Episode #1: Are our worship services too “spiritual” or not human enough?


Show Notes: Episode 1 Transcript

What is worship mythbusting?

Happy New Year and welcome to the first official Worship Mythbusters posting here on worshipmythbusters.com. Worship Mythbusters is about debunking damaging thinking that gets in the way of our worship gatherings.

If you are new to Worship Mythbusters, welcome to the conversation. Yes, this is not meant to be a dogmatic monologue but a genuine conversation about a subject that is important to those of us who value the weekend gathering and its place in the life of a Christ follower.

There will be some thoughts expressed that might at first glance sound almost heretical. Please read fully and carefully and realize it is a conversation not a sermon. The goal here is to learn how to have a meaningful conversation with a subject that lacks a common language at times.

Here is our first conversation to kick off 2011. I hope these conversations will enrich you and those you influence in your heart and expression of worship.

WORSHIP MYTHBUSTERS: Are our worship services too “spiritual” or not human enough?

INTRO:  We act out a practical heresy when we deny our humanity in worship services in the name of being “spiritual”, just like it is a heresy to claim Jesus is either human or God and not both.

Many of us can rattle off Bible passages such as “we worship in spirit and in truth” and “God inhabits the praises of his people”. We often weave a web around familiar passages and never apply some very obvious—in my opinion—ideas. For instance, we are people. That means we are spiritual beings who reside and are not separated from our physical, human existence.

We know that our bodies as believers are literally “temples” of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19) This simple fact has huge ramifications about what we expect out of worship gatherings, how we plan them and how we judge the “win” or results of these worship services.

I believe that our view of the Incarnation is at issue here.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Later John also writes this in John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Clearly the idea of the Incarnation—God becoming flesh—has implications in how we view who we are as people. Jesus is “fully God and fully human” which means even God himself could be God and exist as a man. Some of the early heresies downplayed either the spiritual or the human nature of Jesus. Orthodox Christianity defined that the “both and” here is what is true about Jesus.

This is a heresy, I dare say—to believe that we should ever aspire to be less human and more spiritual in all that we do. I would say that it is heretical because it ignores the reflection of the Incarnation of Jesus. God is both transcendent and eminent. The “God with us” Emmanuel is also the God who is so other than us. We need to embrace this tension.

So, we also believe that people are both physical and spiritual. What we do physically has heavenly consequence. When a sinner repents, the Bible says that heaven rejoices. When God’s people praise him, God is enthroned on those very praises. We cannot, nor should not, separate spiritual and physical from our humanity.

1. Being institutional does not equal being unspiritual when it comes to feeding the poor, as well as leading people into worship.

Some may say when we plan a worship service and measure the win of it that we are being too corporate rather than spiritual. To focus on the environment of worship apparently is to be obsessed with production and not concerned about the spiritual activity of worship.

When we feed the poor, don’t we accept that building a food bank is good idea? Is it less spiritual because structure, planning and human institutionalism is part of the equation? No. Intuitionalism is human and not at all unspiritual. Anything we humanly create, whether a company, a song or a technology can be used for worship of God. It is people doing what people do for the purpose of worship.

We are called to feed the poor as Christians. It seems that if we organize a food drive, create a logo and promote it through very cultural and human means, we are doing the right thing. But, to apply any of these techniques to the activity of a worship gathering is considered “not spiritual” or worldly by some today. I prefer to say it is “earthly” not worldly.

Being worldly perhaps is the motive to copy the world. Being earthly is to realize that God breathed in the dust of the earth to create people. Being organic, authentic and “missional” are no more spiritual than being “attractional”, produced and well-executed. In fact, why do we have to choose between the two? We don’t.

2. Jesus dealt with the whole of human needs and framed his teaching to relate to people, so should our worship services.

We also see Jesus’ example in how he put together his public meetings. Jesus did not connect all the dots, but spoke in parables, drawing ever bigger and bigger crowds. There were people there at the Sermon on the Mount that were ready to die as his followers, as well as people who were there simply to be entertained. All levels of humanity and their spiritual condition seemed to be factored into how Jesus taught.

