What is Worship?


What is Worship?

Honestly, I’m a little uncomfortable with the way we do “worship” at contemporary churches. I try to get into the feeling of it, and make it a “worshipful” experience – a special time between me and God, but I notice it’s really hard for me to focus on connecting with God rather than just start singing a fun song I like. What value does this have?

Most of the time I go away from “worship” singing without feeling much value. Does anyone else feel this way?

Although I love singing, I have a hard time imagining this is what God meant or intends for us – I mean I just don’t get this sense from scripture – but I’m not sure.

The other problem I have with this is that, while it’s fun for me, it’s weird to non-Christians. If it’s not necessary or helpful, then I’d rather not do it if it’s keeping people from coming (or getting saved!)

What value does it have for you? What do you think?


16 Responses to “What is Worship?”

  1. 1 Lara

    I think you’re missing the point!

    I know, it seems like a cheap shot, but let me explain the insight God gave me this past week after my first Atlanta “worship” experience…and I think you’ll find it connects with your last post on community!

    Worship today has become individualized and dumbed down. You said it yourself…”I try to get into the feeling of it, and make it a “worshipful” experience – a special time between me and God…” You asking “what is worship” is great, but may I be so bold as to ask what ISN’T worship?!

    It seems we have limited “worship” in today’s church (and are teaching people) to singing cutesy little songs that have a catchy tune and some nice words that make us “feel good.” I am not so sure that worship was really meant to make us “feel” anything. Worship is the way that we offer our thanksgiving, praise, gratitude, etc. to a glorious God in every ACTION, every THOUGHT, every WORD…with the knowledge that even our best is not good enough to give Him what He deserves. To limit it to the realm of evoking some kind of feeling is most definitely missing the mark…as is limiting it to singing. Worship involves so much more.

    That brings me to my second point…worship is NOT an individual endeavor. Sure, there are parts of it that are your own offerings to our incredible King. But I firmly believe that worship is COMMUNAL! I can’t really flesh this one out cause it is a new “aha” for me from this past week, but I am convinced that this is part of God’s intention and can’t wait to begin to dig in to it.

    So, do I have a point? I don’t know. Really I’m just one more confused sheep trying to figure out what this whole following Jesus business is all about. I take comfort knowing that His grace extends to even my random ramblings!

    Good stuff though, Jesse! I look forward to hearing and reading more as we adventure through this crazy summer!

  2. 2 Corey

    I always had a hard time with this too. The hard part for me was one, the music. Most of the music kinda sucked, pop-junk that you would clap too. I had just gotten married, stopped participating in the hardcore/straight edge scene, and here I am standing there, clapping. The lyrics meant nothing to me either, just sappy loves songs really. I never understood why people would stand there and raise their hands, all seemed silly to me. I don’t think I really understood, or participated in worship until the last couple years. We started going to a new church, and the worship was way different than I was used to. They sang all hymns, but with modern music. The words are what did it for me. They were packed with scripture, theology, and purpose. I felt like I was learning about God while singing, becoming closer to Him. It also followed a pattern. First as song of praise, then a song of confession, last 3 songs of response. Thats order meant something to me. The band also had a impression on me, there was no showmanship. I have played worship with many churches, and they always stressed how you look when you play, I hated that. This band was plain, the music was simple, and the worship leader did not demand attention. I never would focus on them, I would only focus on what I was singing, and what it meant.

    Well, thats my story.

  3. 3 Daryl

    I’m with Lara on this one, man. If worship is what we do for 20 minutes during the singing on Sunday morning, then how do we worship for the whole rest of the week?

    Sounds to me that for you, singing together on Sunday morning comes across as a bit weird. And it is. It CAN be really good, but if it’s not your cup of tea, don’t stress too much about it. Worship God other ways instead. I’m not really into dance, but I understand that for some people, it’s the most passionate form of worship they can imagine. Maybe for you, worship is writing or walking or painting or meditating or enjoying nature or working or playing…. Whatever God wired you up for is what you will enjoy the most, and consequently when you do it out of the inspiration that Jesus brings, you are worshiping.

