Man-centered worship happens in the best of churches. It happens in yours and mine, even though we don’t intend it. It’s a manifestation of the sin that so easily entangles us.
True worship is a response to what God has done for us in Christ, by his Spirit. It is a demonstration of thanksgiving to him and joy in him. But it’s easy to shift our attention from the one to whom we are responding to the response itself. Therefore, we need to be on guard against it. As leaders, its our job to shepherd our flock toward true worship and away from these substitutes.
In this post, I’m focusing my use of the word “worship” on the music and singing part of the worship service. I believe that every part of the service ought to be worshipful. Indeed, every part of our lives should be an expression of worship. But to save myself the trouble of writing “worship through singing” throughout this article, I’m going to use the synecdoche.
1. Worship as theological education
The writing of theologically rich worship songs was a welcome response to the onslaught of cheesy “7-11” choruses of the ’70’s, which still continue to this day (just turn on your local Christian radio station). For many, however, the pendulum swung too hard the other direction. Songs were sung only for their theological content, not their singability or musicality. The time of singing became an extension of the sermon.
This model of church worship is man-centered in because its focus is on what the singer learns. It makes the primary goal of joyfully responding to the gospel secondary. Downloading theological content into the singers heads comes to the fore. Sure, our worship songs ought to educate us theologically, but they must intend to do more than that.
2. Focusing on the musical performance
Have you ever heard someone say, “The worship at such-and-such church isn’t that great”? (Have you ever said that?) Usually this statement can be interpreted as, “The music isn’t that great.” Or, “The visible response of the congregation is lame.” This attitude toward worship expects the music to supply the emotional lighter fluid to our hearts so that our singing is on fire. The net effect, however, that folks respond to the music, not to God.
This is the one I struggle with the most, being the musically inclined guy that I am. Ultimately, it exposes my laziness. I want the music to do the work that I should be doing. It takes less effort to passively be brought into the music than to actively meditate on God’s grace. That’s a man-centered attitude.
3. Responding to God through the musical performers
Oftentimes, the worship leader – either in his mind or the mind of the audience – is viewed as a functional priest. What I mean by this is that our worship goes through the worship leader to God. This does better than the first two because at least it gets the direction of the response right. Worship is responding to God in joy and adoration. But it thinks to highly of the person on the stage. It replaces the guy singing into the mic with Jesus as our high priest.
Louie Giglio has responded well to this issue by rearranging the words in the worship leader’s title. Instead of calling him a worship leader, Giglio calls him a lead worshipper. This recognizes that the guy on stage is directing what’s going on, but he is not leading the congregation before the throne. Only Jesus can do that.
I’m always impressed by churches who have worship pastors that don’t have a mic. They pick the songs, lead the rehearsals throughout the week, and direct everything on Sunday morning, but they are never the focus of attention. These men truly understand their role, and Jesus’ role, in worship.
Man-centered or God-centered
These three ways to worship are ultimately man-centered, either on the individual in the seat, or the performers on stage. We need to shepherd our people toward God-centered worship. The way to achieve this is to magnify God’s work in our lives through the death and resurrection of Jesus in our music and singing.