I had the privilege of spending an extended lunch hour yesterday with a friend’s father, and a life-long worship leader and professor of worship leaders, Dr. Bruce Leafblad. It was one of those moments of imagining what might be that left me deep in thought and full of
longings. I praise God for men like this who have devoted their whole lives to raising up worshipers and worship leaders. From my experience yesterday, Bruce is still going strong as ever. I am deeply encouraged in this calling that God has placed on my life. It took me a
while afterward once back in the office to switch gears away from what might be back to what is, what had to be done that day. (What is, is good, and I praise God for the worship culture at Trinity, but certainly want to press onward.) We talked of many things, but ended on one that is preoccupying my mind these days.
My observation is this: the church worship service has made a cultural transition away from corporate worship toward an individual worship – from producer of worship to consumer of worship. This cultural shift nearly 40 years ago from primarily horizontal worship (worship about God) toward vertical worship (personal expressions of praise directly to God) was a good and necessary thing, but perhaps has gone out of balance. We need both. There is another trend that has complicated things. In our hurried and busy world, people to come to the worship service bankrupt of spiritual activity, seeking to make up for 6 days of no quiet time and virtually no thoughts of God and seeking God in personal worship during the week. I know this, because I feel that bankruptcy sometimes. I am a product of this culture as much as anyone else. That people come to the worship service hungry to meet with God is a good thing. We who lead the church in worship must recognize this and meet worshipers at that place of hunger. That people are not worshiping God personally during the week is a bad thing. Worship leaders must encourage and teach people how to practice a life of personal everyday worship. I will share some thoughts from my own journey of personal worship practices in my next blog.
Back to the worship service, I feel a need to focus our worship time on the corporate aspect of being the church of God worshiping God together. I think there is a movement back to this practice of corporate worship, and while it is connecting with all generations, it is particularly appealing to the younger generation – those in their 20’s. (The church will die if we fail to reach this next generation – I am more concerned about that right now than anything else.) While it is true that we are individuals and God knows our personal needs, and will speak to us individually during the worship service, the purpose of what we do
during in the corporate worship service is to meet with God together. It is the unity of expression of praise to God, the unity of being a family related through Christ and the gospel, the unity of our shared state of brokenness eclipsed by the beauty of grace, the unity of participating in the mission God has called us to, and the need for prayer, encouragement, and instruction from God’s word to be able to be the people who live worthy of that calling, together. Church is a together thing more than it is an individual thing. Churches whose worship services capture this aspect of the corporate worship service are bursting at the seams with people from every generation who are come
ready to give God the praise he deserves and it is beautiful.
Now back to my conversation with Bruce. He said an amazing thing when I proposed this question for conversation. “What we need is better worshipers, not better worship.” No change in the mechanics of the worship service will produce a permanent change unless it is partnered with a change in the day-to-day practice of the worshiper. This change is informed by the Word of God, and produced by the conviction and encouragement of the Holy Spirit, and the gentle but firm exhortation of those who lead from the pulpit and platform. I apply that to my own life and invite my worship leadership team to do so as well. We need to always be growing into better worshipers. Then we must figure out how
to gently teach and exhort our congregation toward a personal life of daily worship to God, leading them from there into the pleasures of experiencing God as we worship together, not alone.