I was recently asked by Rick Lee James to answer a question on his podcast “What is missing from today’s worship services?” You can catch the podcast here. In preparation for the answer to the podcast, I jotted down some thoughts I want to share with you.
There is much about worship today that excites me. We are seeing hosts of young people excited about studying and leading worship. Our churches are emphasizing it more. Denominational lines are blurring with regard to worship traditions.
On the other hand, there is much about worship that needs reforming. On this Reformation Day, we recall the reforms that Martin Luther initiated with his 95 theses. While this post is not specifically on worship reformation, I think that there are some things missing in worship today.
Before I answer this question myself, I asked my students. Here were their top five, which I thought were very good.
5. Active participation
Here are my top three.
Manifest Presence of God
God is omnipresent, meaning he is everywhere at the same time. Yet, Jesus talks about the promised presence of God in Matt. 18:20, when He says “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them.” So when we gather for corporate worship, we have the promised presence of God.
George Barna notes however in a recent survey on worship that “Among Christian adults who regularly attend worship services, one-third said they had never experienced the presence of God”. One might ask, “why not?” Is God not fulfilling his promise? Are people not sensitive to Him?
Tozer gives some light on the subject in Chapter 5 of “The Pursuit of God”. He writes:
The Presence and the manifestation of the Presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His Presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work it is to show us the Father and the Son. If we co-operate with Him in loving obedience God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.
Perhaps we are unaware of his presence. Perhaps we are not surrendered to the Spirit. Perhaps we aren’t being obedient. If not, we lack the radience of the light of his face.
The Psalms are replete with emotion. From David’s anguish and lament, to times of joy and celebration, we see the range of emotions that we as human beings have. We are created in the image of God, and we see in scripture that He has compassion, anger, wrath, pity, rejoices and even laughs!
Yet, somehow I fear that many of us in evangelical churches, check our emotions at the door. We are afraid to genuinely celebrate what God has done in us. Perhaps it is the fear of man, the “accepted” decorum of the church, or personal inhibitions. We don’t want to be labeled too radical or emotional. We should rejoice with those who rejoice.
We should also weep with those who weep. We are probably better celebrators than lamentors. We sometimes don’t carry other’s burdens as we should. We also don’t really mean the line of the song “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” If so, we are typically slow to show it publicly.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
These words of Jesus show that God is seeking worshipers. You only seek that which is hard to find. You don’t seek sand at the beach. You seek the shells. This verse was true for the time that Jesus said it, and I believe that it is true today. Authentic worship, or worship in spirit and in truth, is missing in many churches today. Piper has a great quote on “spirit and truth”, that also ties into the emotions mentioned above.
Together the words “spirit and truth” mean that real worship comes from the spirit within and is based on true views of God. Worship must have heart and worship must have head. Worship must engage your emotions and worship must engage your thought. Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full of unspiritual fighters. Emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates flaky people who reject the discipline of rigorous thought. True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine.
So what have we missed? What else is missing in worship?