    For me, I love making music – God gifted me for it… so I let Jesus be the inspiration for the music that I make… I also love nature and it’s amazing designs, and when I study and admire it, I find I am in awe of God’s creativity and worship comes naturally. It’s not weird at all. I think the problem is that we have made Sunday morning “worship” a bit weird. Part of my goal as a worship pastor is to make it normal again and to show people other ways to worship that maybe fit their God-given individuality a bit more.

  4. 4 jessephillips

    Wow, thanks for the comments, friends. I don’t know. I like singing, and I like that feeling I get on a good worship song when I’m focusing on God and thinking about his amazing love and grace (love songs like “It is Well”, and “Blessed Be Your Name” – talk about suffering), I do.

    That feels like worship, I wish I felt that all the time.

    But I know worship is not constrained to that, and a lot of times I feel like the worship experience is contrived and in-authentic – too narrow, like it’s a feeble, yet over-confidant, expression of what true worship really is.

  5. 5 Jessica

    there was a really good sermon about worship by Skip Heitzing from a worship leaders conference that was on my HSE2 ipod. You should see if you can get Jeff Kuhn to make you a copy 🙂 (or if not I could dig it up and send it to you). It really helped me to get a better perspective on worship music. Worship isn’t really supposed to be about the worship leader “feel like” worshipping or have some emotional experience. Its our own coldness of heart that keeps us from fully enjoying worship–who is the worship for? Is it for you, or is it a sacrifice we give unto God for his enjoyment? Where is our focus when we’re worshiping? Is it on us? or is it on God?

    That said, I understand your concern that worship music feels weird to non-believers–it definitely was weird to me the first time I came to church (but apparently not so weird I never came back). But I think cutting out worship is maybe not the best way of addressing that concern–if someone is really uncomfortable with worship, maybe they’d feel more comfortable starting with a bible study group as an introduction to God. Most churches (at least not ones like the Rock) do not require non-believers to participate in the worship portion of the sermon. They are free to not sing along if they feel uncomfortable participating anyway. And there is definitely a value to spending time letting praises of God roll off our lips, the more we say something, the more it reinforces it in our head.

  6. 6 jessephillips

    Hey Jessica! Thanks so much for commenting on my blog! How did you find my blog? (This is Jessica Winblad, right?).

    Thanks for your insight. that’s a good point that it’s not for me, but for God. Yeah, about the feeling thing, you’re right, it’s not about my feeling, I acknowledge that, but it’s still there.

    Honestly, Jessica, I don’t feel like God wants us to sing to him like this. If it’s all for God and not us, I have a very hard time believing that this is what God wants us to do – because it’s not explicit in scripture.

    I’d love to discuss this though – what do you think is our the scriptural basis for how we do worship today?

  7. As a recovering music minister, I have struggled with this for 11 years, especially these last few years in Atlanta. I have been passed over for positions because I didn’t make them ‘happy’ or feel good. I try not to be bitter, but I think our idea of corporate worship is all off. Our scriptural basis for worship is mostly OT, but I’m not sure that really should apply to our new covenant lives (a recurring theme here).

    Next Sunday, notice how many times the song text says “I” or “me”. This is troublesome for several reasons. First, it is individualistic, taking away the whole communal context of being with fellow believers. Why don’t more worship songs say “we” or “us”? Second, it shows that WE are the focus of the worship service, not God.

    We consume worship. We buy the CD’s, buy tickets for the concerts, and tip the church for providing a feel-good ‘worship experience’. I’m guilty of this as a worship leader, but what should I do? I guess I’ll keep doing what I’m doing: NOT leading worship.

  8. 8 Asher

    what evidence do you have that shows that singing to God (for worship) is not scriptural sounded?

