To confront can mean to meet someone face to face with argumentative intent, but just as often, it carries the connotation of facing up to a difficult situation. Since its beginning, worship has been embroiled in confrontation on both sides of that definition. From Cain confronting Abel, to the people of God confronting other nations in battle, to the confrontations within churches over styles and preferences and traditions and expressions, to the unseen spiritual battles going on within and around us as we engage in it, the act of worship has always been inextricably involved in confrontation. However, there is a massive worship-related confrontation that often is ignored by too many worship leaders: the challenge when our worship fails to match up with what we say we believe.
I’m not speaking just of our music time in our weekly gatherings, but of our worship as defined by Romans 12:1, Colossians 3:17, and 1 Corinthians 10:31. These verses basically define worship as everything we do and how we live. That is our worship. Our desire is that our externally-lived worship reflects things going on internally: our love for God and others, the Holy Spirit indwelling us as believers, the Word of God washing us and renewing us as we soak in it daily, death to our old selves, and life in Christ. Here is inspiration from God’s word to guide us:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” – Jesus (Jn 13:34)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Paul (Gal 5:22-23)
“When I think someone ought to be more loving, it’s usually me.” – Bob Goff
The world around us is messy, vitriolic, angry, spiteful, prideful—everything to which the fruit of the Spirit stands in opposition. So what does worship that confronts culture look like? Hopefully this is not a rhetorical question.
Our worship expresses something different than the world around us. Not in a condescending, mean-spirited or elitist way, but in a way that follows the living example of Jesus and embodies the fruit of the Spirit: loving, patient, kind. Our worship as evidenced by our daily lives is Spirit- filled. it overflows with the fruit of the Spirit. And yes, also showcased in the gathered worship of the Church as we are privileged to prayerfully plan and lead it. That is our vision. May it be our experience.
I am not—I repeat NOT—saying that our gathered worship experiences will be so radically different from modern concert experiences that unchurched people around us have zero cultural context or understanding of what we’re doing when they visit a church for the first time. I’m not saying that our worship would be so solemn, morose, prim and proper that only people in formal wear would feel at home. I’m not saying that our worship would be so serene and subdued that it puts us to sleep. But as the Apostle Paul denotes, when unbelievers find themselves in the midst of our gathered worship, they would feel the presence of God and be confronted, invited, welcomed, and embraced by that truth.
To worship is to ascribe to the Lord the value He deserves and the honor His Name is worthy to receive, and to express our hearts toward Him. Amazingly, He invites us to engage with Him in both solemn ritual and in joyful celebration and communion!
When our expressed worship of the Lord is not aligned with how we live our daily lives, it fools nobody but ourselves. If there is no fruit of the Holy Spirit evident in how we regard one another as we interact via social media, well folks, there’s a problem—especially in the midst of the global pandemic keeping many of us holed up at home, with our main connection to others being through social media. This kind of behavior and confusion, God takes issue with, to the point that He says in those circumstances He doesn’t even want our worship. He says it dishonors Him when we bring him loud songs on one special day, but the rest of our lives are filled with injustice, selfishness, division and a lack of love. Check out Amos 5:10-24 for His Words on that. Fortunately he is always available and as we connect with Him in repentance, he gives us the grace and mercy to live from His Love.
The world around us is filled with people far from God who need those of us who love and follow Jesus to be about the work He commissioned us for: rescue operations through love in action.
Confronting Unhealthy Culture Within the Church
There are those who argue that worship of the Lord is solely intended for Him and the benefit of His people, not for evangelistic purposes or for outreach. Scripture says it’s both (Ps 96) and the reason I know this is that the Lord used His worship to reach me. That’s my testimony. I was drawn to Jesus by the power of the Spirit inhabiting the praises of the people of God in gathered worship, just like the unbelievers Paul mentions.
Whatever side of the fence you sit on regarding predestination/election/freedom—whether you believe I sought God or He sought me—I’ll say it again: my personal testimony is that the Lord saved me using the vehicle of corporate worship experiences to draw me to Him. Worship. He used gathered worship to save me. Paul speaks to the power of this in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25.
We’re not only talking about worship confronting the world outside the church; worship can be and often is something the Lord uses to confront unhealthy culture within His Church in a wide variety of contexts.
This is not to say that just because you like the latest stage design or song from Elevation that you need to turn the worship culture of your local church on its head. But…there’s something to be said when a song is used by the Holy Spirit all around the world to unite and bless and encourage and build up the children of the Lord.
True worship—worship in spirit and in truth—stands in confrontation not only to the patterns of the world, but it stands in confrontation to some patterns that have become codified, entrenched, stagnant doctrines and traditions within the Church.
Let us engage confrontation with unhealthy culture, wherever we find it, through our daily personal and corporate gathered worship. As the Church in the Spirit, reasoning together, dwelling together in the sweetness of unity…and diversity, let us showcase the goodness, loving-kindness, and grace of God in Christ Jesus, giving glory and testimony to Him.