Worship: The Center of Our Existence

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image – an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect divine glory. The psalmist tells us that: “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). … Worship must above all serve the glory of God.”

~ Hughes Oliphant Old

O Come All Ye Faithful: When Christmas Falls On Sunday

Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. It happens every several years. Across the country churches are cancelling Sunday service; or, harkening back to the pandemic, some are pre-recording elements of a worship service to be consumed via streaming at the convenience of those who take the time to watch. (Is “watching” actually worshipping? That’s probably a good subject for another post.)

Granted, church attendance will likely be low even in churches committed to holding worship services. And family time is important. So, I get the factors that lead some to feel the need to cancel. (Well, “need” is probably too strong of a word. “Preference” is probably more apt.) Point being that the issues that cause a dilemma for some are not lost on me.

The question is, what is the best way to resolve these tension points? Even granting latitude for the consciences of individual Christians and families, what should the Church do?

I appreciated the solution proposed by Blake Larebee in his post for Chorus in the Chaos: 3 Good Reasons to Move the Gathering to Saturday the 24th. (NOTE: I had to read through it twice before I caught what he was actually saying. The key is in the end, and what he proposes ought to be done on “The Lord’s Day”.)

9 Reasons People Are Not Singing in Worship

Lift Your Voice II

Charles Spurgeon once quipped: “God is to be praised with the voice, and the heart should go therewith in holy exultation.”

While Spurgeon is right, the problem is that in many congregations the people are not “praising God with the voice”.  If the folks at Renewing Worship are to be believed, part of the reason is that many churches are turning worship into a spectator sport – where attendees watch and listen to a concert as well as a message.  As Kenny Lamm expresses it:

Simply put, we are breeding a culture of spectators in our churches, changing what should be a participative worship environment to a concert event. Worship is moving to its pre-Reformation mess.

Lamm goes on to say he sees nine reasons congregations aren’t singing anymore:

  1. They don’t know the songs.
  2. We are singing songs not suitable for congregational singing.
  3. We are singing in keys too high for the average singer.
  4. The congregation can’t hear people around them singing.
  5. We have created worship services which are spectator events, building a performance environment.
  6. The congregation feels they are not expected to sing.
  7. We fail to have a common body of hymnody.
  8. Worship leaders ad lib too much.
  9. Worship leaders are not connecting with the congregation.

In his article titled 9 Reasons People Aren’t Singing in Worship, Lamm elaborates on each of these observations. His thoughts are worth exploring, and comparing to our own church worship practices.

It may be that your church, like ours, defies this trend. In our church people do sing out, and at times, when the sancturay is full of people, and the voices seem to overflow the sanctuary, it feels majestic. Not only do we encourage singing, but we also usually offer a liturgy that invites the participants to praise God with their voices, even if not in song.  So, if you have a singing congregation, GREAT! Lamm’s observations can serve as a great affirmation. They can also serve as a wise of caution, things to look out for, to minimize the possibility of drifiting.

On the other hand, if your church has been moving more toward the spectator… I hope Lamm’s concerns will challenge you to re-examine what worship is and how it really ought to be done.

Evangelistic Worship

Hymn Number

by Tim Keller


One of the basic features of church life in the U.S. today is the proliferation of worship and music forms.  This in turn has caused many severe conflicts both within individual congregations and whole denominations. Most books and articles about recent worship trends tend to fall into one of two broad categories.

  • “Contemporary Worship” (hereafter CW) advocates often make rather sweeping statements, such as “pipe organs and choirs will never reach people today.”
  • “Historic Worship” (hereafter HW) advocates often speak similarly about how incorrigibly corrupt popular music and culture is, and how they make contemporary worship completely unacceptable.

Contemporary Worship: Plugging In?

One CW advocate writes vividly that we must ‘plug in’ our worship in to three power sources: “the sound system, the Holy Spirit, and contemporary culture.”  But several problems attend the promotion of strictly contemporary worship.

First, some popular music does have severe limitations for worship. Critics of popular culture argue that much of it is the product of mass-produced commercial interests. As such, it is often marked by sentimentality, a lack of artistry, sameness, and individualism in a way that traditional folk art was not.

Second, when we ignore historic tradition we break our solidarity with Christians of the past. Part of the richness of our identity as Christians is that we are saved into a historic people. An unwillingness to consult tradition is not in keeping with either Christian humility or Christian community. Nor is it a thoughtful response to the post-modern rootlessness which now leads so many to seek connection to ancient ways and peoples.

Finally, any worship that is strictly contemporary will become ‘dated’ very, very quickly. Also, it will necessarily be gauged to a very narrow ‘market niche.’ When Peter Wagner says we should ‘plug in’ to contemporary culture, which contemporary culture does he mean? White, black, Latin, urban, suburban, ‘Boomer,’ or ‘GenX’ contemporary culture? Just ten years ago, Willow Creek’s contemporary services were considered to be ‘cutting edge.’ Today, most younger adults find them dated and ‘hokey.’

