Chapter OneWhat is an
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Worship is certainly a popular word these days. There are now several major
"worship" conferences every year. Now that it is easier to locally record and duplicate CDs,
many churches and youth groups are putting out their own worship CDs. Stacks of "Best
of Worship" compilation CDs are promoted on late night television stations. Many popular
Christian musicians - who normally never recorded worship songs - now have come out
with "worship" CDs of their own. Even John Tesh, former co-host of Entertainment
Tonight, has put out his own worship CDs.
Worship has been quite the rage lately. But what is "worship" and what is a
"worship gathering"? These are critical questions to ask before we even think of discussing
Emerging Worship Is Not Just Singing
This book is titled Emerging Worship: Creating New Worship Gatherings for
Emerging Generations. It is all about creating worship gatherings where new
generations come to worship. But what does "worship" look like?
I believe to the average person, and even to most pastors, music is what primarily
comes to mind. In fact, in many churches worship pastors lead the singing portion of the
worship service. Like me, you've probably heard individuals say with great passion, "I love
to worship!" Almost every time, they are talking about singing.
As you read this book, you will find it has little to do with singing and music. Like
many others, I desire to see worship - and worship gatherings - change from primarily
singing to something a lot more holistic and a lot more biblical.
Emerging Worship Is Not a Worship Service
We usually call the weekend time when a church family gets together a "worship
service." Ironically, this term used to mean a time when the saints of God all meet to offer
their service to God through worship and their service to others in the church. Over time,
however, the title has slowly reversed. The weekend worship "service" has become the
time of the week when we go to a church building much like a car goes to an automobile
Most people view the weekend worship service as a place where we go to get
service done to us by "getting our tanks filled up" at the service station. It's a place where
someone will give a sermon and serve us with our weekly sustenance. In automobile
terms, you could say it is our weekly fill-up. We come to our service station to have a song
leader serve us by leading us in singing songs. All so we can feel good when we emotionally
connect through mass singing and feel secure that we did "worship."
We go to the weekend worship service and drop off our kids - that way they too
can get served by having their weekly fill-ups. We are especially glad that our weekend
service station now serves coffee in the church lobby - it's as convenient as our
automobile service station's little mini-mart.
Not a Local Automotive Station
I admit that I'm being somewhat sarcastic with the service station analogy. But I'm
not joking when I say we need to recognize that going to a worship service is not about us,
the worshipers. It is not about God's service to us. It is purely our offering of service and
worship to God - offering our lives, offering our prayers, offering our praise, offering our
confessions, offering our finances, offering our service to others in the church body.
The description of a church gathering in 1 Corinthians 14: 26-27 says: "What
then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of
instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the
strengthening of the church."
This was not "come together to sit and receive" like at a gas station. This was
everyone gathering to offer service to God and others in worship. The gathering was not
primarily about meeting the needs of the individual, but centered on the worship of God
and the strengthening of the whole church.
In the New Testament, the English word "service" (as translated in the New
International Version) is used to speak of an act of giving, not receiving. Paul spoke of
his ministry by saying, "Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God" (Romans
15:17). Paul talked quite frequently about his "service" to the saints, which meant Paul
was serving them.
Nevertheless, the "worship service," where the focus is supposed to be us bringing
our services to God by worshiping him, has been subtly changed to focus more on us
getting served by going to the meeting.
Because of the subtle misuse of the phrase "worship service," I don't use it
anymore. I try to always say "worship gathering" instead. Theologically, this communicates
what we are doing much better. Once again we can be the church gathering to worship
God and bring our service and offerings to him and others, not individuals who come to a
service to receive something. There is a big, big difference in people's expectations
between the two ways of looking at what we do when we meet together for worship.
So, the more we in leadership can communicate that this is a worship gathering
(not a worship service), the more it will shift people's expectations of what the goal is when
we meet together.
Emphasizing "worship gatherings" is vital for the emerging church.
Emerging Worship as a Lifestyle
Worship is "the act of adoring and praising God, that is, ascribing worth to God as
the one who deserves homage and service." The most frequent Greek New Testament word
for worship is proskuneo which stems from pros ("toward") and kuneo ("to kiss"). This is
an act of reverence and devotion, and in biblical times often involved bowing, kneeling, and
lying prostrate in reverence before a great and holy God. Worship is the way to express our
love and praise to Jesus, who first loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:25).
In a worship gathering, we create a place where we can express love, devotion,
adoration, and praise to God. This should shape our planning and design. But worship is
not something we do only once a week on Sunday morning or evening. Worship is a lifestyle
of being in love with God and in awe of him all week long (Romans 12:1-2). It is offering
our love, our adoration, and our praise to him through all of our lives.
We are to adore the Lord all week, not just at "worship gatherings." Our minds,
our hearts, our bodies, our marriages, our families, our jobs - everything should be
offered to him in worship. This includes what we think about, what we do, what we say,
what we eat, and what we spend time doing - they are all acts of worship.
It is so important to make sure we know worship is a lifestyle and those in our
churches also know it! How extremely sad that we have trained people to think that worship
primarily happens when they come to church and sing.
It is my hope that the emerging church will be extremely careful to embrace and
teach a biblical view of true worship.
Reclaiming a Holistic Form of Worship
This book is specifically about emerging worship gatherings. Our focus will be on
exploring different ways that emerging generations are now coming together to adore, praise,
and ascribe worth to God A refreshing thing is that - virtually across the board - we
are moving away from a flat, two-dimensional form of worship in our gatherings. There is
a definite move away from worship services simply composed of preaching and a few songs.
We are now moving toward a much more multisensory approach comprised of many
dimensions and expressions of worship.
We now see art being brought into worship, the use of visuals, the practice of
ancient disciplines, the design of the gathering being more participatory than passive-spectator.
Instead of the pulpit and sermon being the central focus of worship gatherings
(at least in most evangelical churches), we now see Jesus as the central focus through a
variety of creative worship expressions. True, every preacher says that Jesus is the center of
their preaching! What I mean here is that teaching and learning in the emerging church
happen in various ways; it's no longer only one person standing on a stage preaching to
I realize some people's blood pressure may begin to rise as soon as I mention
moving away from a preaching-and-singing-a-few-songs worship service model to a multi-sensory
approach to worshiping God. Someone actually told me that younger people only
need preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. He insisted that anything else is distracting
and useless. Some individuals have warned me that emerging churches are going all
experiential and throwing out God's Word. Other individuals have leveled the criticism that
emerging churches are wrongly changing the historical way the Church has worshiped.