Skeletal worship

This title is not mean to to be some spooky characterization of worship, nor worship of bones, per se. It is about  a minimal (starvation) type of worship I have found in so many churches. I present an analogy here, but I don’t want to take it too far — readers shouldn’t take it too far either.

The suggest that the idea is that the God we worship is so much more dynamic and fuller than we can imagine or ponder — his worship should entail all that we can to help us understand, appreciate and acknowledge him in every way we can. Too often our worship is just bare bones — essential, but very elementary. There is so much more to flesh it out.

Worship that doesn’t enrich our worship with everything we can imagine that will encourage minds to think, every legitimate tool we can employ that will help people grasp His greatness, His love and grace, and how He blesses all areas of life is maybe just the bare bones of what we are needing to do. Some basic structure, but there is so much more to it. A major problem is we have become so used to experiencing only bones that we fail to realize there is so much more, so much more richness, so much fullness to experience. We need to demand more.

If all a church is doing is repeating what they did last Sunday, last month — last year — they are stuck with dishing out bones. If all they do is use cookie cutter services, they are stuck in the boneyard of worship. If all they do is sing songs, they are robbing their people of fleshed-out worship experience. If the church leadership doesn’t challenge and encourage people each week with a creative, all-encompassing God, they are depriving — robbing — their church family. They are just tossing bones at them, when there is so much more. Maybe pastors don’t realize what they and their people are missing.

We should all come with the expectancy of wonder and anticipation of what we will learn of God and how to worship and serve Him — every week. Less than that is to starve people.

I would suggest that the “true worship” or “authentic worship” should include more than singing. Several have questioned the validity of calling the first part of a service “worship” when it only includes singing (why not just call it a “song service” and the leader a “song leader”?) Some question the validity when it only includes professionals and leaders (seems so different from what Paul advocated); and some question the substitution of a “call to worship” with a mere “Stand and worship” and no scripture or encouragement or challenge to help focus the congregation on God and his worship.

The early church met to share, to worship (true), but their songs and teaching was a shared experience, occasionally with leaders, often with a variety of people who were gifted by the Holy Spirit, to offer prophecy, etc. It was not at all a scripted service. When apostles or leaders were there, they also taught. They didn’t have scripted “services” like the temple service. In fact, there was a lot of freedom, dialogue, and interaction going on. We are not bound by some invisible statement that we have to have a bare bones service.

Worship can include seeing God’s marvelous creation about us, the ecstatic experience of a new born child of God and mournful cry of the poet who laments the loss of a family member, a prayer of contrition, etc. Are those ever brought into your worship? Are we aware that those and a whole lot of other things can be part of the worship experience? Isaiah saw God and felt a woe. When was the last time you had “woe” experience in your worship? Does your “leader” know how to lead people into those awesome worship experiences? Does you leader even realize the “worship” aspect could exclude music entirely and still be “worship”?

Pastor, If your worship is not including a wide variety of things besides songs, you are starving your people. Prayers, scripture, thoughtful invocations and transitions, poetry, art, dance, pictures, testimonies, etc. can and should be part of their worship. You are depriving your people of an ever-growing rich experience that they deserve — as does God. Don’t just blame the “worship leader”, the pastor should take the lead.

~ Hungry Worshipper

*********

~ Warren Weisbe, Real Worship, Page 91 -92.

The wonder of the church is the miracle of variety, vitality, and unity as together we worship the Lord.   As we yield to his Spirit, there is that exciting element of spontaneity, that makes each time of worship special.   When our worship services are predictable, the Spirit does not work in his fullness.

~  Jack Hayford, Mastering Worship, p. 33

Sometimes people come to church and feel like they’re watching worship instead of actually worshipping. We counter ‘spectatorism’ by giving people plenty of opportunities to participate — songs, readings, and prayers — and by using nonprofessionals for different parts of the service.

~ Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: a theology of worship for this urgent time, by Marva Dawn

Include elements of different ways of worshiping God in the same service to give people a taste of God’s fullest and enable all types of people to draw close to him.

Don’t try to limit the worship service to follow a prescribed agenda simply to be efficient.

Don’t type worship services that simply are upbeat times of celebration. While there should be great joy in genuine worship, there should also be opportunities to confront life sorrows and seek God’s healing for them in deep, honest ways.

Make sure worship helps people build the kind of character God wants them to have. Constantly ask how I particular worship services revealing God’s attributes to the congregation. Include time for people to confess their sins and ask the Holy Spirit to transfer them more into the people God wants them to be.

Give people a sense of how awesome God is by worshiping him with reverence. Don’t portray God simply as a friend with whom people can chat; let them know that he is God of the universe as well.

Allow and encourage church members to help present the worship service. Be creative. There are many opportunities for people to contribute, such as crafting pottery to use in communion, reading scripture passages in dramatic ways and helping to produce bulletins or devotional templates for each week.

Warmly welcomed everyone from the surrounding community into the worship service.

Worship should shake people up at the encounter God’s holiness.

~ Mike Erre, Astonished: recapturing the wonder, all, and mystery of life with God

We must be very careful to never forget that God is bigger than our boxes. Jesus was most often found where you would least expect the messiah to be. The same is true today.

I doubt he would keep to the order of worship or to our predetermined set lists. None of us are surprised that nothing surprising happens in most of our church gatherings. So we fill the void with awesome sermons, incredible worship, and life altering programs. Our use of superlative’s only underlines our tragic neglect of the unpredictable and surprising God. He rarely surprises us because we haven’t invited him to. We make no room for the unexpected and work hard to control the flow and direction of the service. This isn’t all bad, but it does cast doubt on the sincerity of our worship and pursuit of God. Most of us aren’t looking for God in the middle of church, because we are far more interested in whether we like the worship or the teaching.

He is routinely surprising, which is tough for people like me. But following Jesus demands no less. And if it’s really him, if Jesus is genuinely present, then God’s people should be prepared to celebrate the creative and ingenious ways that God will show his love to people. We should routinely be surprised, since she is reliably unpredictable.

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