Hidden (but not well!) in the arguments of contemporary worship enthusiasts is the assumption that culture is basically neutral. Thus there is no reason why we cannot wholly adapt our worship to any particular cultural form. But worship that is not rooted in any particular historic tradition will often lack the critical distance to critique and avoid the excesses and distorted sinful elements of the particular surrounding, present culture. For example, how can we harness contemporary Western culture’s accessibility and frankness, but not its individualism and psychologizing of moral problems?

Historic Worship: Pulling Out?

HW advocates, on the other hand, are strictly ‘high culture’ promoters, who defend themselves from charges of elitism by arguing that modern pop music is inferior to traditional folk art.  But problems also attend the promotion of strictly traditional, historic worship.

First, HW advocates cannot really dodge the charge of cultural elitism. A realistic look at the Christian music arising from the grassroots folk cultures of Latin America, Africa, and Asia (not commercially produced pop music centers) reveals many of the characteristics of contemporary praise and worship music–simple and accessible tunes, driving beat, repetitive words, and emphasis on experience.   In the U.S., an emphasis on strictly high culture music and art will probably only appeal to college educated elites.

Second, any proponent of ‘historic’ worship will have to answer the question – ‘whose’ history? Much of what is called ‘traditional’ worship is rooted in northern European culture. While strict CW advocates bind worship too heavily to one present culture, strict HW advocates bind it too heavily to a past culture. Do we really believe that the 16th century Northern European approach to emotional expression and music (incarnate in the Reformation tradition) was completely Biblically informed and must be preserved?

Hidden (but not well!) in the arguments of traditional worship advocates is the assumption that certain historic forms are more pure, Biblical, and untainted by human cultural accretions. Those who argue against cultural relativism must also remember the essential relativity of all traditions. Just as it is a lack of humility to disdain tradition, it is also a lack of humility (and a blindness to the ‘noetic’ effects of sin) to elevate any particular tradition or culture’s way of doing worship. A refusal to adapt a tradition to new realities may come under Jesus’ condemnation of making our favorite human culture into an idol, equal to the Scripture in normativity (Mark 7.8-9)  While CW advocates do not seem to recognize the sin in all cultures, the HW advocates do not seem to recognize the amount of (common) grace in all cultures.

Bible, Tradition, and Culture

At this point, the reader will anticipate that I am about to unveil some grand ‘Third Way’ between two extremes. Indeed, many posit a third approach called “Blended” worship.  But it is not so simple as that. My major complaint is that both sides are equally simplistic in the process by which they shape their worship.

CW advocates consult a) the Bible and b) contemporary culture, while HW advocates consult a) the Bible and b) historic tradition. But we forge worship best when we consult a) the Bible, b) the cultural context of our community, and c) the historic tradition of our church. 10 The result of this more complex process will not be simply a single, third “middle way.” There are at least nine worship traditions in Protestantism alone. 11 That is why the book you are reading provides examples of culturally relevant worship that nonetheless deeply appreciates and reflects its historic tradition.

This more complex approach is extremely important to follow. The Bible simply does not give us enough details to shape an entire worship service. When the Bible calls us to sing God’s praises, we are not given the tunes nor the rhythm. We are not told how repetitive the lyrics are to be or not to be, nor how emotionally intense the singing should be. When we are commanded to do corporate prayer, we are not told whether those prayers should be written, unison prayers or extemporary prayers. 12 So to give any concrete form to our worship, we must “fill in the blanks” that the Bible leaves open. When we do so, we will have to draw on a) tradition, b) the needs, capacities and cultural sensibilities of our people, and c) our own personal preferences. Though we cannot avoid drawing on our own preferences, this should never be the driving force. (cf. Romans 15.1-3) Thus, if we fail to do the hard work of consulting both tradition and culture, we will – wittingly or unwittingly – just tailor music to please ourselves.


Sally Morgenthaler’s interview with young pastors (Chris Seay, Mark Driscoll, Ron Johnson, Doug Pagitt, Clark Crebar) in Worship Leader (May/June 1998) “Authentic Worship in a Postmodern Culture” and Fernando Ortega’s interview in Prism in Nov/Dec 1997 are indications of some major cracks in the foundation of evangelical assumptions about what kind of services will reach ‘secular’ people.

The crisis (that is here? coming?) in the church growth movement due to the fact that the attack on seeker-sensitive worship is coming from inside, that is, from the pastors of fast growing ‘mega-churches’ (though the name and category is eschewed) filled with under-30’s. These pastors claim that the Willow Creek inspired services supposedly adapted for the unchurched were calibrated for a very narrow and transitory kind of unchurched person: namely, college educated, white, Baby Boomers, suburbanites. The increasingly multi-ethnic, less rational/word-oriented, urban oriented and more secular generations under the age of 35 are not the same kind of ‘unchurched’ people. The critique is that Willow Creek ‘over-adapted’ to the rational, a-historical ‘high modern’ world-view.

