You’ve probably been to a worship seminar that begins something like this: “To talk about worship, we first need to acknowledge that worship is not all about music, but about how you live your life. True worship is all about being a living sacrifice… But today we’re going to talk about corporate worship… so let’s talk about music…” While it’s valuable for us to talk about music in corporate worship, let’s explore how we can plan corporate worship that encourages people to be living sacrifices.
“Living sacrifice worship”
Romans 12:1 is foundational to our understanding of biblical worship: in light of the tremendous mercy God has shown us – redeeming undeserving rebels and making us beloved children – we are called to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This means surrendering ourselves wholly to God’s will and purposes; dying to self daily and living to accomplish God’s priorities in our own contexts. Worship like that – worship as a living sacrifice in light of God’s grace – is what Paul calls the only true, only reasonable, only logical, spiritual act of worship.
Worship rooted in a lifestyle of prioritizing God’s purposes is so fundamental that worship disconnected from such a lifestyle is actually invalid. Amos 5, especially verses 12 and 21-24, is a prime example from the history of God’s people – their lives did not match the honour they ascribed to God in corporate worship; Jesus Himself criticizes people who honour God with their lips but not their hearts; that He calls ‘worship in vain’ (Mt 15:9, Mk 7:7).
It is crucial then that we as worship leaders not only encourage our congregations to worship corporately and in song, but also in their everyday lives as living sacrifices. Further to that, it is crucial that we actually plan corporate worship so as to encourage people to lives of living sacrifice worship. Admittedly, the idea of being ‘a living sacrifice’ is hard to wrap your mind around; perhaps some of these suggestions will help our congregations to ‘flesh it out.’
1. Acknowledge the difference between corporate and personal worship.
I suspect that a lot of believers suffer from the same issue reflected in the opening worship session example. We understand inherently that worship has something to do with how we live, but it’s easier to think about singing with hands raised and eyes closed, so we often default there. Worship leaders: let’s try to cultivate cultures in our churches that understand that being a living sacrifice is the fundamental commitment that legitimizes our singing. Have that conversation intentionally with your congregation and worship team members; help them to understand that well sung or played Sunday songs are meaningless unless they are offered by believers who die to self every other day of the week. One simple congregational way that I’ve seen done came as a brief comment at the gathering part of the service – ‘We are coming from lives where we are called to be living sacrifices; this morning we have the special privilege of gathering together to worship our God as a whole community of living sacrifices.’
2. Plan with preachers to highlight application as living sacrifice worship.
Admittedly, encouraging ‘living sacrifice worship’ is difficult because it is somewhat abstract. Almost every Sunday though, preachers are calling people to be living sacrifices, without using that term. Let’s make the connection for them.
In basic terms, preaching is about communicating who God is and what He has done (revelation) and then calling people to live appropriately (response). Worship is fundamentally about that response – remember Romans 12:1 – in view of God’s mercies, offer your lives as living sacrifices – that is your reasonable act of worship.
Let’s open up a dialogue with preaching pastors to get them involved in planning holistic corporate worship. Send them an email asking ‘In light of what your preaching text teaches about God, how should we respond in our everyday lives? I want to highlight that as an expression of living sacrifice worship.’ This will enable worship leaders to better shape the response songs and prayers after the sermon and it will help the preacher to highlight how a given ‘application’ is an even more crucial act of worship than the songs we use to commit to living out that application.
3. Identify songs that help us make the connection.
Finally, let’s identify and make good use of songs that help us to foreground living sacrifice worship, even if it means taking musical worship down a notch. That was of course the sentiment behind Matt Redman’s ‘Heart of worship.’ Laura Story’s ‘There is nothing’ actually goes a step further, recognizing the insufficiency of singing in and of itself and praying ‘God, help me to actually do the things I say that I will do when I am singing worship songs.’ Casting Crowns’s ‘Lifesong’ and Starfield’s ‘Reign in us’ both use and develop the concept of ‘living sacrifice’ – maybe we can list other songs in the comment thread and so develop a pool of resources that will help us to make ‘living sacrifice worship’ a primary part of our worship vocabulary.
Romans 12:1 is a powerful call – brothers and sisters, remember the incredible thing God has done, showing us tremendous, undeserved mercy. Let’s respond appropriately, offering ourselves as living sacrifices and helping our churches to do the same.
Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and consultant currently serving Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario. An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at jbdomusic.com or @gwgladstone.
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Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and pastor currently serving at Langford Community Church in Brantford, Ontario. An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at gwgladstone.ca or @gwgladstone.