God-Centered Worship


by Robert Hartmann

I recently listened to a preacher instructing other preachers on how to deliver God-centered sermons. The speaker pointed out that of the many things that people would like to hear in a sermon, and the many things that we think they should hear, a sermon is really achieving its purpose only when it is centered on the person and work of God.

While listening to this, it struck me that this is also true of our worship. Our worship songs and worship events should have only one objective and aim: God Himself. As Carol Wimber has said,

“Worship is not a vehicle to warm up the congregation for the preacher, or to soften the people up for the offering. Worship comes from Jesus and goes back to Jesus from us. Everything He gives to us, but worship belongs to Him.”

As worship leaders we have a responsibility to lead worship in a way that allows it to retain this God-centeredness.

The way we lead can enhance or inhibit worship from staying properly focused on God. Worship centered on anything less will (or should) leave us and the people we lead feeling short-changed.

What Is God-Centered Worship?

I view God-centered worship as worship that informs the people about God, inclines them toward God and invites the presence of God. In other words, God-centered worship deepens our understanding of God, opens our hearts toward God and is filled with the tangible presence of God.

This definition was illustrated by my introduction to this kind of worship at a Sunday service at John Wimber’s Yorba Linda Calvary Chapel in 1979. The fact is, I don’t remember anything about the service except the worship. It wasn’t the “music,” because though I was already a musician at the time I didn’t spend much time watching John and his band. I was watching the people worship in a way I’d never seen before! The people were communicating with God in an open, personal and relational way. They were inviting God to come meet them, and the song lyrics were all about God and this relationship they had with Him.

The idea of leading this kind of worship sounds good on paper, but when you stand at your next worship event ready to lead your group or congregation in worship what will you do? How will you actually lead worship so that it retains its proper focus? Will you just do what comes naturally and hope it works? Fortunately, there are practical steps you can take to insure that worship stays God-centered. What follows are a few tips to help you improve your ability to lead God-centered worship.

1. Know Your Intentions

Leading God-centered worship begins with our intent as worship leaders. If our primary motivation for standing up and leading is anything other than to bless God then we’ve immediately lost the battle for God-centered worship.

I don’t mean to say that only those with the purest of motivations are able to lead worship. After all, “Thers is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7.20)  We will always have a mixture of motivations that include self-focused ones like wanting to “look good,” but we are the ones who choose which motivations will drive and control us.

One very practical step you can take that will help you look past distracting motivations is to quiet yourself for a moment before worship and recall all that God has done for you. Perhaps He has healed your body, salvaged a relationship or rescued you from an addiction.  As you remember the work of God in your life you will find your focus shifting to Him and your motivation to bless Him will increase.

2. Informing the People About God

God-centered worship deepens our understanding of God. In fact, Sunday morning worship sometimes preaches a more memorable, effective and powerful sermon than the words of the preacher. In an almost effortless way, people connect at an emotional and experiential level with the topic of a song. Music deposits a message with incredible staying power. So what messages about God are we depositing in the hearts of the people we lead?

One way to answer this question is to review your last several weeks of worship sets. Look over your song selections and ask yourself what you have been teaching the people. Did your song selections accurately inform the people of the timeless truths of the person and nature of God? His righteousness, mercy, justice, grace, power, and love?

Also, did the songs inform the people at their point of need? For example, if your congregation is in a time of repentance did your song selections correctly inform them about what repentance is?

3. Hearts Inclined Toward God

God-centered worship inclines people toward God. By this I mean more than that they simply think about God. I mean that they are open-heartedly communicating with Him during worship.

At a recent Sunday morning worship service I played the final song and sensed that there was something more to do. Instead of immediately closing the worship I led the people in a prayer thanking God for all the good he has brought to our lives. I then asked the people to remain silent and allow God to remind them of specific things He has done for them and then I closed by encouraging them to quietly thank Him. In doing this, I was very consciously following the direction of the Holy Spirit to guide the hearts of the people into direct, worshipful interaction with God.