The younger pastors say that Willow Creek services do several things that alienate the seekers of their generations:

a) It removed transcendence from its services by utilizing light, happy music and tone, complete accessibility of voice, using dramatic sketches that create a nightclub or TV-show atmosphere. But their generations hunger for awe.

b) It ditched connection to history and tradition and went completely contemporary in all cultural references, from sermon illustrations to decoration to antiseptic ‘suburban mall/office building’ setting.But their generations hunger for rootedness, and love a pastiche of ancient and modern.

c) It emphasized polish and technical excellence and slick professionalism and management technique, while their generations hunger for authenticity and community rather than programs.

d) It emphasizes rationality and practical ‘how-to’ maps, while their generations hunger for narrative and the personal.


Two models, with problems

The most thoughtful members of the Seeker Friendly Service movement agree that the straight “seeker service” is not really worship, and therefore new believers are brought out of the seeker service into a weekly worship service for believers. The critics, on the other hand, generally see the worship service as the place for renewing and edifying believers who then go out into the world to do evangelism. The two models then, seem to be:

  • Seeker service (evangelism)  –> Worship service (edification)
  • Worship service (edification)  –> World (evangelism)

There are pragmatic problems with both models. The SFC model is financially very expensive, it is hard to assimilate new Christians out of seeker services into real worship services. And if the main worship service is very oriented toward seekers, the Christians often feel under-fed.  On the other hand the critics cannot avoid the charge that they are not proposing any alternative to the current evangelistically ineffective church. One critic is very typical when he writes: “”While we [the seeker-friendly church] try to entice the world to come to church to hear the Gospel, the New Testament proclaims a powerful church worshipping God going out into the world in order to reach the lost (cf. The book of Acts.) True revivals have historically proved…that a revived and healthy church reaches a dying and lost world through its own awakened people.”  This view says, “evangelism will take care of itself as long as we have great worship”. But the history of revivals also shows us innovations in outreach.

The Great Awakening was marked by two men who were remarkable innovators – George Whitefield in evangelism and John Wesley in organization. Many criticize seeker services because they are “not worship” and contain many elements of “entertainment”. Often they call us to look, instead at the revivals of the past. But they do not criticize George Whitefield for attracting huge crowds to his own “seeker programs”. He drew people into open air meetings with a kind of preaching that was unparalleled at the time in its popular appeal – his humor, his stories, his dramatically acted-out illustrations, and his astounding oratorical gifts drew tens of thousands.  At the time he was labeled an “entertainer”. His meetings were not worship nor did they replace worship, but they were certainly critical to the revival. They provided Christians with a remarkable place to do friendship evangelism. His meetings were all over the city on virtually every day of the week. Whitefield’s evangelism was enormously aggressive and passionate. His preaching was racy and popular yet pointed toward the transcendent and holy God. Yet his public meetings shared many of the characteristics (and criticisms) of seeker services today.

Whitefield and Wesley did not become instruments of revival by simply being great expository preachers and renewing historic worship.

My main problem with the two models, however, is theological. They both assume that worship cannot be highly evangelistic. I want to show that this is a false premise. Churches would do best to make their “main course” an evangelistic worship service, supplemented by both a) numerous, variegated, creative, even daily (but not weekly) seeker-focused events, and b) intense meetings for Bible study and corporate prayer for revival and renewal.

Theological basis

God commanded Israel to invite the nations to join in declaring his glory. Zion is to be the center of world-winning worship. (Isaiah 2.2-4; 56.6-8) “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord…so the name of the Lord will be declared in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem when the peoples and the kingdoms assemble to worship the Lord”. (Psalm 102.18) Psalm 105 is a direct command to believers engage in evangelistic worship. The Psalmist challenges them to “make known among the nations what he has done” (v.1.) How? “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful acts” (v.2) Thus believers are continually told to sing and praise God before the unbelieving nations. (See also Psalm 47.1; 100.1-5.) God is to be praised before all the nations, and as he is praised by his people, the nations are summoned and called to join in song.

Peter tells a Gentile church, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2.9) This shows us that the church is challenged to the same witness that Israel was called to – evangelistic worship. A key difference: in the Old Testament, the center of world-winning worship was Mt. Zion, but now, wherever we worship Jesus in spirit and in truth (John 4.21-26) we have come to the heavenly Zion. (Hebrews 12.18-24) In other words, the risen Lord now sends his people out singing his praises in mission, calling the nations to join both saints and angels in heavenly doxology. Jesus himself stands in the midst of the redeemed and leads us in the singing of God’s praises (Hebrews 2.12), even as God stands over his redeemed and sings over us in joy. (Zephaniah 3.17)

Biblical cases

1 Corinthians 14.24-25

Paul is addressing the misuse of the gift of tongues. He complains that tongues speaking will cause unbelievers to say they are out of their minds (v.23.) He insists that the worship service must be comprehensible to them. He says that if an unbeliever ” or unlearned one” (an uninitiated inquirer) comes in, and worship is being done “unto edification” , “he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all” (v.24.) Of what does this conviction consist? “The secrets of his heart will be laid bare” (v.25.) It may mean he realizes that the worshippers around him are finding in God what his heart had been secretly searching for, but in the wrong ways. It may mean the worship shows him how his heart works. The result: “so falling on his face, he will worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you’” (v.25.)

