Or mentoring an orphan? Or befriending a widow? Can you imagine God’s tangible presence sensed in the same way through these everyday situations?
I can. In fact, several years ago God birthed in me a vision for this kind of worship. I dream of one day being able to walk into a church service, hold up a single leaf from a tree and have people join me with the same intensity of worship as is found in singing “How Great Is Our God.” I’m no Wilberforce, but I can relate to his beautiful struggle with worship. How about you?
Marcus Yoars is the editor of Ministry Today.