After the worship service one young woman thanked me for leading worship in this way. She broke into tears as she explained to me how good God had been to her. In the midst of worship her heart had been directed toward God and then opened to Him.  For her, the worship experience had centered on God in a very real way.

We should continually ask ourselves if the people we are leading in worship are experiencing this openhearted interaction with God.

How can you tell?

  • Open your eyes occasionally while you are leading so you can observe people and see if the connection is being made.
  • Listen for reports, like the one that I described, of communion with God during worship.

If you discover that genuine openness toward God is not occurring in worship then think and pray about how you can fix that. This may mean teaching the people how to communicate with God in worship, being more careful to choose songs that invite people to commune with God or becoming a more active listener to the Holy Spirit as you lead worship.

4. Inviting The Presence Of God

Though I am addressing this issue last, I believe that inviting and experiencing the real presence of God is at the core of worship. After all, the loving, adoring language of our songs is spoken to a real Person who actually hears what we say, so it should not surprise us when He “shows up” to receive our worship. In fact, think of worship as an invitation to God, not just a set of statements about Him.

When I speak of God’s presence in this way I am speaking of more than just the knowledge that He is present everywhere all the time. I am talking about the presence of God that is sensed and experienced in our hearts, minds and bodies. It’s something like the difference between your friend being “present” across the room or “present” right next to you where you can feel his breath and physically sense his nearness in “your space.”

It is an amazing thing to see how worship deepens when God is noticeably present, to sense that we are touching the heart of God and to see people healed or delivered as a result of God simply being present in all His goodness.

So how can we work toward leading worship that invites God to join us?

The answer is simple: “dial down” (relax) and be a worshiper as you lead.  When you worship Him you will find that He will meet you, and as He meets you others will be drawn in as you lead.

Now, I know from personal experience that while leading worship, particularly if you lead a band, there are a multitude of things to juggle at once.  However, the one thing you can’t sacrifice is the worship you give to God. The worship leaders I know who are most effective are the ones who have learned to lead without giving up their own ability to worship.


Robert Hartman has been involved in pastoral ministry and church planting since the early days of the Vineyard. He’s also spent many years playing, writing and leading worship.

What Did You Expect?

Here is a preview and overview of one of the best books on marriage I have read: What Did You Expect?.   In this video, the author, Paul Tripp, introduces the root of almost any marriage conflict or emotional distancing: The heart.

This is not a book I recommend for pre-marital counseling – not that it would be a bad thing.  There are many other good ones for those prepping for marriage.  But I do wholeheartedly recommend this book to those who have been married for any length of time, no matter how strong or how strained the marriage is.

What Did You Expect

Growing People for Service

Every Acorn

by Daniel Radmacher

Have you ever wondered why we are not born as adults?  Probably not, I would wager.  Seriously, though, have you ever considered the fact that God could very easily birth us as grown-ups?  We could come out of the womb fully formed intellectually and spiritually, with only our physical dimensions to catch up.  Honestly, it would save quite a bit of hassle, particularly in the teen years.  Clearly there is something special about our growth, something in the process of development that is very important to our Creator.  I believe that God values the growth process as highly as He values the end result.

And yet, have you ever noticed how frustrated we can be with the need to grow?  From childhood, we are anxious to be better, stronger, faster, smarter, and don’t want to have to wait for it.  As humans, we resist the reality that we must move so slowly from a place of incompetence to effectiveness, from clumsiness to acumen and hate the fact that there is often so much pain along the way.  We long to be complete now, and not have to struggle through the process of becoming, whether that process is physical, intellectual or spiritual.

Unfortunately, this tendency can also inform many of our churches and their ministries, in that we are sometimes hesitant to bring people into ministry who are not fully developed in their skill sets.  This bias can greatly impact our worship and music ministries.  In all honesty, we are probably more interested in those singers, dramatists, speakers and players whose skills are already well-developed than in those we must train to reach their potential.  I understand, because I struggle with this issue as well.

