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On what constitutes “true worship.”
There is a considerable amount of confusion surrounding the title, “Worship Pastor.” It is a cumbersome ministerial designation that should be eliminated, or at the very least, re-named. Whether or not the notion of a “worship pastor” manifested prior to or during the “praise and worship band” movement, it is generally understood that whoever is filling the “worship pastor” role is the one in charge of the church’s musical particulars. They are the ones who are primarily responsible for the “worship service,” too — the part of the service that is generally considered the “singing part.” The title has essentially become synonymous with singing. But worship, rightly understood, involves a great deal more than merely singing. Indeed, worship is indicative of the entire spiritual posture of the Christian believer.
The apostle Paul says as much in chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans, when he urges his believing brothers and sisters to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (Rom 12:1) “This,” he continues, “is your true worship.” More than just what occurs on Sunday, “worship clearly embodies all of life,” asserts Kent Hughes.1 This is the intention of the apostle’s words in 1 Corinthians 10 when he declares that notwithstanding what one is doing, it ought to be done “for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31) Furthermore, this proceeds from what the Lord himself articulates when he proclaims that the “true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth.” (Jn 4:23–24) By this, Christ shows that there are no “sacred spaces”; there are no special times when worship begins and ends. Worship is appropriate in every place and at any time. “Under the new covenant,” Hughes continues, “Christians are thus to worship all the time — in their individual lives, in their family lives, and when they come together for corporation worship. Corporate worship, then, is a particular expression of a life of perpetual worship.”2
One’s understanding of worship is enriched as one recognizes the transformative power grace possesses over one’s entire existence. “There is no part of our life,” writes the eminent reformer John Calvin, “and no action so minute, that it ought not to be directed to the glory of God, and that we must take care that, even in eating and drinking, we may aim at the advancement of it.”3 Jared C. Wilson echoes that sentiment when he writes:
Worship is a way of life, a quality of the believing heart. It’s not just what we do; it comes from who we are. It stems from our heart, our character, not just our feelings or behaviors. It’s not a going through the motions once every now and then, and it’s not merely a ritual, no matter how sincere, that we do in worship services or set to music. We don’t need music to worship, we just need God and a heart for him. So that everything we do — eat, sleep, breathe, play, live, work, create — is an act of worship. When we consecrate ourselves to God, when we humble ourselves before him and submit to his authority and to his will, then everything we do, 24/7, is worship God. Our whole life is to be a living, breathing worship service.4
The worship service, therefore, is meant to encourage the worshipers to that end; that is, to bring the congregants into a posture of submissive devotedness, hopeful confidence, and triumphant indebtedness because of what has been accomplished on the worshiper’s behalf by God’s own Son. “Corporate worship,” writes Hughes, “is intended by God to inform and elevate a life of worship.”5 Worship is not an event. Rather, it is a time for refreshment, renewal, and reinvigoration in the life that is “holy and pleasing to God” through the exaltation of the Messiah’s atonement and the edification of likeminded worshipers. (Heb 10:25; 1 Cor 14:26) All that is done therein ought to demonstrate the harmony of the praise and practice of the worshiper.
Worship is responsive. “Christian worship,” continues Wilson, “is a response with our lives to the good news of what God has done in and through his Son Jesus Christ.”6 “True worship” is comprised in the humble, faithful, reverential response of God’s church at the proclamation of God’s Word. What is sung, confessed, read, and proclaimed in worship ought to be founded upon and derived from God’s Word alone, which reveals all that God alone has fulfilled and finished to make worship possible and acceptable.
R. Kent Hughes, The Pastor’s Book: A Comprehensive and Practical Guide to Pastoral Ministry, edited by Douglas Sean O’Donnell (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 27.
John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, translated by John Pringle (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1848), 347.
Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 100.