One of the true privileges of my job in the Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University is helping to train young people who will serve the Church as worship leaders. Seeing how their knowledge expands, by God’s grace, over the course of four years is a joy. Engaging them in conversations to help them anticipate that everyone they eventually encounter in their congregations will have opinions–many of them strong–on the specific Sunday-morning activity for which they will be responsible can often distill worship to its core, its true essence (stripped of the first-world, western, American, suburban–in my case in Elgin, Ill.; choose your appropriate adjectives) lacquer that so many of us inadvertently, one hopes, slap onto corporate worship. Yes, worship leaders must be sensitive to cultural contexts, but doing so should not override central tenets, and, it’s been my experience, too often it does.
In going through some old papers the other day, I came across an excellent article that addresses this subject extremely well. It comes from the pen of one of my all-time favorite authors, early contemporary Christian music pioneer John Fischer, whose end-of-the-magazine essays in the old CCM magazine were must-reads for anyone wrestling with the intersection of Christianity and culture. (CCM‘s decline as a viable journal can be traced, in my opinion, to the day John’s insights were no longer welcome there.) I still use in my teaching two books that are collections of some of those columns–Real Christians
Don’t Dance and True Believers Don’t Ask Why. (I was just on Amazon’s site and am pleased to see that these two and several others of John’s books are now available for Kindle.)
I have had the privilege of knowing John for about 20 years–he has spoken and performed at Judson several times–and I still find his ministry to be a blessing to me. Here’s what he had to say on the subject of worship in an essay from 2010 entitled “Why Worship?”
I will worship God today because it is good and right to do so.
I will worship God today, not because of what it will do for me, or because it is popular, or because it is Sunday, or because I like the worship music, but for the simple reason that I was made to do this. To worship God is what I am here for.
Worship is not an asset. It is not an added benefit to my life like working out or taking vitamins. Nor is it a secret formula that will add a deeper dimension to my life. Worship is the air I breathe. It is the blood pumping through my veins. It is the cells in my body that reproduce and keep me alive for this. Everything else I do is extemporaneous. To worship God is the root of my being.
I understand why, but it is not necessarily good that worship has become a trend–a seminar that pastors attend to learn how to do it better. Music directors are now worship leaders, and this is all well and good, but it can also be demeaning to worship if we end up thinking that this is all worship is: the latest idea that will get more people to come to church.
Remember the pet rock craze? Or canned air? Or rain in a jar? Or anything else so basic that someone tries to make a buck off of packaging, in a clever way, what everyone already has for the taking? In the same way we risk the danger of belittling worship by marketing it or using it as a means to an end. No one needs to sell worship to anyone. Worship is the end. The Westminster Catechism calls it the “chief end” of man. That’s another way of saying it is the most important thing we were created to do. And if it’s that important, then it is accessible to everybody, all the time.
The Lord our God is one God, and we will love him and worship him because of who he is and who we are. It is good and right to do so. It is arrogant not to do so. We are his creatures; he is the creator. We are the sheep of his pastures; he is the shepherd. We are mere people; he is God. To do anything but worship him is to inadvertently put us in his place, and I don’t think anyone in his or her right mind really wants to be there.
John Fischer now writes a daily blog, “The Catch,” to which I subscribe, and I would encourage you to check it out: John Fischer’s “The Catch.” (This week’s offerings thus far have been particularly poignant.) I think you will find him to be a welcome addition to your daily walk.
The Lord be with you!