Moreover, our worship services easily become a place in which we highlight those with the most extravagant development in their skills and abilities, and neglect the ones who are still growing and developing.  Of course, we will march out the occasional children’s choir and listen with gilded ears, but for the most part, we are not that excited about working with those who are further back on their growth curve.  I often wonder if maybe we have become more interested in collecting a group of ideal musicians than in growing all of those that we have been given.

We all understand why.  If we are offering a sacrifice of praise to the Lord, then we want to bring forward the very best in our presentations.  That makes good biblical sense.  Moreover, it takes a lot of time and work to grow people in their abilities, time that we rarely have to spare.  I know that I would rather have a guitarist who can nail something right out of the gate, then have to work with someone in his or her musicianship to help produce growth.

However, I think that there might be a deeper reason, and perhaps it is the result of the first.  I think that we are probably more interested in the quality of performance for the program than in the quality of growth for the individual.  Many in the church seem to have slipped into the belief that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.  I wonder if this philosophy is truly biblical.  I could be wrong, but it seems that the church is subtly becoming a culture in which we are more concerned with pleasing the whole than in deeply blessing the few—a kind of blessing that is truly life-changing.  Maybe we need to grow deeper before we grow wider.

I have been at both ends of this spectrum.  I have been the one who was weeded out of the worship team because I just didn’t seem to fit the sound of the group.  I have also been the one who became part of the inner circle, the one who performed at every big event, because I had the potential to bless the people without fail.

At the end of the day, I believe that the growth of people is more important to God than performance.  I believe that God is probably more blessed by the long-term shepherding of a few as tools for ministry than by a thousand of the most breathtaking productions that we could create upon our church platforms.  I believe that He is more interested in seeing us form well-rounded servants of the gospel than in music teams that could win a Grammy for their sheer prowess of musicality.  Otherwise, why wouldn’t I have come out of the womb singing like an angel?  God loves and blesses growth in people, and so should we.

5 Reasons to Recover the Practice of Confession

My Confession

Is confession something that Evangelical Christians should practice regularly? or Is confession a practice rooted in the superstition of some by-gone tradition?

Joe Thorn gives a handful of good reasons why Confession should be part of the regular Christian practice:

1. Confession Acknowledges God’s Place and Authority In our Lives

By a sincere and hearty confession of sin we acknowledge God to be our Sovereign Lord, and that he has the right to impose his law upon us.  (Exodus 20)

2. Confession Agrees With God’s Judgment Against Sin

By confessing our sin, we subscribe to his righteous judgments that are pronounced against it.  (Psalm 51.3 – 4)

3. Confession Admits We Are Unworthy of God’s Grace

By the confessing of sin, we show how little we deserve the least mercy from God.

4. Confession Affirms Our Hatred of Sin 

By [confessing sin] we show whether our hearts love sin, or hate sin. He who heartily confesses his sin, is like him who having a thief or a traitor in his house, brings him out to condign punishment; but he that forbears to confess, is like him who hides a thief or traitor against the laws and peace of our Lord the King.

5. Confession Accepts God’s Grace as Our Only Hope

He that confesseth his sin, casts himself at the feet of God’s mercy, utterly condemns and casts away his own righteousness, and concludes there is no way to stand just and acquit before God, but by and through the righteousness of another; whether God is resolved to bring us, if ever he saves our souls.  (Psalm 51.1-3; 1 John 1.9; Philippians 3.6-8)

Click  to read the original and slightly expanded post: Confession

10 Differences Between Leaders & Cheerleaders

Leadership Word Puzzle

Philip Nation distinguishes the difference between genuine leaders and cheerleaders, or what he calls the difference between those in leadership positions who use buzzwords and those who actually lead.  Think for a moment about this vital distinction:

I think that a key facet of leadership is knowing the difference between a strategy and a collection of buzzwords.

So what are some of the differences Nation notes between leaders and cheerleaders ?

