“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our savior, so that having been justified by is grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7 (NIV)
We worship God out of gratitude for what he did for us through Jesus Christ. Considering that, there is probably not enough time in a human lifetime to worship God adequately, so the time we spend in worship must be effective and relevant.
How much effort and expectation do we put into our worship? We will get no more than we expect, and no more than we put into it. Those who lead worship must prepare for it as if it is one of the most important things they will do during the week, because it should be that. For a worship leader, the goal is to help worshippers following your lead to have a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit during the service. You must plan elements of worship that will let worshippers invite the Holy Spirit into their life, with the expectation that a sincere invitation will lead to an encounter with the spirit. This is not some kind of repetetive ritual where the up front leaders do a “good show” and you can walk out the back door and shake the preacher’s hand and tell him “good sermon today, pastor,” based more on whether you weren’t as bored as normal, or whether the music was played well.
That’s why I believe the music is important, and not because of the style preference of the worshipper. Music, particularly singing, is used as a means of praising God. Many hymns have been written that have poetic language describing God, or about God, and about Christ, but they are not directed toward Jesus or God in worship. Almost all contemporary praise music is “vertical,” that is to say, it has words which are directed toward God, and not just about him. As believers sing the words, or at least make a joyful noise, they are praising God directly, and they are giving something to him, which pleases him. Many songs are written to call upon God’s Holy Spirit to be present in the worship itself, which is the desired end. The combination of singing praise, prayers of thanks and gratitude, of asking for God’s presence, and for his ministry, open the door to the Holy Spirit “showing up,” as we like to say around here. When the Holy Spirit shows up, worship becomes meaningful and relevant, and people’s lives are changed. Something happens to them, and it leaves them wanting more.
“I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” I Timothy 2:8 (NIV)
The focus of worship is God. So everything that is done in worship should be done to please God. If you seek God’s presence, he’ll show up.
Most young people will characterize the typical worship service as boring. Frankly, most of them are boring. We sing a few hymns that we have been singing for years, with our heads buried in a book. The prayers, choir specials, soloist, and other rituals are the same thing we see every week. God doesn’t show up because the service hasn’t been planned with him in mind, but rather has been planned for our own desires and needs, and timed so that the bored worshippers can get out as soon as possible, and on to other pursuits in their busy schedule.
Worship that feeds spiritual hunger isn’t like that at all. When we set aside our own worries about proprieties and entertainment, and come to worship expecting to meet God, and to be changed as a result, we leave wanting more. Young people respond to that kind of worship. I’ve seen it.
My previous church hosted a new church start several years ago called Ecclesia. It met at 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoons, and about a year after it started, I decided to go. It was planned to reach a much younger population than my own age group, but I’d heard they were growing by leaps and bounds and I wanted to go see what they were doing. I wound up going frequently while my schedule permitted it. I was meeting God in church, and I wanted more. The music was fresh, changing often, some of it even written by the worship leaders to reflect the spiritual needs and desires of that particular congregation. That spoke of a strong desire to prepare to meet God every time they met. There was an atmosphere of expectation, and of an openess I had never really experienced in church before, except maybe in the Pentecostal church where my mother grew up. And the congregation was made up of several hundred twenty somethings, a scattering of thirty and forty somethings, and maybe a few others.
I’ve mentioned before that some of the most powerful encounters with God that I have ever experienced have come in worship services at World Changers projects. There’s just something about worshipping with two or three hundred teenagers that brings a special kind of energy into the praise and worship. Every year, kids tell me what a great experience in worship they have had, and how God touched them and spoke to them. Inevitably, someone will always say, “Why can’t our church worship service be like this?”