Acts 2

When the Spirit falls on those in the upper room, a crowd gathers (v.5) because a) they are hearing the disciples praising God (“we hear them declaring the wonders of God” v.11), an d b) and also because this worship is “in our own tongues” (v.11.) As a result, they are first made very interested (“amazed and perplexed they asked one another, ‘what does this mean’” v.11), and later they are convicted deeply (“they were cut to the heart and said…’Brethren, what shall we do?’” v.37.)


There are obvious differences between the two situations. 1 Corinthians 14 pictures conversion happening on the spot (which is certainly possible.) In Acts 2 the non-believers are shaken out of their indifference (v.12), but the actual conversions (v.37-41) occurred at the end of an “after meeting” in which Peter explained the gospel (v.14-36) and showed them how to individually receive Christ (v.38-39.) It is often pointed out that the tongues in the two situations are different. But students usually are looking so carefully at what the two passages teach about tongues and prophecy that they fail to note what they teach about worship and evangelism. We can learn this:

1. Non-believers are expected to be present in Christian worship. In Acts 2 it happens by word-of-mouth excitement. In 1 Corinthians 14 it is probably the result of personal invitation by Christian friends. But Paul in 14.23 expects both “unbelievers” and “the unlearned” (literally “a seeker”– “one who does not understand”) to be present in worship.

2. Non-believers must find the praise of Christians to be comprehensible. In Acts 2 it happens by miraculous divine intervention. In I Corinthians 14 it happens by human design and effort. But it cannot be missed that Paul directly tells a local congregation to adapt its worship because of the presence of unbelievers. It is a false dichotomy to insist that if we are seeking to please God we must not ask what the un-churched feel or think about our worship.

3. Non-believers can fall under conviction and be converted through comprehensible worship. In 1 Cor 14 it happens during the service, but in Acts 2 it is supplemented by “after meetings” and follow-up evangelism. God wants the world to overhear us worshipping him. God directs his people not to simply worship, but to sing his praises “before the nations.” We are not to simply communicate the gospel to them, but celebrate the gospel before them.

Three practical tasks

2. Getting unbelievers into worship.

The numbering is not a mistake. This task is actually comes second, but nearly everyone thinks it come first! It is natural to believe that they must get non-Christians into worship before they can begin “doxological evangelism”. But the reverse is the case. Non-Christians do not get invited into worship unless the worship is already evangelistic. The only way they will have non-Christians in attendance is through personal invitation by Christians. Just as in the Psalms, the “nations” must be directly asked to come. But the main stimulus to building bridges and invitation is the comprehensibility and quality of the worship experience.

Christians will instantly sense if a worship experience will be attractive to their non-Christian friends. They may find a particular service wonderfully edifying for them, and yet know that their non-believing neighbors would react negatively. Therefore, a vicious cycle persists. Pastors see only Christians present, so they lack incentive to make their worship comprehensible to outsiders. But since they fail to make the adaptations, Christians who are there (though perhaps edified themselves) do not think to bring their skeptical and non-Christian friends to church. They do not think they will be impressed. So no outsiders come. And so the pastors respond only to the Christian audience. And so on and on.  Therefore, the best way to get Christians to bring non-Christians is to worship as if there are dozens and hundreds of skeptical onlookers. And if you worship as if, eventually they will be there in reality.

1. Making worship comprehensible to unbelievers.

Our purpose is not to make the unbeliever “comfortable”. (In 1 Corinthians. 14.24-25 or Acts 2:12 and 37 – they are cut to the heart!) We aim to be intelligible to them. We must address their “heart secrets” (1 Corinthians 14.25) That means we must remember what it is like to not believe; we must remember what an unbelieving heart is like. How do we do that?

a) Worship and preaching in the “vernacular”. It is hard to overstate how ghetto-ized our preaching is. It is normal to make all kinds of statements that appear persuasive to us but are based upon all sorts of premises that the secular person does not hold. It is normal to make all sorts of references using terms and phrases that mean nothing outside or our Christian sub-group. So avoid unnecessary theological or evangelical sub-culture “jargon”, and explain carefully the basic theological concepts, such as confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, and so on. In the preaching, showing continual willingness to address the questions that the unbelieving heart will ask. Speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity. As you write the sermon, imagine an particular skeptical non-Christian in the chair listening to you. Add the asides, the qualifiers, the extra explanations necessary. Listen to everything said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or troubles with belief.

b) Explain the service as you go along. Though there is danger of pastoral verbosity, learn to give 1 or 2 sentence, non-jargony explanations of each new part of the service. “When we confess our sins, we are not groveling in guilt, but dealing with our guilt. If you deny your sins you will never get free from them.”  It is good to begin worship services as the Black church often does, with a “devotional”– a brief talk that explains the meaning of worship. This way you continually instruct newcomers in worship.

