Creative Director’s note: Summer is upon us, and that means youth groups across the nation are gearing up for church camp and music festivals. When I was growing up, the music at these events consisted primarily of a worship leader with a mullet and a keyboard, or if we were lucky, an acoustic guitar. (For some reason, mullets were NOT optional for 80’s music ministers.)
Today, the praise and worship at a camp, concert or even church service runs the risk of looking identical to a rock concert. Electric guitars, light shows and smoke surround hip young men and women. That’s why we asked some modern worship music leaders to share their thoughts on how a Christian can remain focused on authentically praising and honoring God alone when the lights go down and the volume cranks up.
“Reach for the skyyyy...”
If you had any idea how many times I’ve heard this in the past 10 years. My kids love the movie “Toy Story,” and thus, we have countless Buzz Lightyears, Sheriff Woodys, and Bullseye horses scattered all over our house. Seems like every night I finally get our 3-year-old to sleep, I sneak out of his room in the dark and accidentally step on Woody, who very loudly and very obnoxiously yells, “Reach for the skyyyy.”
What I want to reach for is a sledgehammer.
I grew up in a big, conservative, evangelical church. We loved God, we valued the Bible, and we reached out to the world. But when it came to worship, I never really understood what we were doing. I enjoyed the songs OK I guess, but I never quite got it.
In college I started seeing lots of different kinds of worship. I saw people kneeling down in worship; others were shouting and clapping and raising their hands. In my church, if you raised your hand you’d better have a really good question!
It made me wonder, what is worship supposed to look like anyway? And the only way I could begin to answer that question was to start searching through the Bible. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was shocked by what I found. I simply had no idea.
Psalm 63:4 says, “I will praise You as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” Once your eyes are opened to something, you start seeing it everywhere. I can drive for three days straight and never notice a VW Beetle on the road, but I guarantee my kids will notice every single one (and take advantage of the opportunity to punch the snot out of each other too). That’s how this journey has been for me: I began seeing this posture all over the place.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul says, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer…” I saw it again in Psalm 28, Psalm 88, Psalm 143. I saw it in Lamentations 3 and Job 11. I saw what happened when Moses spread out his hands in prayer in Exodus 17. And I’ll never forget seeing Psalm 134:2, “Lift your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord.”
I decided to do what it said. I remember it like it was yesterday. I lifted up my hands and said, “Lord I bless You!” And I’ll never forget it. I felt like chains were coming off me — chains I didn’t even know I carried.
It’s a posture of surrender, obviously. Hence Sheriff Woody being so daggum insistent. But it’s also a posture of celebration (think of a touchdown pass), intercession and adoration.
So let’s head into worship this summer with hearts of surrender, prayers of intercession and songs of adoration. Let’s worship with all that we are — heart, soul, mind and strength — and let’s reach for the sky.
Aaron has served as the worship pastor at Grace Fellowship Church (outside Atlanta) for the past eight years and recently released the album “Dwell.” Aaron and his wife of 11 years, Megan, have four sons – Cooper, Judah, Nyle, and Linen.
Imagine with me: It’s Sunday afternoon. And you’re in Dallas Cowboy stadium (or your favorite team’s stadium if you hate the Cowboys). The cameras are flashing, the sound is pumping and painted faces are screaming. Then the announcer bellows, “Now let’s welcome your Dallas Cowboys!” The players run out onto the field, and everyone goes bananas.
Now imagine with me: you’re at church camp. The service begins and the announcement guy says, “Let’s welcome the worship band!” Everybody rushes the stage, the lights kick on with a bang. Hands go up. There’s no question people are worshipping. The question is:
If we’re not careful, our worship can amount to nothing more than responding to the rising and falling of the performance of some band or some football team (idolatry). We are all always worshipping something or someone. Life is the continual and effortless response of worship to that which is god.
So what are you responding to?
Worship can be defined as a rhythm of revelation and response. We see something glorious – a professional team, some band, Jesus (revelation) – and then we respond with cheering, clapping and generosity (response).
Authentic Christian worship sees God and then responds accordingly. That means we must identify how we see God and where we see Him.
