28 June 2010

Worship: Celebrate God’s Presence. A Dialogue on the Purposes of the Church

To worship the Lord is –in the world’s eyes –a waste of time. It is, indeed, a royal waste of time, but a waste nonetheless. By engaging in it, we don’t accomplish anything useful in our society’s terms. (Marva Dawn, A Royal Waste of Time)

worshipI am starting a dialog about the core purposes of the church, , following Rick Warren’s understanding of the Five Purposes of the Church.

To start the conversation, I want to dialog with Marva Dawn, who has written extensively on the idea of worship. Marva Dawn has written a nice little volume called How Shall We Worship?, which looks at the tensions that exist in the so-called “worship wars,” i.e., the battle between traditional and contemporary worship. She takes an in-depth look at worship and its implications for the church. I would like to interact with some of her questions in a few posts.

I actually discovered Marva by accident. I came into a grad class at Wheaton one day to be told that we were going downstairs to attend a lecture by Marva Dawn. Being so full of myself at the time, I determined that I would sit in the back of the auditorium and suffer through this lecture, since sneaking out would not show respect to the professor.

As I sat and listened to this diminutive woman (who did not impress me in the least), she began to speak with a quiet and soft voice. I was slowly pushed up the aisle and out the door by the intensity and passion of her message. So, I like Marva Dawn and listen when she speaks. And which is why I am sharing her thoughts on this topic.

One reason why I like Marva is more about the questions she asks than the explication. Here are some of the questions she deals with in the introduction to How Shall we Worship?:

1. What is worship?  She begins her discussion by pointing out that worship is…

“our glad response to the immense grace of Triune God.”

All of our life is worship if we live in gratitude and reverence, if coupled with a mindfulness of God and eagerness to serve Him, says Dawn.

What Dawn shows me that too much of our worship is about Me, not God. Someone once commented to me that worship is when God is the audience.

I googled the phrase “worship” to find a picture to preface this post (see above), and I began to notice that the focus of 90% of the pictures of worship had a theme similar to this picture:

worship-whole-heartWhat do you see when you look at this picture? --someone standing on a hill or mountain, a beautiful sky in the background, with their hands lifted to the sky, ostensibly worshipping. 

But is this worship? It may say something about the subjective worship experience (who wouldn’t want to have a worship experience like this?), but it says Nothing about WHOM we worship.

self-worshipUnfortunately, much of what passes for worship is summed up in this illustration: 

I am not sure, but I think this is a long way from “a mindfulness of God and eagerness to serve Him," as Marva Dawn says.

I realize that  worship is often a subjective experience, what lifts one person into worship of God will leave another person feeling like they’ve paid good money for a bad concert.

But we come back to Marva Dawn’s questions: “What is worship?”  Is our worship biblically formed, or does it reveal the influences of the culture that surrounds the church? What do the adjectives that you use to describe worship in your church say about your church?

Why don’t our typical Sunday morning worship services cause us to tremble? Are we really encountering God?

Why don’t our churches seem to be affecting our culture? Why do so many people who say they are spiritual want nothing to do with our worship?

I want to address a few of these questions in order to establish a foundation (at least for me) of what worship is, not what how I do it. So, if you are interested in the discussion, come back and sit a spell, and let’s talk.



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  1. I look forward to the blog discussion, Howard!

    One of the things we teach about worship is that it includes every aspect of life, not just what we do together on a Sunday morning. Worship is also our service to God as we serve His people.

    Ultimately worship is not about me, my preferences in music, or my physical position. It's about Him.

  2. It occurred to me that the Milepost 13 experience had a lot of different elements in it that, to me, are aspects you should find in worship. For example, the experience of the concerts built and promoted community and fellowship; there was definitely an evangelistic element on Monday night; You and your team were there to serve the church in Grenoble, and we were able to reciprocate in that respect.

    So, I think as we look at Milepost 13 in Grenoble, we can see how worship works out in real life. The question is, how can we enter easily into worship that is “a mindfulness of God and eagerness to serve Him?"

    That is part of what I want to explore in this series.

  3. these are the rambling thoughts of a tired woman, but if Worship is a mindfulness of God and and eagerness to serve him, is it something we need to "enter into" or is it something we should 'be'?

  4. I agree, perhaps not a very good choice of words on my part. I think I had a Sunday morning service in mind, more of how does a community come together to worship. That seems to be the big question on our side of the Atlantic. But good observation.