The word “worship,” when applied to the sung variety, almost universally prompts questions about music genres, with tired old terms like “traditional” and “contemporary” still commonplace (may I add, all musical or spoken worship is contemporary at some point in its history). Across time, visual art, drama, and dance have intermittently joined the worship conversation, but although certain faith traditions historically have a more outward, “gathering to scatter,” to be “missional” outlook on worship expression, in my experience, the focus seems to remain primarily inward. If the worship leader’s goal is to inspire worshipers to feel hope, encouragement, and even constructive conviction, as well as a deeper sense of closeness and relationship to God, such an inward focus is important and valuable. Yet, without a concomitant external focus, it can often be challenging to distinguish between worship and entertainment, and one can judge either one as successful if the congregation or audience leaves feeling energized and inspired: “Wasn’t worship great today?”
More Than Music
As a musician, I certainly empathize with the value of uplifting worship music executed with excellence, but I also think worship should be much more. Many would point to the Greek word προσκυνέω (proskunéo), and its focus on the idea of kneeling and kissing the ground before God as an act of deep reverence. Music is certainly one vehicle for expressing such reverence, but it also seems to me that in some congregations, Sunday singing might be more typically classified as what was originally termed “praise”: upbeat songs that are engaging, but don’t involve the awe that comes with prostrating oneself before God because of His recognized greatness. Furthermore, there are many other ways to express reverence to God. With this in mind, let me suggest that successful worship on Sunday will stir the participant’s heart through sung prayer and preached truth with motivation to express such reverence—not simply in the sanctuary—but more importantly outside its walls.
What if worship were more than midweek rehearsals and Sunday services? What if, instead, worship were a continuous way of life? Obviously, I am not suggesting anything truly new, but I wonder if we might become more intentional in this regard. What if we might re-appropriate what was evidenced in Jesus ministry and has been evidenced in the Church through the ministries of some who followed him such as Francis Xavier, The Waldensians, Sojourner Truth, Lillias Trotter, Amy Carmichael, Benjamin Lay, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet? What if “worship as a lifestyle” wasn’t just a slogan that emerged in the 1990s and early 2000’s with renewed gusto, but was the evidence of encountering, experiencing, embodying, and worshiping our Triune God in all we do?
Practicing the Presence
Personally, I have both witnessed and experienced the value of viewing worship as a way of life. As a boy, I was greatly influenced by the writings of Brother Lawrence, a 17th century pot-scrubber in a Carmelite monastery. He spoke of the value of doing all things—no matter how large or small—out of love and reverence for God. Indeed, he claimed that he even flipped his breakfast egg with the intention to express his love to God. Of course, the more we are aware of God’s intimate presence at every moment, the more we can be motivated to express loving reverence in all we do (enhancing that awareness is undoubtedly an aspect of worship leading). Brother Lawrence would remind us that this awareness of God’s presence takes practice….every day.
Of course, calling your congregation to a life of worship does not mean asking them all to consider full-time missions or even pastoral ministry. However, the Church is called to reverently and humbly walk before God, which includes pursuing justice and mercy, especially to those who cannot speak for themselves. Moreover, sharing the stories of those who have chosen full-time lives of ministry can inspire the rest of us to ask, “What is God calling me to do?” Consider two of my dear friends who have inspired me in this way, simply by using the talents God had already given them.
Answering The Call To Worship
Dave Eubank was a U.S. Army Special Forces and Ranger officer who wondered how God could use a young retired soldier. In response, he was led to found the Free Burma Rangers ministry in 1997. Together with his wife and three children, he lives every day as an act of worship. Initially in response to the horrific persecution and ethnic cleansing in Burma, David felt the call to offer God his life in service. On his website, he explains:
In 1997 with the help of a Karen [indigenous Burmese] medic, Eliya, and many other ethnic leaders we started FBR. We started with the idea that even though we are small, if we helped one person they would be glad and we would be glad. I go to try to help because I feel it is God’s place for me—that is my soul; because oppression is wrong—that is my mind; because I love these people —that is my heart; and because I like to like to be on the frontline—that is my body. My wife and children go on missions with us…
Whereas Dave and his Free Burma Rangers focus on Burma, more than 94 multi-ethnic relief teams serve not only in Burma but also in Syria, Kurdistan, and Iraq. Rangers document atrocities that the world denies and bring food, medics, medicine, clothing, and hope to help the wounded and suffering in jungles and deserts. Dave welcomes all ethnicities and all faiths to serve as Rangers, but at the same time, he lives out his worship unapologetically, frequently speaking aloud his prayerful conversation with God and inviting all Rangers to times of worship. His family’s testimony has resulted in many Rangers coming to Christ. Often working on the front lines of armed conflicts, Dave faces real danger on a regular basis as an act of worship. Whereas not all of us are called to do this, might it prompt the question, “God, how can my worship-leading call the Church to action and service as an everyday offering?”
Pursue A Mission That Will Outlive You
Another inspiring friend of mine, Bill Ashe, went to Heaven in 2016, and I miss him greatly. His commitment to the poor as an everyday act of worship was profound. Bill had a pump business as a young man, and as a new Christian, he struggled to see how something so mundane could serve as an avenue for worship. Then, in the 1960s, he encountered the plight of some rural poor orphans in Mexico with no safe water, and God gave him a vision for worship as a way of life: offering a cup of safe, cold water in Jesus’ name. He studied and learned the desperate facts that remain desperate today. Currently, 844 million people live without safe, clean water, 2.3 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation, and a child dies every 60 seconds due to a preventable waterborne illness. These statistics are actually a great improvement from when Bill began, but much still needs to be done.
In response, Bill began by installing and repairing pumps out of the back of his station wagon. In 1977, he founded Lifewater International, a Christian development ministry focused on empowering the rural poor in remote places to obtain safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. Bill noted that one of the clearest impacts of the work was hearing mothers say, “The babies don’t die anymore.” Today, Lifewater’s tangible ministry continues to prompt questions among the beneficiaries, opening doors for sharing the gospel. Over the past 43 years, the lives of over two million children, women, and men around the globe have been changed. I have been privileged to serve on Lifewater’s board for 20 of those years as part of my own living out worship.
What Is Your Mission?
I believe worship leaders have a tremendous opportunity to call the Church, not only to Sunday praise and worship, but also to serve God every day with whatever gifts God has given them. Connecting the music with the sermon is wonderful. Connecting the music and sermon with action is powerful. I pray that you might consider how to ignite sparks of both wonder and power in those you serve, with worship that not only touches hearts in the pews but also motivates living sacrifices all week long.