What We Get Wrong about Worship

Christian faith is personal, but it shouldn't just be private.

Occasionally, someone asks me for a worship song recommendation, or I need someone to listen to a song for some reason. When that happens, I do what any good person does: go to YouTube. I can find a song, grab the link, send it off, and nobody has to buy or download anything. It’s great.

Even though I look for a simple, basic video to pass along, I inevitably run across multiple videos for songs full of stock Christian images, like a slideshow set to music. These videos make a couple things clear: first, some people have too much time on their hands. Second, wrong ideas about worship are all over the place.

These wrong ideas come out in the all-too-common pictures of someone standing alone in a field, or on a mountain, or in an empty church, with their hands held high. You’ve seen these pictures, and not just on YouTube. The Christian bookstore or blog nearest you surely features similar shots. The implication in these images is that true worship, our most sincere moments with God, come when we’re alone.

Personal, Not Private

American Christians have long emphasized (rightly, in many cases) the personal and individual side of Christianity: personal conversion, personal decisions, personal quiet times. Those are important things, but the New Testament provides a more crowded picture of the Christian life than those stock images indicate.

Obedience to Jesus requires community. The same goes for our worship. The Bible expects us to sing with one another.

The biblical picture shows us that, while the Christian faith is personal, it is not private.

In fact, much of the New Testament would be impossible to obey in private. Jesus and the biblical writers tell us more than 50 times to do something in the context of “one another.” You can’t “encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) or “love one another” (Romans 12:10) in solitude. Obedience to Jesus requires community.

The same goes for our worship. The Bible expects us to sing with one another.

Shared Riches

The New Testament doesn’t prescribe many details for Christian worship services, but it does tell us how to sing when we gather.

In one passage, Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, not wine. The Spirit-filled life, according to Paul, is a singing life. And the songs that flow from the Spirit’s filling go in two directions. On one hand, we sing to the Lord, “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” On the other hand, Paul says, we sing to “one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.”

Worship, then, isn’t only about you and Jesus. We sing not only with the vertical in mind. Rather, we sing to one another, for one another and with one another. And allowing this one-another-ness to inform our worship will enrich the experience for everyone involved.

What It Does

One benefit of embracing the Bible’s vision of corporate worship is that it brings unity. Anyone old enough to remember the months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 will remember hearing people belt the Star Spangled Banner at baseball games in New York. People were united around their city and the American flag, and they sang their guts out. The singing strengthened the bond that existed between American citizens.

When we sing great truths of the faith together, we remind one another what we believe.

When Christians sing together, the ancient cords that bind us to Christ and to one another grow tighter. This unity, with roots deeper than any national or ethnic identity, tells us and the world that we belong to an everlasting city, and that the cross uniting us symbolizes more than Old Glory ever could. And the song we sing–together–will endure through the ages.

Second, singing together strengthens our faith. When we sing great truths of the faith together, we remind one another what we believe, we remind one another that we’re not in this alone and we remind one another just how much we’ve got to sing about.

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Third, when we get this right, we say something to the world around us. Some of the people at my church have little in common apart from Christ, but we get together to worship the invisible God at the same time, in the same place every week. This bizarre scene doesn’t happen elsewhere in our culture. Singing with other people is strange, and our strangeness offers something genuinely different to the world.

Last, singing together makes us more Christlike. When when remember that worship isn’t just about us, we’ll be more prone to consider the interests of others, and we won’t fight for our way over things like song choice and musical style.

The Christian life isn’t a solo. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), and we will one day join them in singing a new song before the throne. Until then, don’t rob yourself of the joy that comes from singing with one another. When the redeemed of the Lord say so, they should say so together.

Top Comments

Bill Hughes

1

Bill Hughes commented…

Michael's comment makes sense, but it's about prayer and obedience. This article is apparently about singing in corporate worship. Prayer is usually private, and obedience is too, and they are important in our walk of faith, but... I could be wrong, but I believe the article is intended to encourage worshippers to not watch, but participate. Faith is by nature private, but we are also called to be a body, to encourage and evangelize. Those things cannot happen when we are alone. Have a great day.