When we talk about a worship gathering being not spiritual enough, might we actually be saying it is too human? Jesus was human when he wept for a friend who died, pleaded at the Garden of Gethsemane and experienced our human temptations. Jesus had friends. He got tired. Jesus met the real and wholly human needs of people—their physical, mental and spiritual condition.

3. Poor execution keeps people from worship and coming to church as much as inauthentic people do.

I believe that more people are kept away from coming to church and back to church as a result of poor planning and execution as are from inauthentic people. A person that has a good heart may be misleading you if he is unprepared in how he or she delivers a sermon or leads a worship set.

Who wants to listen to a sermon for an hour delivered from the hip, versus one that is prayed up and studied up? Why employ Greek alliterations of words instead of using plain English? If you put a video up in front of your church, its quality might send a message as much as it’s content. Content and context both matter.

One rule is the empathy factor. The empathy factor means that when your family member or close friend sings a song he wrote, you can forgive the quality and look at the context of the person and your relationship with him. You empathize with those you know. If you come to a service and know no one, it means you have little fuel for empathy.

You can get around quality by fueling the empathy through explanation or context being given to the worshipper. This means you are intentionally dealing with the limitations you currently have. There is no perfect world, so we all have development needs in our execution. As we improve on these, we need to find ways to give context and fuel for empathy to the new person in the pew. This is a clear way of addressing the human condition.

With execution, our worship services are simply not human enough. Are we willing to factor in a godly humanism when we gather each weekend? Here are some suggestions to chew on:

  • Think about the building architecture, the room and the environment and the message it sends.
  • Choose language, stories and music that relates to people so they can participate more readily.
  • Engage people by being good at communication technique—focusing message, learning your audience, etc.
  • Prepare your heart and your mind by reading the Bible as well as the local paper to know what your town is going through each week.
  • Apply good music, good audio, and good graphics to avoid distraction.
  • Trust the Holy Spirit to be in your planning because it is not more spiritual to improvise!

Do you agree then that we are “too spiritual” at times with our worship services?

18 thoughts on “Episode #1: Are our worship services too “spiritual” or not human enough?”

  1. Excited for episode one. I get firsties here!

    My dad, who mentored me and raised me up as worship leader (really cool and long story for another time) used to say this to me all the time: Preparation is not a substitute for prayer and prayer is not a substitute for preparation. I have learned that I have to have spent time in God’s presence to be an effective worship facilitator… at the same time, I have to have spent enough time preparing each moment of worship because the people that I lead live sophisticated and well-organized lives. Our congregations are much more discerning than we give them credit for and the more I stopped pretending that they could not see through my lack of preparation (spiritual, physical, musical), the more I became motivated to be both spiritually and physically prepared.

    That being said, the thing I’ve found to be most disarming is exactly the thing you have alluded to above… transparency. The problem with preparation is that it is VERY easy to become too slick in your presentation and remove the “human-ness” of the moments. It’s a delicate balance – being fully prepared, but not so prepared that your presentation and worship moments come off as being too slick and not authentic. I want to be as prepared as I can, and as relatable/authentic as I can… I do not know that I have found the balance, but I am certainly reaching for it.

    Keep the conversation going bruh!

    1. Thanks Paulo!

      We can dehumanize our worship by being too slick or by not executing. Great take on mentioning the “human-ness” of moments in worship.

  2. Excited for episode one. I get firsties here!

    My dad, who mentored me and raised me up as worship leader (really cool and long story for another time) used to say this to me all the time: Preparation is not a substitute for prayer and prayer is not a substitute for preparation. I have learned that I have to have spent time in God’s presence to be an effective worship facilitator… at the same time, I have to have spent enough time preparing each moment of worship because the people that I lead live sophisticated and well-organized lives. Our congregations are much more discerning than we give them credit for and the more I stopped pretending that they could not see through my lack of preparation (spiritual, physical, musical), the more I became motivated to be both spiritually and physically prepared.

    That being said, the thing I’ve found to be most disarming is exactly the thing you have alluded to above… transparency. The problem with preparation is that it is VERY easy to become too slick in your presentation and remove the “human-ness” of the moments. It’s a delicate balance – being fully prepared, but not so prepared that your presentation and worship moments come off as being too slick and not authentic. I want to be as prepared as I can, and as relatable/authentic as I can… I do not know that I have found the balance, but I am certainly reaching for it.