  9. 9 jessephillips

    Thanks, Asher, for the comment. Great question! … I just spent about 10 minutes looking at all the references of “worship” in the bible (via biblegateway.com) and “sing/sang/sung.”

    I think you’re right. It seems that they sing a lot in the bible. And in the NT there are a few admonitions to sing to God, “sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”, “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs”

    So I guess singing is good and proper. I was wrong. Thanks for making me look at this.

    Worship is less clear. the world worship often appears like this “fell down and worshipped” – from the context of all the verses I looked at, although worship doesn’t seem to be defined anywhere in the bible, I don’t think it’s actually composed of singing. At least in all the places it appears, it doesn’t seem like “sing” is a synonym for “worship.” While the psalms say to sing praise to God, again, worship doesn’t seem to be synonymous with this. However, from the context in the OT, it seems like “worship” meant to humble yourself before something (God or idols) and praise it somehow, do some kinds of acts of worship, perhaps including sacrifices and prayers, showings of reverence/respect, acts of devotion? – perhaps singing is included in this, but I doubt very much that singing is what is meant by worship in 90% of the verses where the word appears.

    Romans 12:1,2 seems to imply that worship is living sacrificially.

    Er, so. I’m just stating information above. I actually think now, after your question, that singing does have some scriptural important place. It makes sense, that, if we’re supposed to sing, that we would do it together when we meet – helping members to learn new songs and have spiritual songs on their minds through-out the week – for their benefit.

    Further more, most of the references about singing are found in the OT. And I have to believe that since they didn’t have the Holy Spirit, their singing had less feeling inside their hearts and was more “rote.” Yet they did it. So, perhaps singing is just a good spiritual practice – something that works in your heart slowly over time – something that changes you b/c you remember lyrics more than you do sermons.

    Well, those are some of my thoughts. Any thoughts, Asher?

  10. 10 Will

    Read in the NT where Paul speaks of our spiritual acts of worship.

    Seems like a lot of tradition we have in the modern church…

  11. I come from a somewhat traditional black Baptist church in my hometown where praise and worship was literally the highlight of the worship experience. Imagine a worship experience filled with a lot singing, dancing, shouting, crying, people falling out, speaking in tongues, etc. Totally different from your contemporary church worship experience, right? But what I find in these settings is that it is filled with so much emotionalism that you almost forget who you are singing to and what you are singing about.

    Since then, I’ve moved to Atlanta and now I attend a Contemporary Church.Being a member of an awesome church like Buckhead Church in Atlanta, GA (Shout out to Buckhead!) is totally different from what I experienced in my hometown. I’ve experienced both extremes… “too much emotion” vs. “not enough emotion”.

    Here’s my perspective: I personally wish that there was a middle ground… An environment where we aren’t forcing people to lift their hands or behave a certain way, but also an environment where we aren’t leaving people to just stand there and look at us while we sing songs on a stage.

    if I had to choose, I personally prefer the contemporary church worship experience. It allows me to think about the words. I just feel odd lifting my hands (LOL). As far as the black baptist church worship experience – you never get to think and you feel odd NOT lifting your hands and shouting. And I hated that!

    But I guess you have to make the best of what you can.

    Great post!

    T H I N K | C H A N G E

  12. 12 Asher

    Hey Jessie. I appreciate you going back and looking up singing. So if I understand you right I think you are trying to understand what is worship? Or perhaps how much singing plays into worship?

    Well I’m working all this weekend and I have to get up early tomorrow so I apologize for the short response. I will have to be brief but I will try not to be shallow.

    In your fourth paragraph I think you nailed what worship is very well. Worship is humbling yourself before God and recognizing who God is and who you are. It is the act of giving God His due praise, and acknowledging only God is worthy to be praised. You are correct to say that worship can take different shapes and forms. Prayer, sacrifice are fair game. You are also correct (after doing some research) that singing counts as well. As you know now there are many references in the OT urging people to sing with all their might and giving God the praise He is due. I would also include dancing. Yes, dancing. That is something that not many Christians engage in (for worship) but dancing is fair game to. David dancing before the Lord comes immediately to mind.