Susan Waldner

1

Susan Waldner commented…

This is a very interesting topic. Please keep this going. You all have very interesting views. As a Hutterite, we worship together as a Church. We also sing together as a Church. But we also Worship in our separate Homes. I believe we as Christians need alone time with God. It helps us grow strong. But we also need the Body of Christ to help each other in our daily walk. We are called to watch out for one another. ( Be our Brother's Keeper. ) Also to wash each others feet if need be.

12 Comments

George Dwyer

29

George Dwyer commented…

Can I be honest here for a minute? I don't like what I understand to be the evangelical concept of worship, that it is limited to singing corporately. I was always under the impression that anything wholesome you do, can be done as an act of worship to Jah. That whether you're baking a loaf of bread or writing a book,you should do it for his glory.

I don't like singing pop rock songs in a crowded room with people I don't know. It is 100% forced and I don't do it. I'd rather grow beautiful flowers to gift to a church altar/sanctuary, cook a delicious meal to share in a spirit of love and peace with those around me, perhaps softening their hearts and bringing memory of Jah to their minds.

SparkleEyes

61

SparkleEyes replied to George Dwyer's comment

These are personal opinions, George.

Walt Castillo

4

Walt Castillo commented…

Worship is not prayer. That's the main point here. We worship him for whom he is. That can or can not be in group. But prayer it is a solo. Worship music is not praise and praise is not prayer. 3 different things that we got usually wrong

Samuel Adler

1

Samuel Adler commented…

This article holds very little weight or new revelation then what typical westernize churches do today. The title of the article is "click bait". Typical of Relevent Magazine...

The article also misses the mark on WHY we worship and the HEART of worship. How we do something comes from the why we do something.

Worship is a lifestyle, not a moment in church. Yes, we are more powerful in numbers... Where two or three are gathered. But worship is more then a song we sing together.

The pictures you see of single individuals worshipping is meant to convey a focus on the person (aka making it personal) and not the crowds. If you came across a book entitled "How to Increase Your Worship with God" and cover was of a crowd from a Hillsong concert, you would think it was for worship leaders or for pastors to create a better experience at church. Putting only one person in the photo makes it personal. The YouTube folks (who have to much time on their hands) take these stock photos. I'm sure there's plenty of worship concert photos mashed together with worship music.

Long story short... This article missed the mark and failed to express anything new or "relevant". Keep trying guys...

SparkleEyes

61

SparkleEyes commented…

The US doesn't do community well. We are taught that as individuals, we need to succeed - be #1, win. Clinton was vilified for saying "it takes a village to raise a child". Well, it does. We are all better when we work, play, sing, worship, talk together as a community.

Most of us go to church on the weekend, maybe gulp down some coffee, scurry back to our cars as individuals (or family unit) and go home. We need to linger, be in community, have time as a group of believers after church, after work, in our down time. We need to help each other - fix a car, take down a tree, drive someone who doesn't have a car, mentor a disadvantage child, host a high school ministry weekly time together, have friends over regularly to eat, play games, laugh, talk.

I think when we get to heaven, we will see what REAL community will be like.

Glenise

2

Glenise commented…

When I was younger, I often had issues with corporate singing in church. Not so much the congregational hymns (which I loved) but what is called praise and worship. I grew up in a very charismatic environment with people yelling at you to sing, shout and lift your hands...or else. I knew it wasn't their intention to make me feel like I was forced to do something, but I did. And I came to resent that part of the service. Oddly enough, fast forward a decade later and now I'm the one often leading praise and worship songs (God has a strange sense of humour).

Worship is indeed a lifestyle. But, looking at the early church, they had a practice of singing together. And it wasn't just so that they could feel happy. It also wasn't an act, or just something they had to get through. The author of this article indicates that singing has been used as a tool to bring the Body of Christ together in faith and in love. I think that if these times of singing are used for other things such as self promotion, or if they come across as coercive, then it is actually counterproductive. We don't edify ourselves, we don't edify each other and we don't give glory to God.

I appreciate this article. There's absolutely nothing wrong with going off by yourself to a field and expressing your adoration of God. But God has placed us in a body of believers with whom we are to grow in love. Think about it. God's 2 greatest commands are that we love Him and that we love each other. We can't love God and forget about our brothers and sisters. And if we can get closer to each other (and consequently Him) through music, why would we miss that opportunity?

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