No one ever teaches intentionally that worship is a church program. Yet the notion that “worship is a church program” is so implicitly and strongly conveyed, from the way we speak about worship, and from its model of practice that most churches share, as we live together as a faith community.
What do I mean by that? Here are some illustrative examples.
Most churches have a dedicated worship ministry or department. Because the ministry’s sole responsibility is to ensure the Sunday’s worship programs run smoothly and to take care of any church program that has worship elements, like providing centralized copies of worship music, taking care of copy rights etc.., and there is little to none teaching of worship in daily life outside of the church programs, over time, it creates a church culture that implicitly says worship is a church program.
Our choice of language also feeds the unhealthy mindset. More than often, we use the vocabulary “worship” to refer to a church program with a set time and place; a program event that needs planning and organization. Such use of the word contributes to the church culture of thinking worship as a program that the church runs.
Then there is a severe drought of spiritual role models who live and demonstrate living life as passionate worshipers of God. It is only when I experience the exception to the norm, that I realize what has been missing. The exceptional experience started when I began to attend a morning prayer meeting regularly six years ago. I remember how I was pleasantly surprised by the attending brothers and sisters in Christ, who literally bowed down before God, talking to Him directly as the first Person, literally as another Person in the room to whom we engaged in spontaneous conversations, telling Him how great and magnificent He was, how holy and glorious He was, giving Him His worth in praises, in heart felt words said in great passion. Others echoed. Like other normal conversations, another person picked up and continued the praises to Him. Without modeling such outpouring of worship in deep spirits by worshipers in our communal life, all we can see is worship as a church program.
John Piper said it well, “Worship is a heart condition of treasuring God above all things.“
We must reject to live the lie to think of “worship as a church program”. Such mindset mutates our personal loving relationship with our Father, Christ our Lord, Spirit our guide, into a religion being practiced through church as an institution. We must be awaken to the truth that worship first starts with each of us, worshiping God in spirit and in truth in our personal daily life in private, with external expressions overflowing from an internal heart condition of being in awe of God for who He is.
The worship church program is a communal event, as individual worshipers who love and worship God in his/her inner being, come together to share and bond his/her love and awe of God with one other, joining in spirits and in truth to worship God together in unison. That is a foretaste of heaven.
Worship as a communal event becomes void in God’s eyes when there is no such sharing of love and devotion to God by individuals of the faith community. Without lives worshiping God from their hearts as they come together, worship as a church event or program becomes lifeless and cold, as people are just going through the motion of religious act, instead of a communal expression of their love towards God out of their divine relationship.
Like attending a Dad’s birthday party by children who do not have contact with him otherwise for the rest of the year, how can the birthday Dad be pleased with his children attending his birthday party? How can we, the people of God, come and sing those worship songs while our daily life has no connection, no intimacy with the God, and expect God is pleased in receiving our worship? ” While God is gracious and merciful, to such birthday parties, God responded: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me [Isaiah 29:13, Matthew 15:8].”
What is worse is throwing a birthday party to honor the birthday of the father but the father is not even the center of attention, instead, the children got so carried away to do whatsoever they themselves like without ever considering what pleases the father, the reason for the party. They did not even realize when the father has left the party. Like such birthday parties, there were worship services I attended in the past that Christ was not at all mentioned, Christ was not at all the target and focus of worship. Such loveless communal worship held in Jesus name but not about Jesus definitely grieves the heart of Christ.
Let’s return to the heart of worship and may our communal worship in unified spirits be a fragrant offering to the heavenly throne.
Want to read more:
How John Piper talked about worship