    I would also like to open up the definition of worship. I consider any thing can be worship provided one is humbling themselves before God, praising God for who He is, thanking God for all He has done, etc. So some people prefer to singing, others prefer to walk in nature and pray, others like to dance, and some people may prefer to write. I consider all these things worship provided the intent/focus is on God.

    I agree with you that singing does not automatically mean worship or vice versa. Though I would make the argument that the bible seems to imply/assume singing when one worships. I can provide reasons why I think that to be the case, but I will state only one.

    How do you communicate to someone that you love them? There are a lot of ways to communicate ” I love you”, “I think the world of you”, “my heart is yours”, but perhaps one of the best ways is to say it. With one’s voice. Deep from within with deep conviction and passion. This is perhaps a good way to think of worship, as it is us saying “I love you” and “my hearts is yours” to God. Perhaps the most natural way for us to communicate that is to say it. It’s not the only way, but it perhaps our most natural response.

    I disagree with you concerning the people in the O.T had less “feeling in their hearts” because they did not have the Holy Spirit. I do not think there is any evidence for this position, and furthermore I do not think this is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit can certainly empower, teach, and strengthen our journey in following Christ, but it does NOT worship/praise God for us. Nor does it strengthen it. We may be more aware of God’s presence, but worship comes from deep within. It comes from the everyday experience of living life and acknowledging/embracing God’s providing hand. A person’s worship/praise is not less or more because the Holy Spirit is upon them. Rather the Holy Spirit is attracted to someone’s heart (think worship) as a pre-condition/requirement to work powerfully in someone’s life. Meaning first your worship/heart must be right and then the Holy Spirit will come. Not the other way around.

  13. 13 jessephillips

    Thanks for your comment, Asher! I agree, I think you’re right that many things are worship , and you’re probably right about the Holy Spirit thing.

    I’m sorry, I disagree with this: “Though I would make the argument that the bible seems to imply/assume singing when one worships.” – I read through the verses in bible gateway, worship is rarely associated with singing – “he fell down and worshipped” happens a lot, and it’s not singing.

    I think a quick review of verses where worship and singing appear will show this.


  14. 14 Asher

    Good. To find a definition of a word that is unclear one might look at another word and compare it to the other word to find out what it means. So our word in question is worship. If one thought that worship was another way to say singing then you could look in the text for the word singing and see if the word worship is near. As you correctly state the word worship is not near the word singing (at least only very rarely).

    To here is to stop short. Another way to find out if worship and singing have something in common is to look at the context of when the word singing is used.

    Again I have a long day tomorrow so I can’t (right now list out specific examples). But look when the word singing in the Old Testament. Very often the people (or God is asking the people ) to sing and to give God his praise. Does this sound familiar? Yes, as we stated earlier worship is when one praises God for all He is and all He has done. We also stated earlier than one can bow down, or worship God in a variety of positions/places.

    Take a look again at the instances when the word singing is in the bible. You will see that what the people are in fact doing is worship. As I said before humans naturally use their voice to express praise, love and gratitude. While worship does not only mean singing, singing/speaking is thought to be naturally implied (but not exclusive to).

    We can also look at other religions and cultures. Bowing is part of one’s worship experience but singing/chanting/humming (think using your voice) is commonly used.

    Again there are many ways to say I love you. Many ways to show that you love someone. Naturally we tend to use our voice to express it. We also tend to speak/sing to God that we love him.

  15. 15 Asher

    Whether we agree or disagree if singing is implied in worship we can surely agree that the position of one’s heart is of utmost importance. How you bow/sing and why you bow/sing is what ultimately counts. I assume that we can definitely be in agreement of what truly matters.

  16. 16 Asher


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