Generally speaking, we all have some idea of what the church exists for; what we’re up to, as it were. I think it’s safe to say that the purpose of the church includes worship, Bible teaching (preaching), evangelism, service and relationship (community). This list is arguably not exhaustive, but it begins to capture an overall sense of what we are collectively as the church.
People seem reluctant to suggest that any of these things is the chief thing when it comes to life in the kingdom and fulfilling our purpose. Surely, they are all equally significant in the corporate life of Jesus followers. But is that really the best way to look at these ministry areas—as largely coequal?
As I consider this topic, I am of the opinion that there is one area that should be dominant. And that area is worship. This may seem strange coming from a lead pastor that preaches God’s word every week. Historically, lead pastors were not often known for their artistic or musical skills, so worship often took a back seat to service, evangelism and especially preaching. Others could be counted on for worship; the pastor needn’t overly concern himself. But my ministry story has its beginning in music and worship—really my “first love”—as I spent many years serving churches in worship ministry. Now serving as a lead pastor I am as convinced as ever that worship is paramount.
Worship is our intentional, active response to all that God is and does. We give to God all the honor and glory that he deserves. Truly it is what we are created for and it is the one thing that we will continue to do in eternity. When we begin to grasp this, we realize that worship empowers and energizes all the other areas. Service, evangelism, Bible learning and even fellowship flow out of and are engulfed by worship.
We have begun to see this in significant ways at our church. When we launched the latest iteration of a mid-week prayer gathering, we agreed that we would center on actually praying, coming before God, being in his presence and not focus on talking about everything we should pray about. We spend the hour praying.
However, the planning team quite naturally started to include elements of worship as we gathered for prayer. A Bluetooth speaker is regularly used for songs and some feel free to sing along. Gatherers are also encouraged to quote Psalms or other Scripture passages as we spend that time with Jesus. Worship has more than enhanced our weekly prayer meetings.
Our church is blessed to have gifted musicians, and we have a great worship leader/planner. She has encouraged me to be mindful of and periodically preach on worship. More importantly, our congregation has actively been pursuing what it means to be a worshipping church.
Last spring, we had a worship night at the beginning of Holy Week. It was moving and meaningful, and I believe God was pleased. We have had two more since then, and we have seen our congregation grow in worship.
Let me say again, worship is paramount. As we get that, we become the church God wants us to be.
Curt Vogt, Buhler (Kansas) MB Church lead pastor, attended Tabor College where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music. He attended Denver Seminary where he received a master’s of divinity degree Vogt and his wife, Melissa, have served churches in Louisiana, California and Colorado. They have two adult sons and enjoy evenings out for dinner and playing with their puppy.
“Worship is more than Sunday!”
First I want to thank the CL staff for their continuing diligence to inform the USMB constituency of the many great happenings within our denominational family, and to stimulate us to greater good works for the Kingdom by way of informative articles and essays. The latest issue focusing on ministry in the workplace, as I understood the overarching theme to be in this issue, continues in this tradition. The call to rest and worship reminds us of how all ministry flows from these important disciplines. It is my hope that my thoughts will add something positive to the ongoing conversation.
For close to 40 years the theme of biblical worship has been near to my heart. So when I read the title “Worship is paramount,” that article became my first read.
The author provides a working definition of worship and then shows us the importance of worship as the starting point for divine blessing in every activity that pertains to healthy Christian living. To this, I say, “Amen!”
He finishes his essay by saying, “Let me say again, worship is paramount. As we get that, we become the church God wants us to be.” Once again I rally behind his thoughts.
But I believe the author limits the majesty and power of biblical worship by associating it primarily with a corporate activity involving music that is practiced at a church building. Worship is more than “ascribing worth to God” in a certain place, at a certain time, and by way of a certain medium such as music.
Dr. Daniel Block, a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, and author of “For The Glory Of God: Recovering A Biblical Theology Of Worship,” refers to this understanding as a restricted notion of worship.
In an interview with Books at a Glance, Dr. Block expresses his general concern for “the faulty understanding of worship and the utter pragmatism that drives much of the ‘worship industry’ today. On the one hand, it tends to focus on ‘music as worship’…and assumes that the primary indicator of ‘successful’ worship design is a full church building, rather than transformed worshipers.”
For Dr. Block, an “examination of the Hebrew and Greek words that tend to be translated as “worship” reveals how far off base contemporary perceptions and practices are. He later defines worship by saying, “True worship involves reverential acts of homage and submission before the divine Sovereign in response to his gracious revelation of himself and in accord with his will.” I understand this kind of worship is to happen 24/7. It is more than praising God on Sunday morning. Worship is a life of surrender to our awe-producing Father. (See Romans 11:33-12:8 for some worshipful inspiration that moves us from awe-producing amazement to mission to others. Worship is also very other-centered!)
Rick Warren also states in his book “The Purpose Driven Life,” “Worship is far more than music.”
Dr. John E. Toews, the imminent MB New Testament scholar, goes even further by distancing biblical worship from the corporate activities typically linked to the Sunday morning “worship service.” He does so by way of a word study of the two most important Greek words translated “to worship” in the NT: proskuneo and latreuo. It is interesting to note these two activities form the basis of Jesus’ response in the temptation narrative (Matt. 4:10) and Satan’s invitation for Jesus to bow down in reverence to him and worship him.
Proskuneo in the New Testament, according to Dr. Toews, “is used to describe the cultic activities of Jews and Greeks (e.g., Acts 24:11; John 12:20), but never to describe the nature of the Christian assembly or Christian practice. In the New Testament proskuneo becomes a non-cultic term used to describe individual acts of reverence and adoration to God or Christ, but never the corporate worship of the church.”
Latreia (noun of the verb latreuo) “is used in the New Testament to refer to the Jewish cult, or to define, non-cultic obedient service to God (e.g., Romans 12:1 where God is served by the presentation of self and non-conformity to the world; or Phil. 3:3 where latreia means service that is empowered by the Spirit of God). The word family is never used to designate any Christian gathering, ritual or practice.”
Dr. Toews also points out that “worship is mission; it does not call people out of the world but rather sends them into the world to serve in spirit and in truth.” Jesus is an example of this. Following his reaffirmation before Satan of His devotion to Father, His public ministry to the world soon followed.
In Matt. 28:17 we also read of the disciples’ worship (proskuneo) experience on a mountainside following Jesus’ resurrection. This soon led to His call to them to make disciples. (Again I refer to Block when he says, “What he says to us is generally more important than what we have to say to him” as biblical worshipers.) Such a connection between worship and mission tends to be lost in present-day corporate worship experiences as popularized today.
Dr. Toews presented his unpublished ten-page essay titled “Worship in the New Testament” at a school of ministry held at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary (now Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary) in January 1983. This was at a time when many American churches were introducing “praise teams” into their corporate “worship services” as referred to back then. I was a young seminary student at the time in attendance at this school of ministry.
Since then I have often thought about how Toews’ study was later, in many ways, placed on the back burner with no fire by many attendees, many of them MB pastors, in favor of more contemporary and trendy expressions of what we call worship. It is my hope we develop a more biblical theology of worship that, in the words of Dr. Block, “involves all of life, action, reverence and awe of God.” We will be the better worshipers for it!