c) Directly address and welcome them. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this, or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give them many asides, even expressing the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian living and belief better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even when challenging them severely for their selfishness and unbelief. Admonish with tears (literally or figuratively.) Always grant whatever degree of merit their objections have. It is extremely important that the unbeliever feel you understand them. “I’ve tried it before and it did not work.” “I don’t see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God.”  “Christianity is a straightjacket.” “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” “I could never keep it up.” “I don’t feel worthy; I am too bad.” “I just can’t believe.”

d) Quality aesthetics. The power of art draws people to behold it. Good art and its message enters the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to the reason, for art makes ideas plausible. The quality of music and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Why? Their faith makes the words of the hymn or the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the music-presenter. But any outsider who comes in, who is not convinced of the truth and who does not have any relationship to the presenter, will be bored or irritated by the poor offering. In other words, excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude. The low level of artistic quality in many churches guarantees that only insiders will continue to come. For the non-Christian, the attraction of good art will have a major part in drawing them in.

e) Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice. We live in a time when public esteem of the church is plummeting. For many outsiders or inquirers, the deeds of the church will be far more important than words in gaining plausibility. The leaders of most towns see “word-only” churches as costs to their community, not a value. Effective churches will be so involved in deeds of mercy and justice that outsiders will say, “we cannot do without churches like this. This church is channeling so much value into our community through its services to people that if it went out of business, we’d have to raise everybody’s taxes.” Mercy deeds give the gospel words plausibility (Acts 4.32 followed by v.33.) Therefore, evangelistic worship services should highlight offerings for deed ministry and should celebrate through reports and testimonies and prayer what is being done. It is best that offerings for mercy ministry be separate, attached (as traditional) to the Lord’s Supper. This brings before the non-Christian the impact of the gospel on people’s hearts (it makes us generous) and the impact of lives poured out for the world.

f) Present the sacraments so as to make the gospel clear. Baptism, and especially adult baptism, should be made a much more significant event if worship is to be evangelistic. There may need to be opportunity for the baptized to offer personal testimony as well as assent to questions. The meaning of baptism should be made clear. A moving, joyous, personal charge to the baptized (and to all baptized Christians present) should be made. In addition, the Lord’s Supper can become a converting ordinance. If it is explained properly, the unbeliever will have a very specific and visible way to see the difference between walking with Christ and living for oneself. The Lord’s Supper will confront every individual with the question: “are you right with God today? now?” There is no more effective way to help a person to do a spiritual inventory. Many seekers in U.S. churches will only realize they are not Christians during the fencing of the table after an effective sermon on the meaning of the gospel. (See below for more on addressing unbelievers during communion.)

g) Preach grace. The one message that both believers and unbelievers need to hear is that salvation and adoption are by grace alone. A worship service that focuses too much and too often on educating Christians in the details of theology will simply bore or confuse the unbelievers present. For example, a sermon on abortion will generally assume the listener believes in the authority of the word and the authority of Jesus, and does not believe in individual moral autonomy. In other words, abortion is “doctrine D”, and it is based on “doctrines A, B, and C.” Therefore, people who don’t believe or understand doctrines ABC will find such a sermon un-convicting and even alienating. This does not mean we should not preach the whole counsel of God, but we must major on the “ABC’s” of the Christian faith.  If the response to this is “then Christians will be bored”, it shows a misunderstanding of the gospel. The gospel of free, gracious justification and adoption is not just the way we enter the kingdom, but also the way we grow into the likeness of Christ. Titus 2.11-13 tells us how it is the original, saving message of “grace alone” that consequently leads us to sanctified living: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” Many Christians are “defeated” and stagnant in their growth because they try to be holy for wrong motives. They say “no” to temptation by telling themselves “God will get me” or “people will find out” or “I’ll hate myself in the morning” or “it will hurt my self-esteem” or “it will hurt other people” or “it’s against the law – I’ll be caught” or “it’s against my principles” or “I will look bad”. Some or all of these may be true, but Titus tells us they are inadequate. Only the grace of God, the logic of the gospel will work. Titus says it “teaches” us, it argues with us.

Therefore, the one basic message that both Christians and unbelievers need to hear is the gospel of grace. It can then be applied to both groups, right on the spot and directly. Sermons which are basically moralistic will only be applicable to either Christians OR non-Christians. But Christo-centric preaching, preaching the gospel both grows believers and challenges non-believers. If the Sunday service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they’ll bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by grace they’ll both instruct insiders and challenge outsiders.

3. Leading to commitment

We have seen that unbelievers in worship actually “close with Christ” in two basic ways. Some may come to Christ during the service itself. (1 Corinthians 14.24-25) Others must be “followed up” very specifically.

a) During the service. One major way to invite people to receive Christ during the service is as the Lord’s Supper is distributed. We say: “if you are not in a saving relationship with God through Christ today, do NOT take the bread and the cup, but, as they come around, take Christ. Receive him in your heart as those around you receive the food. Then immediately afterwards, come up here and tell an officer or a pastor about what you’ve done, so we can get you ready to receive the Supper the next time as a child of God.” Another way to invite commitment during the service is to give people a time of silence after the sermon. A “prayer of belief” could be prayed by the pastor (or printed in the bulletin at that juncture in the order of worship) to help people reach out to Christ.  Sometimes it may be good to put a musical interlude or an offering after the sermon but before the final hymn. This affords people time to think and process what they have heard and offer themselves to God in prayer. If, however, the preacher ends his sermon, prays very briefly, and moves immediately into the final hymn, no time is given to people who are under conviction for offering up their hearts.

