One of the most powerful messages I have heard preached on the topic of worship came recently from my pastor, Randy Norris. He leads a new church plant in Hoover, Alabama, called The Church at Ross Station. I am privileged to be the worship leader at this tremendous new work. I asked Randy if he would share with our blog readers some of his thoughts on worship and particularly his fresh scriptural insights on music styles in worship. Do yourself a favor and read this entire article carefully. This is a word the Church needs to hear and heed today…
Guest Post by Pastor Randy Norris:
The other night my wife and I were going through our normal routine of getting the kids ready for bed. Just so you know, I have three children and if you think Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey is a good show, you should come to my house! It was my night to brush teeth. I began brushing my oldest son’s teeth and forgot that he had a loose tooth that was ready to come out. At the end, he moved a certain way and the toothbrush hit the tooth perfectly. He shouted and I just said, “Timothy, that didn’t really hurt.” He yelled that his tooth came out and opened his mouth and began spitting blood into the sink. He was actually very excited that his tooth came out without any pain and that the Tooth Fairy was going to come to see him that night. My four year old, Abby, was also excitedly shouting to her mom that Timothy had lost a tooth. It was a night of celebration at the Norris household! That is, until I told Abby it was her turn to have her teeth brushed. She began to yell and scream that she didn’t want me to brush her teeth because I would knock her teeth out! I realized very quickly that I had lost all credibility as the “brusher of teeth” with my children!
It doesn’t take much to lose credibility, does it? I’m afraid that the church today is in danger of losing all credibility when it comes to the subject of worship. How many churches today are battling over worship, warring over worship, and even splitting over worship? God help us. We must get back to a biblical viewpoint of what worship really is.
I believe that we can go to Romans 12:1-2 to get a biblical view of true worship. The first eleven chapters of Romans have given us great insight into God’s grace and mercy. We are all sinners and the wages of sin is death, but God in His wonderful grace and mercy sent Jesus to die to bring us back into a right relationship with Him. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, by the mercies of God let us present our bodies a living sacrifice.” We must never forget that we worship only by the mercy of God. Sometimes we act like we are doing God a favor when we give Him our songs, our talents, and our sermons. Sometimes we act like we invite God to come hear us perform, when actually, God invites us to come into His presence. God in His mercy and grace allows us to come into the Holy of Holies and bow down and worship Him.
From these two verses, I believe we can make a couple of important statements about worship. First, worship is about sacrifice, not style. We are losing credibility because all we want to talk about is the style of worship. All we can focus on is what we as pastors and worship leaders want or what our people want. Question: Since when did worship become about what people want? It is about God and His glory, not our own.
In Genesis 22, God gives us a tremendous story about worship when He asked Abraham to go and offer his only son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Abraham responded to his men by saying, “I and the lad will go yonder and worship” (emphasis mine). Their worship was about sacrifice. Can you imagine if this scene would have happened in today’s church? The conversation might go something like this…
“Abraham, you better build that altar out of oak.”
“No, boys, I like pine.” “Abraham, how about acacia wood? That’s real biblical wood!” “Don’t worry about the wood. But you better make that altar three feet tall.” “Three feet? Don’t you mean five feet?” “Abraham, why build an altar at all? That’s too post-modern!” “Abraham, why don’t you tie Isaac to the altar with this new rope?” “New rope! Heaven’s no! What’s wrong with the old rope we’ve always used?”
You get the picture? Somehow, we’ve made worship all about style when it was meant to be about sacrifice. Can you imagine how much greater our worship services would be if we spent more time considering the sacrifice of the worshipper than the style of the worship?
A second statement from Romans 12:1-2 is that worship is Spirit-driven, not experience-driven. Presenting our lives a living sacrifice is our “spiritual act of worship.” If your experience goes against God’s Word, it is not of God. Real worship will always connect your spirit with God’s Spirit. What does this mean? It means that you can have singing and not have worship. You can have preaching and not have worship. You can raise your hands, shout “hallelujah”, and even cry your eyes out, and not have worship. Worship will always bring you to an encounter with Jesus Christ. If Christ is not encountered, worship has not happened.
A third statement from verse 2 is that worship changes you; it doesn’t just charge you. Verse two tells us that we are to be “transformed.” Worship only takes place when we encounter Jesus, and you can’t encounter Him without some part of you being changed. It is a bold statement, but if our people do not leave the services different than when they came in, they have not really worshipped. A lot of times, we can leave worship services excited and motivated, but ultimately, we are no more like Jesus than when we walked in.
In the early 1990’s, I remember going to the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center to see the country music superstar, Garth Brooks, in concert. It was the most energetic performance that I had ever seen. I remember leaving the concert that night so pumped up by what I saw. If we aren’t careful, we will be guilty of planning “shows” to pump our people up, rather than “services” to lead our people to encounter Christ.
Back to the worship of Abraham and Isaac: When I read that incredible story, I realize the only person asking a style question was Isaac. Nobody was really talking about the type of wood or the height of the altar or the newness of the rope. Isaac asked the only question of his daddy, “Where is the lamb?” In all of our arguing and fighting about hymns and choruses, keyboards or pianos, powerpoint or hymnbooks, we would do well to ask the same question Isaac did. “Where is the Lamb?”
Randy can be contacted via email: brorandy at peoplepc dot com.