I recently received the following message from a friend on a Sunday morning after his church hosted a guest worship leader:
I’ve sat through plenty [of] bad worship sessions but this morning’s takes the cake. It was actually so bad that I’m embarrassed for my church.
The highlights of the conversation that followed make up the bulk of this article.
On the one hand, I knew exactly what he meant. I know that feeling of sitting through (or leading) a “bad” worship service all too well. On the other hand, I see several glaring problems with both the semantics and implications of that statement. When we begin thinking of “worship” as a thing we “sit through,” a thing for which value is determined based on criteria such as musical perfection, technical flawlessness or personal edification, we’re clearly on the wrong track. Unfortunately, that mindset is much easier to recognize when we’re on the outside looking in. But, if we’re honest, we can all find ourselves in that place if we let our guards down. In fact, those of us leading the various parts of our weekly worship gatherings may be especially susceptible to such unhealthy thinking.
After mulling the conversation over for a couple days, I decided it may be helpful to establish what I believe to be a few healthy criteria for a “good” worship service.
These are by no means comprehensive, but hopefully they’ll at least get you and those with whom you’re worshipping to think a little more intentionally about how to view your worship gatherings.
Here are 3 questions I came up with for determining what makes a “good” worship gathering:
1 – Was the Gospel presented clearly?
Was the Gospel clearly communicated in the songs, sermon, Scripture readings, prayers or other liturgical elements of your gathering? If so, then no amount of pitchy singing, flubbed drum fills, or missed cues from the A/V booth should convince you that your time worshipping together was misspent or “bad” in any way.
I believe wholeheartedly in the idea that we should strive for excellence in each of the means by which we communicate and celebrate the Gospel when we gather together. However, when pursuing excellence becomes less about right-hearted worship and more about well-executed production, we’ve missed the point entirely.
Rather than allowing ourselves to be impressed by how professionally we can execute the task of worship, let us be people who find our complete satisfaction and deepest delight in simply and consistently hearing and speaking the Gospel to one another, by any and all means.
2 – Was the Gospel responded to sincerely?
Were people able to sing, pray, give and serve in sincere and humble response to hearing the truth of the Gospel proclaimed? Was their singing an honest celebration and declaration of the goodness and faithfulness of God in their lives, or was it a simple rejoicing over hearing and singing their favorite hook or melody? Were people provided the opportunity to give of their finances as an exercise in dependence on the provision of God and as a means of participating in the spread of the saving message of Jesus, or were they simply encouraged to give dutifully as part of their obligation as members of the congregation? Were people invited, encouraged and convicted to share of the talents and gifts with which they’ve been entrusted by the Spirit of God? Or were they enabled simply to come and receive of the gifts of others?
Let us be people who live in such close contact with the Gospel story that everything we do with our time and energy, both corporately and individually, is done in response to that story. As the great hymnist, Isaac Watts wrote, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
A gathering in which the body of believers is invited and encouraged towards active participation in calling one another to respond to the Gospel, regardless of whether or not they can do so with any degree of “professionality,” is a gathering in which God will certainly be glorified.
3 – Was the Gospel felt in the fellowship of those who gathered?
Did people’s interactions with one another before, during and after the planned portions of our liturgical gathering push them into deeper faith in the Gospel? Was the love of God communicated in their communion with one another? Or did they simply greet each other with a few customary informal pleasantries as they shuffled toward their preferred seats?
It’s vital to the life of the global Church and to the lives of the individuals therein that our gatherings be intentionally saturated with opportunities for authentic, loving, Gospel interactions among those who gather. When this becomes the norm, then bad music, bad production, and bad preaching will be rendered virtually powerless to distract people from the goodness of the Gospel in which they’re bound and for which they gather.
Let us be people who genuinely believe the value of any worship gathering is directly proportional to the degree to which it is Gospel-centric.
May our greatest enjoyment and deepest satisfaction be found simply in the Lord and in gathering together as His bride. May we pursue the highest degree of excellence in offering ourselves to God in every form of worship, but may we do so without ever making an idol of that excellence.
Luke Brawner is a husband, vegan, singer/songwriter, worship pastor, lover of Haiti, context advocate, recovering cynic & former armchair ecclesiologist. He is the Worship Pastor at Grace Bible Church in the Houston Heights (www.gbchouston.org) and longs to help foster a culture of authentic community, honest communication with God, and Biblical discipleship among believers.