b) After meetings. Acts 2 seems to show us an “after meeting.” In v.12 and 13 we are told that some folks mocked upon hearing the apostles praise and preach, but others were disturbed and asked “what does this mean?” Then Peter very specifically explained the gospel, and, in response to a second question “what shall we do?” (v.37), explained very specifically how to become Christians. Historically, it has been found very effective to offer such meetings to unbelievers and seekers immediately after evangelistic worship. Convicted seekers have just come from being in the presence of God, and they are often most teachable and open. To seek to “get them into a small group” or even to merely return next Sunday is asking a lot of them. They may be also “amazed and perplexed” (Acts 2.12), and it is best to “strike while the iron is hot”. This is not to doubt that God is infallibly drawing his elect! That knowledge helps us to 16 relax as we do evangelism, knowing that conversions are not dependent on our eloquence. But the Westminster Confession tells us that God ordinarily works through secondary causes, normal social and psychological processes. Therefore, to invite people into a follow-up meeting immediately is usually more conducive to “conserving the fruit of the Word.”

After meetings may consist first of one or more persons who wait at the front of the auditorium to pray with and talk with any seekers who come forward to make inquiries right on the spot. A second after meeting can consist of a simple question-and-answer session with the preacher in some room near the main auditorium or even in the auditorium (after the postlude.) Third, after meetings should also consist of one or two classes or small group experiences targeted to specific questions non-Christians ask about the content, relevance, and credibility of the Christian faith. After meetings should be attended by skilled lay evangelists who can come alongside of newcomers and answer spiritual questions and provide guidance as to their next steps.


To download this paper in .pdf form, including footnotes: Click:  Evangelistic Worship-Keller

Four Streams of Worship

Four Streams

Worship involves action and response.

  • God’s Action:  God graciously invites us into his presence. (Isaiah 55; Matthew 11.28)
  • Our Response: We come reverently, aware of God’s holiness and significance; and we express humility by confessing our sins.  (see Isaiah 6)
  • God’s Action: God speaks the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation to us.
  • Our Response: We celebrate our redemption with joy and gratitude.

In true, biblical worship, God always initiates, and we respond to Him.

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.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the Cross.” In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of this world. But each time after a while I have had to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from the thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered into our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us.

~ John Stott

24 Tips for Preachers

Walnut Street Bridge - Chattanooga

My friend and once-upon-a-time informal mentor, Randy Nabors,  has posted a score of tips for preachers on his blog, Randy’s Rag.   I learned a lot from Randy just by hanging out and watching when I was a young pastor living and serving in the Chattanooga area.  I post Randy’s Tips here because they are worthy of consideration by anyone who preaches.  If you are a pastor, enjoy.  If you are not, feel free to share them with your pastor – as long as you do it out of loving encouragement, and not just because you think you should try to improve him.  That motivation will tank almost every time.

Anyway, here are Randy’s Tips for Preachers, gleaned during decades of transformational pastoral ministry and active mission engagement:

  1. Your aim is to have people see more of Christ and less of you.
  2. Make sure you love Christ more than you love preaching.  You should love to preach, but it is only a means to talk about the One worth loving.
  3. Try to make sure your life is at all times qualified to represent God, your character worthy to stand at the holy desk at a sudden moment.  It is better to give the responsibility to someone else, even for the moment, than to hurt your conscience by pretending to be something you are not.
  4. Don’t wait for perfection before you preach. The only perfect man who preached was also God.  Holiness is a covering we have of the righteousness of Christ as well as the faith to pursue it, along with an honest and broken heart.
  5. Prepare to preach by marinating in the Word of God.  Beware the pale substitute of commentaries.
  6. Read the text, translate the text, think through the text, dream the text, read the text.
  7. Pray for the text to minister to your own heart, hear the sermon for yourself, but remember your task is more important than waiting for your own blessing before you preach.
  8. While you are preaching, if you feel you are failing, pray in your heart for God to uphold you.  If you feel you are doing well, pray that you will not preach in your own strength.  Pray even as you speak.
  9. Beware of ruts, hobby horses, and anything that seems to regularly appear in your preaching that is in competition with the Gospel of grace and the glory of God.  Anything, especially good things, can be a poor substitute for preaching Jesus.  We are not called to preach theology but Christ, and all good theology leads to Him.
  10. If you preach the Old Testament without seeing Jesus or grace in it you don’t yet understand it.
  11. You have not been called to be intellectually esoteric, erudite, funny, or even comprehensive in your explanation of the text.  All of those things have their place, but if people can’t see Christ you have failed.
  12. Illustrations should lead to something, don’t presume on abstract reasoning from the congregation, connect the dots.
  13. Be careful with your introduction.  Don’t let it be too long, raise the issue (the main direction, question, or argument of your sermon) fairly soon.  Don’t wander too far from your text, or simply read it at the beginning and fail to preach it.  To not preach the text which you yourself have chosen is like telling the people that your ideas are more important than the Bible.
  14. Application is essential, simply reading and even explaining the text is not preaching.
  15. Self-disclose, confess your own faults, and use your life as an illustration with wisdom and a measure of restraint.  Too little and you are hiding, too much and you are an exhibitionist.
  16. If you make a mistake in preaching (misinterpret, forgot the balance, were too flippant, too angry, insulted someone(s)), apologize publicly the next time you are up.  Humility will win you favor.
  17. Never belittle, ridicule, or embarrass your wife and children as illustrations in your sermons. The congregation will take their side and miss the spiritual point you were trying to make. Once your daughter(s) reach middle school avoid mentioning them like the plague.
  18. Listen to your wife’s reactions, watch her face, she is probably the most loyal critic you will have.
  19. Sermon criticism is a good thing if you seek it from those who want to help you but don’t indulge in it immediately after you preach; let your ego heal from its vulnerability.
  20. Avoid arguments or being defensive right after a sermon, give yourself and others time to think things over.
  21. Don’t believe all the compliments nor all the complaints, though it is impossible to ignore them.  So, try to learn from them in order to do better and not simply use them for your pride or your self-pity.  Preaching is and ought to be a spiritual event, but it is also a craft that can be improved with skill.
  22. Get over it quickly, both euphoria and despair.  Fire and forget, leave the results to God, and remount the horse to ride again.
  23. Attribute, cite, and give credit where you can or at least admit it is not original with you if it isn’t.  Borrow and steal ideas ruthlessly, just admit it.
  24. As to the length of sermons, as my friend John Perkins said, (and he was quoting from someone else); “when you are done preaching, stop talking!”

10 Principles for Worship

The highest calling and greatest privilege of all Christians is to love and worship God.  In worship we encounter God with increasing awareness of who he is.  In worship we together magnify God’s glory.

The following are 10 principles, developed over a number of years, and influenced by a variety of sources, that not only express my philosophy of worship, but shape my practice of worship.  By no means is this exhaustive, nor is it unchangeable. But I do hope it might be helpful.

1. God-centeredness:

A high priority must be placed on the vertical focus in our Sunday morning service.  The ultimate aim is to so experience God that he is glorified in our affections.  (Deuteronomy 6.4-5, 13-15; Isaiah 42.8; Matthew 4.10)

2. Bible Based:

The content of God’s Word will be our ground of authority for all elements & appeal, and will be woven through all we do in worship. The content of our singing, our praying, our teaching, and our activity will always conform to the truth of Scripture.  (Isaiah 29.13; Deuteronomy 12.32; Matthew 15.9)

3. Trinitarian:

God has existed from all eternity in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three are one God, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory.  Our worship ought to reflect this truth, and recognize all three persons   (1 John 5.7; Matthew 28.9)

4. Expecting the Powerful Presence of God:

Worship is not a memorial service, nor merely our offering of ourselves toward God.  True worship earnestly seeks to experience the present reality of Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly through the Word & Sacraments.  We believe that in worship God draws near to us in power, and makes himself known & felt for his glory, our good, and the salvation of unbelievers in our midst.  (Psalm 139.7-10; Genesis 28.16; Matthew 28.20; Acts 2; Psalm 89.15; Ezekiel 46.3; Acts 10.33)

5. Aiming for Head & Heart:

Worship should aim at kindling & carrying deep, strong, real emotions toward God, but should not manipulate people’s emotions by failing to appeal to clear thinking about spiritual things.     (Isaiah 29.13; Matthew 15.8)

6. Participatory:

Worship is an active expression of the corporate body.  It is not performance by a few to be viewed by spectators. Therefore our worship shall be ordered to give the greatest opportunity for all to participate in song, prayer, testimony & confession.  All choirs, singers, musicians, speakers & liturgists are to be used in such a way that they stimulate & facilitate participatory worship throughout the congregation.   (1 Peter 2.9)

7. Freedom & Form:

Knowing that God has given us differing personalities, heritage & experiences we desire to allow people to express themselves in worship as they are led by the Spirit.  Therefore we will not discourage the raising of hands in praise, bowing for prayer & repentance, or other such activities done decently & in order.  Yet, neither will we seek to artificially stimulate such demonstrative expression within the congregation.