1. Buzzwords begin as a rallying cry and end as words to broadly applied. / Leadership constantly looks for fresh ways to keep the movement alive.

2. Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content. / Leadership offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialogue.

3. Buzzwords give a false sense of momentum when stagnation is the reality. / Leadership identifies stagnation and tackles it.

4. Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you need to hear something. / Leadership shows the willingness to have the difficult conversations.

5. Buzzwords kill the meaning of a movement. / Leadership continues to give life to a movement.

6. Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared. / Leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person in the movement.

7. Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable. / Leadership actually learns.

8. Buzzwords give false hope of a possible future. / Leadership tells a beautiful and detailed story of what can be.

9. Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought. / Leadership offers everyone a way to access the big ideas and bring understanding to them.

10. Buzzwords make important words eventually seem disposable. / Leadership redeems the important meaning of words and phrases.

To read Nation’s full article: Buzzwords & Leaders

6 Gospel Aspects

Seeing Six Aspects

As I teach and preach – and even talk to people – it is not uncommon for someone to ask for clarification of what I mean when I casually and frequently use the term “gospel”.  For some the word has very little meaning. Folks are confused, wondering if it is a style of music, a metaphor for “truth”, or something else.  This is understandable, since the word is used indiscriminately, even if not erroneously.  But others, who are heartfelt follows of Christ, also ask on occasion.  They understand it is the Good News related to Jesus, but what are the essential elements?

Welsh scholar C.H. Dodd helpfully sumarized the gospel in six distinct aspects:

  1. The Age of Fulfillment has dawned, the “latter days” foretold by the prophets.  (Acts 3:18)
  2. This has taken place through the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  (Acts 2.22-31)
  3. By virtue of the resurrection, Jesus has been exalted at the right hand of God as Messianic head of the new Israel.  (Acts 2.32-36)
  4. The Holy Spirit in the church is the sign of Christ’s present power and glory. (Acts 10.44)
  5. The Messianic Age will reach its consummation in the return of Christ.  (Acts 3.20-21)
  6. An appeal is made for repentance with the offer of forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and salvation.  (Acts 2.37-41)

Fascinations that Lead Away from the Cross

Maze of Fascinations

by Michael Horton

Martin Luther opposed the “theology of the cross” to all “theologies of glory.” The latter can be generally placed into three categories: three types of “ladders” we try to climb in order to see “God in the nude,” as Luther put it. These ladders were mysticism, speculation, and merit. I would like to suggest a few contemporary expressions of the theology of glory along these lines.

Fascination with the Miraculous

As in our Lord’s day, few today who seek miracles are interested in that to which signs point. “A wicked generation seeks for signs,” Jesus said, followed by Paul’s reminder that his fellow Jews were so busy looking for miraculous wonders that they stumbled over the Gospel of Christ crucified. Seeking direct experiences with God without the mediation of Scripture, preaching, and sacraments is a theology of glory. Longing for “power encounters,” we trip over the weakness of the cross. This is also true of our triumphalism, long a problem of evangelical revivalism. With its vision of conquering and reigning, the cross-bearing life of Christ which our Savior graciously allows us to share with him is traded in for a crown before the appointed time. Often, we behave like the disciples during our Lord’s ministry. Philip saw Jesus as a means to an end: “Now, just show us the Father and we’ll be satisfied,” he said. “Philip, have you been with me so long and you still don’t get it? He who has seen me has seen the Father!” Those looking for God in demonstrations of power miss the true appearance of God in the humiliation and weakness of the Suffering Servant.