    Keep the conversation going bruh!

    1. Thanks Paulo!

      We can dehumanize our worship by being too slick or by not executing. Great take on mentioning the “human-ness” of moments in worship.

  3. Good stuff Rich. You’re onto something here. Wish it was as easy as creating a formula and plugging the pieces into it…
    It’s definitely all about balance. I’m glad you’re creating more space to talk about it.

  4. Good stuff Rich. You’re onto something here. Wish it was as easy as creating a formula and plugging the pieces into it…
    It’s definitely all about balance. I’m glad you’re creating more space to talk about it.

  5. Awesome ideas here. I love seeing your thoughts on worship. I can get way too self conscious when leading worship. That is almost always a bad place for my head to get distracted.

  6. Awesome ideas here. I love seeing your thoughts on worship. I can get way too self conscious when leading worship. That is almost always a bad place for my head to get distracted.

  7. Hey Rick – my first listen. I love where you’re going with this. Quality execution is important and poor execution is a barrier. Love your insight on the empathy factor, that people will put up with “not so good” cause they know and like you & your story.

    Around the world, as well as in my hometown, I’ve experienced contexts where the attractional aspect of worship has been over emphasized to the detriment of the representational purpose of gathered worship. I’m saying God wants us to present our authentic selves individually and corporately.

    Specifically, I’ve seen churches trying to be like “that famous successful church/worship star”, while rejecting the unique talents and sound of the people they have. This is dehumanizing.

    Revelation 4/5 speaks of indigineous worship from every tongue, tribe and nation offering their unique heart language to the Lord.

    Bottom line, IMO, the attractional should be prioritized as a secondary byproduct of the representational. Hope that makes sense.

  8. Hey Rick – my first listen. I love where you’re going with this. Quality execution is important and poor execution is a barrier. Love your insight on the empathy factor, that people will put up with “not so good” cause they know and like you & your story.

    Around the world, as well as in my hometown, I’ve experienced contexts where the attractional aspect of worship has been over emphasized to the detriment of the representational purpose of gathered worship. I’m saying God wants us to present our authentic selves individually and corporately.

    Specifically, I’ve seen churches trying to be like “that famous successful church/worship star”, while rejecting the unique talents and sound of the people they have. This is dehumanizing.

    Revelation 4/5 speaks of indigineous worship from every tongue, tribe and nation offering their unique heart language to the Lord.

    Bottom line, IMO, the attractional should be prioritized as a secondary byproduct of the representational. Hope that makes sense.

  9. Super agree.. just a few thoughts..

    1. I think also we make it too spiritual because we don’t know what being spiritual is.. when we got saved, all we knew was the spiritual encounter we’ve just had and the things that we see people doing.. so we tend to think that we have to do the same, so “something spiritual” will happen..

    2. Then we realise, as we continue to walk with Him, that being spiritual is really just living by the standard of His word.. Everything becomes spiritual, whether planning or actually leading worship.. Personally, He is teaching me to trust Him more in leading worship, but to also do my part in preparing – choosing songs, rehearsing, praying, worshipping privately… After all, His spirit is in us always.

    3. Love the idea of this site.. Putting our experiences into words and exposing the difficulties/problems, breaking the mold so we can continue to grow in our worship.. Thank You ;o)

  10. Super agree.. just a few thoughts..

    1. I think also we make it too spiritual because we don’t know what being spiritual is.. when we got saved, all we knew was the spiritual encounter we’ve just had and the things that we see people doing.. so we tend to think that we have to do the same, so “something spiritual” will happen..

    2. Then we realise, as we continue to walk with Him, that being spiritual is really just living by the standard of His word.. Everything becomes spiritual, whether planning or actually leading worship.. Personally, He is teaching me to trust Him more in leading worship, but to also do my part in preparing – choosing songs, rehearsing, praying, worshipping privately… After all, His spirit is in us always.

    3. Love the idea of this site.. Putting our experiences into words and exposing the difficulties/problems, breaking the mold so we can continue to grow in our worship.. Thank You ;o)

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