8. Undistracting Excellence:

Worship is to be focused on God. Therefore we will strive to sing, pray, teach & act in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance of worship by shoddy performance, nor excessive finesse, elegance or refinement. (1 Corinthians 10.31; 2 Samuel 24.24)

9. Convergent:

Many wonderful & beautiful traditions of the church have been passed down through the ages. They are varied from culture to culture, and from generation to generation.   Nevertheless, the best of these traditions convey the same love, reverence & adoration for God as we seek to experience & express. Therefore, in order to draw from the wealth of our forefathers, we will implement many of these songs, confessions & liturgies in ways & forms which are sensitive, meaningful & appropriate for the contemporary church.  To be convergent means to bring the best resources of the present together with the past.   (Proverbs 22.28; Hebrews 11.4c)

10. Contempory Blend:

It is a common mistake to assume that contemporary means “that which has been composed in this generation”, and traditional is a label for things composed in times past.  For timeless hymns such as Amazing Grace, Be Thou My Vision, and the Gloria Patri speak to us today as clearly as they did to the Church at the time of their composition.  Yet, our worship should always be contemporary in that it should speak to us clearly & faithfully of eternal truth, while being reflective of our current age & culture. Therefore, our worship should not reflect just our own age, for that would be to exclude those of the corporate body of Christ in the past. Nor should it reflect a limited scope from the past, for that would be to exclude the godly creative expressions of our own age. But in all things we seek the honor & glory of God, and we will transform traditions to to involve the truth of his Church from all ages.  (Proverbs 22.28; Psalm 149.1)

4 Tips That Change the Taste of the Sermon

As a pastor I have come to understand that some people have difficulty concentrating throughout the Sunday message.  Sometimes it’s just me people have trouble following. But sometimes it is something within them.  It may be a short attention span. It may be external distractions.  Or maybe it is the overwhelming wealth of insight being offered throughout the message that leaves some still pondering the previous point when the next gem is thrown at them.  (That last one is my favorite.)

If you’ve ever found yourself to be one who even occasionally experiences a problem concentrating throughout the sermon, let me offer a few practical tips. These are far from perfect, and certainly not exhaustive. But still, I think you will find they are helpful:

1. Write It Down

Many educators will tell you to write things down because it helps you focus and remember.  Often, after writing something down, you’ll find you don’t even need to go back to your notes to recall what you wrote.

I find it interesting that in Deuteronomy 17.18 we learn that every time a new king was installed in Israel he was to write the entire Law of God out by hand. He had to write it himself. He could not delegate it to anyone else.  He could not dictate to his secretary.  But taking pen in hand, the new king had to transcribe the whole thing himself.  The expected result, we learn in v. 19, was that the new king would revere the Lord and follow the law carefully.  I suspect that what is also true, but has no need to be stated, is that the king would remember the Law.

2. Pray It In

When you hear something that strikes you, if the Lord impresses something on you, during the course of the message, stop and pray right then.  Whether it is something that challenges you, encourages you, or even convicts you, ask the Lord right then to apply it to your life.  (This is also true during other parts of the service.  You may be struck by something in a hymn, or during a prayer.  Pray it in.)

A church service is supposed to be more relational than academic.  The Lord promises his presence among his people.  It should be a time of interaction between you and God.  As he speaks to you, deal with it at that moment.

3. Give It Out

After you write it down and pray it in, don’t neglect to give it out. Tell someone about it. If you are married, share your insight with you spouse on the way home: “Honey, do you know what struck me today?”

When you give it out it becomes part of your life.  Your insight may also prove beneficial to the one you share it with.  And giving it out also promotes unity, a oneness, because you are opening up and sharing what God is doing in your heart and life.

4. Move Around

No, I don’t mean you should get up in the middle of the message.  I mean, don’t always sit in the same place.

While the first three are pretty simple, and probably will not receive much of a negative response, this  suggestion poses some risks. It may not only seem strange, but the very notion violates some long standing personal traditions.  I’m convinced that whole sanctuaries must have been built around some people – probably built while they were sitting in one particular spot! Construction crews just worked around them.  God have mercy on the visitor who sits in what he/she consider to be ”MY” place.

But this suggestion is not as silly as it may at first seem.

Studies have shown a direct correlation between academic success levels and where a student sits in the classroom. (I usually sat in the back, which probably says a lot.)  Perhaps it could also have some effect spiritually.

Now, I am not suggesting that those who sit up front are actually more spiritually mature than those in the back.  Spirituality has nothing to do with geographic location.  But there is an attitude that can creep in. Sitting in the same spot, week after week, year after year, things can become a little stale.

Moving around every once in a while offers a new, refreshing perspective.  You see things from a different angle, which seems to stimulate the attention span. You are surrounded by different people, which not only creates a different worship environment, it is also a great way to expand unity within the church.

It’s amazing, but sitting in a different place almost makes it seem like a whole different church, regardless of the size of the sanctuary.  So move around, and mix it up.

Anyway, these are a few of my simple suggestions. Let me know if you try any of them out, and how they worked out for you.

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise


Surely one of the greatest problems of our times is that we have become so nonchalent about the Lord of the cosmos.  Certainly if we were more immersed in God’s splendor we would find ourselves thoroughly “lost in wonder, love, and praise”.  With all the amazing sights and sounds of our cyberspace world, however, many of us no longer recognize that if we but catch a glimpse of GOD – the imperial Lord of the cosmos, the almighty King of the universe – we will be compelled to fall on our faces.  Our awareness of God’s absolute otherness would give us the sense that we could die now because we have seen God.  We would shout with the prophet: “Woe is me, for I am annihilated”. (Isaiah 6.5; Martin Luther’s rendering.)

Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time