His disciples never did understand him when he said he must suffer and die, and whenever he brought it up, they tried to ignore it. Or, as in Peter’s case, they rebuked him: “Surely this will never happen to you!” As Satan had offered Jesus a crown without a cross, so even Jesus’ own brothers, impressed with his success as a miracle-worker, anxiously offered a tour of the major cities. Similarly, James and John wanted to call down fire on their enemies, and their mother came to Jesus to ask him to allow her sons to sit on his left and right hand in his kingdom. Everyone was planning for glory, but Jesus was planning for the cross. “You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus told their proud mother. “Can they drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “Of course we can!”, they eagerly replied. Triumphalism ignores the cross, and when the hour of trial (sin, failure, loss of popularity, shame, and abuse) comes, we, like the disciples, flee for cover instead of sharing in Christ’s suffering. The triumphalism of theologies of glory can be discerned in much of today’s popular Christian music. Here the realities of life are replaced with platitudes and sentimentalism, a far cry from the emotional and moving words of the psalmist. Contrast much of contemporary Christian music with the depth of the classic hymns of the Moravians, Lutheran and Reformed hymn writers, Charles Wesley, and the old African-American “spirituals.”

Fascination with the Moralistic

Sadly, evangelicals and liberals often read the Bible in a similar way these days. While the former may be more conservative in their interpretations, both tend to read (and preach) the Bible moralistically: that is, either as positive tips for better living or as scolding for not being what one should be. Thus, the key biblical characters become heroes to imitate rather than figures in a redemptive-historical plot centering around Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Pharisees that in spite of their ostensive devotion to the Scriptures, they did not really understand what they were reading, since he (Jesus) is the point of all of Scripture. Similarly, after his resurrection, he rebuked his disciples for not understanding how his death and resurrection were foretold. So “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

If an obsession with “power encounters” stumbles over the weakness of the cross, the preoccupation with moralism finds the preaching of the cross “foolishness.” How can the wicked be declared righteous while they are still sinful? If I could know right now that nothing I did counted for my salvation, why would I even try to be holy? It’s unfair for God to elect people without basing his choice on anything in or foreseen in those who are chosen. Or, as we have seen already from Feuerbach’s pen: “The Christian theory of justification by faith is rooted in a cowardly renun-ciation of moral effort,” and belief in the hereafter nothing more than “an escape mechanism.” Our fallen sensibilities rebel against the utterly gracious character of God’s way of saving. When sin and grace are replaced with therapeutic, ethical, political, and pragmatic concerns, it is a sure sign that we too have stumbled over the Rock of offense.

The Puritan Thomas Goodwin warns us of our ten-dency even as Christians to attempt to turn faith into a work. Seeing the condition of his ship of faith and obedience, one sets out to rebuild another ship, “so he undoes himself in what he endeavors, and goes to hell by striving to go to heaven.”

Fascination with the Mysterious

As liberal theologian Paul Tillich pointed out (and exhibited), mysticism and rationalism are of one piece. Like Plato, the mystic-rationalist does not care much for this world and wishes to escape the world of “appear-ances” by abstract contemplation of “the Divine.” Christianity is deeply committed to this world (creation, provi-dence, redemption through historical events, restoration of the whole creation at the end of the age, including the resurrection of our bodies), and announces that God cannot be known directly by our reason, but must reveal himself by condescending to our capacity. The mystic-philosopher who attempts to penetrate God’s hidden council, either by specu-lation or claims to secret knowledge of God’s will beyond what is revealed in Scripture, is a theologian of glory. The theologian of the cross is content to know God as he has graciously manifested himself in the Living and written/preached Word.

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals exists to call the church, amidst our dying culture, to repent of its worldliness, to recover and confess the truth of God’s Word as did the Reformers, and to see that truth embodied in doctrine, worship, and life.

This article appeared in the  July/August 1997, Modern Reformation/ACE

Evil Choice

Evil Chaos

Do you ever wonder about the evil  in this world?

Augustine was right when he mused that evil is not a “thing” God created, but the act of choosing less than what is from God.  Neither did Satan create evil, either – nor even sin.  Satan only corrupts what God creates, and makes it less than it ought to be.  (Satan creates nothing original, only chaos.)

In contrast, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.  (1 Timothy 4.4-5)

And God’s promise is that he is restoring what has gone bad to it’s original beauty:  “Behold, I am making all things new.”  (Revelation 21.5)