What is missing from today’s worship services?

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.

1. Scripture
2. Understanding
3. Passion
4. Obedience
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.

Emotion

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.

Authentic Worship

John 4:23-24
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?

9 comments to What is missing from today’s worship services?

  • Isaac Murrell

    I think these are great points and I agree with them. The Tozer quote is thought provoking too. To add to these great points, I think prayer should be more involved in our worship services. Indeed, there are times when we pray in church such as before offering and before communion, but it would be sweet to see prayer saturating a worship service. An extended time of confession or response after a song, or maybe an extended time to prayer with one another around us needs to be involved, or at least should be involved, when the church body meets together. In all, I think that obedience is the major concept in all of worship. If the church isn’t living out obedience then worship will suffer. If a church is trying to live obediently, then I think everything will follow and it will result in worship.

  • Jonathan George

    I think when it comes to emotion that there are also way to many churches that don’t have a great balance on emotion (and it’s very hard too). I have been to many evangelical churches who are all about emotion and the “what I can get out of this” mindset. Unfortunately nothing really is being done to get their hearts checked and I feel as if there is a terrible trick that the devil likes to play when it come to “emotions in the church”. Either we aren’t emotional enough or we are way to emotional. I think that we need to cut all of that emotional nonsense out and just focus on Christ. When that happens then our emotions would be in check and the devil would have no room for silly “emotional” roller coasters. Nonetheless I loved the response in your post :)

  • Peter Hamblen

    I really appreciate your top three Dr.O. I can especially relate to your point about emotion being absent from worship. I can remember several times of corporate worship in seinor high youthgroup where I saw someone passionatly singing to the Lord. I remember asking myself, “Is that how we are supposed to sing? With emotion?”
    I would say that one of the reasons for lack of emotion is that many believers just don’t realize how emotional the Psalmists were in their worship. The Psalmists, as you said, express great emotion in their worship to the Lord. If the Psalmists of old used emotion in their worship, shouldn’t we as well. I agree that the answer is yes.

  • Eric M. Stigall

    All great points! Emotion really stood out to me in the fact that I have been to worship services where everyone just seems emotionless. It is so important to remember who we are worshiping and what a blessing it is to be able to do that. Being self-conscious of what is going on around us is important when participating in worship. I think it is really neat when worship leaders just give some time to pray for one another or confess our sins during the service. A lot of emotion is prompted in these times of genuine worship. Very though provoking article! Thanks!

  • Jason Carnegis

    Active participation is one thing that is definitely missing from church services today. Too many times there is a majority of the congregation standing still barely singing or not even singing at all. The most some people do sometimes is clap. I think that in order to make worship services less and less like a show or a concert, having the congregation participate in worshiping God will lead to more authentic worship. I think that having active participation will help radically change how the congregation worships. It will definitely influence their emotions, which is lacking in church services throughout our country. Many people ‘worship’ with angry, tired, or uninterested looks on their faces many times. I think that many people have said that they have never experienced the presence of God because they don’t want to experience it or did not prepare themselves to worship. It is an exciting and awesome experience when there is a large group of energetic worshipers praising God together. I also think there should be more flexibility in a worship service, like how Aaron Keyes led worship. Having impromptu times of prayer or singing can really add to the authenticity of worship. This will allow us to truly worship God with what is in our hearts.

  • Caleb Gordon

    I agree with all the above statements, I especially am impacted by the lack of authentic worship. Vain worship has become too common in our worship services. Even if we go through the motions and say all the right things and do all the right things, unless our heart is rightly oriented and in response and obedience to God, our worship is vain. There are definitely times in my life where my worship is vain, and I continually pray and ask that God would put my heart in the right place before I approach Him in worship. Prayer before worship and preparing our hearts before worship is very important and I think sometimes we rush into worship too soon and have not started with an important aspect, if not the most important aspect, OUR HEART.

  • Tim Fehl

    Excellent post Dr. O! I couldn’t agree more with all three points. I have to admit the manifestation of God’s presence is one that I really think people are missing. I don’t think in my entire life of being involved in church or worship I’ve ever heard it taught or practiced especially in our churches that are cessational in belief. Recently though, I had a prolonged exposure at a charismatic church and couldn’t help but notice how the Holy Spirit and the Presence of God were central to their worship. It seemed to have such a profound difference in the way people worshipped as well. There was an expectation in worship that I haven’t been around in awhile. If there is one thing the church needs more of today in worship, I believe its the manifestation of God’s presence.

  • Zoe Jamison

    I also agree with the statements mentioned above, and I am glad that I waited to respond to this until after chapel today. The point the chapel speaker made was that worship requires sacrifice. When we sacrifice everything to God, it renders our emotions, our actions, and thoughts. I think that complete sacrifice is the missing piece in worship today because when we sacrifice everything our worship will be authentic. Complete sacrifice is what God desires from us like it says in Romans 12; therefore, if we give that to Him, the presence of God will be manifest in our worship services. Emotions are a more difficult thing to render up to God, but if we do, then that balance that we all desire our emotions to find will be found and then used appropriately for the glory of God in our worship. There are many things related to or are the outcome of sacrifice that are missing in today’s worship services, but the big picture as i said before is that we are missing complete sacrifice.

  • Jordan Redfield

    I really like your choices, Dr. O. Something else I’ve been thinking about lately: I’m beginning to feel like we are lacking a sense of victory in our worship services. I feel like we’re almost doubting or limiting the power of God. Is the church subconsciously feeling defeated? I’ve been challenged by this a lot lately and I think it’s a dangerous thing we need to be wary of. Sometimes we seem burdened by the brokenness of the world, by the powers of darkness, and I think that mindset has maybe creeped into our worship services. It’s hard to passionately worship in spirit and in truth if you’re subconsciously feeling defeated. If you know you’re going to fall back to the same sin you struggle with. If you doubt God’s ability to work through His church to increase His kingdom throughout the earth. Do we really believe John 16:33? That Jesus has overcome the darkness of the world? Do we really believe that the Spirit of the living God is within us and giving us power (Acts 1:8)? Power to proclaim His gospel and His glory to the ends of the earth? To do incredible things in the name of Jesus for the glory of God? I sometimes feel like the church really doubts whether it has the power to accomplish, to overcome, and to have victory.
    I know these are tough questions, and I haven’t totally sorted out what I think about it yet, but I really think this may be something that is affecting and hindering our worship services.
    I would love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this!