We see the Holy One with the eyes of the heart (Ephesians 1:18). God is invisible (1 Timothy 1:17). He is Spirit (John 4:24). He says that no man can see Him and live (Exodus 33:20). God the Son has already come and has resurrected. Thus, in our day and age, we must see Him with the eyes of the heart.
But where do we see God? Contrary to popular belief, “the sky” or “people” or “creation” are all inadequate revealers of God and will lead to idolatry apart from the Gospel (Romans 1:18-23). The only crystal clear place we “see God” today is in His Word. The Bible is the revelation of God to mankind. We see the glory of God in the Scriptures and in the story of the Scriptures, namely, the Gospel.
I tell younger worship leaders often: if there’s not Scripture in the worship set, then it’s not really a worship set because Scripture is where we see God, and worship is responding to what we have seen.
Have you ever been in a church service and been confused about whether you were worshipping because you really liked the song, or because God is really holy? Me too.
Music alone cannot produce worship that God is pleased with. Only God’s Word and the Gospel can do that. They are how we see God. So next time you’re in a worship service, ask yourself these questions as you are worshipping:
1. What am I responding to?
2. Is the worship leader utilizing Scripture in his/her leadership?
3. Are the songs we are singing God-centered, Scriptural and Gospel-saturated?
These questions will help you determine why you are excited. Or bored.
Examine your life as well. Are you leading yourself to the Scriptures and the Gospel daily so that you can see God? You are continually and effortlessly responding to that which is your god. Remember, we are always worshipping. I pray with all my heart the object of your worship is Jesus.
Matt Papa lives in Raleigh, N.C. with his wife, Lauren, and their daughters, Paisley and Stella. He serves on staff as a worship leader at The Summit Church in Durham and recently released “This Changes Everything.”
For all the positive things the modern worship movement has brought, it has also created some confusion at times. Some now feel that the only true worship, or at least the best worship, can only come in a darkened room facing a stage filled with folks that play hip music and have fantastic haircuts. Lest you think I am a “contemporary” service hater, I find a lot of these worship experiences to be very moving and I love being a part of them, but if they are teaching a generation of people that worship is only contained in a concert setting we have a problem.
Communicating what the Bible says about worship is vital in this day and age. At its core, worship is simply a reaction to God’s revelation of Himself to us. Lots of times it won’t come through a song or even in a pew. True biblical worship can take many shapes and forms:
How you dress (1 Peter 3)
Writing Creatively (The Psalms)
Keeping yourself physically and mentally pure (Romans 12:1)
How you treat those around you (1 John)
God reveals all kinds of things about His character through creation as well. Psalm 19 says that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” This Psalm especially comes alive for those who have ever trembled at the edge of a canyon or stood on the beach under a starry sky.
God also reveals Himself through His written Word. The psalmist continues: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” As God reveals Himself through His Word, our response should be worship. Taking it a step further, we can say if any sort of worship experience is not rooted in the Word of God then we are in danger of worshiping something other than God’s revelation of Himself, which the Bible calls idolatry.
So the question is, what do our spirits respond to? Do we see the revelation of God all around us and in His Word or do we see other things that we love? In worship services, are we responding to God’s revelation through His Word or to something else?
I see a lot of people who are in need of a fresh revelation of God’s love and character to drive their worship, which is why I love this quote from Alan Ross:
“For worship to be as glorious as it should be, for it to lift people out of their mundane cares and fill them with adoration and praise, for it to be the life-changing and life-defining experience it was designed to be, it must be inspired by a vision so great and so glorious that what we call worship will be transformed from a routine gathering into a transcendent meeting with the living God.” **
In other words, worship is a reaction to God’s revelation of His glory. I pray you see Him and respond to Him today. He is out there writing His glory and love on the clouds today and within the letter He wrote to us centuries ago. His promise is that if you seek Him with your whole heart you will find Him, and I promise that when you find Him you will worship – with or without the fantastic haircuts.
**Quote from Alan Ross book “Recalling the Hope of Glory” 2006. Kregel Grand Rapids MI.
Chuck Hooten started leading worship when he was 16 and has been doing it ever since. Chuck now leads worship for a weekly college Bible study of over 1,000 students and for a local church in Birmingham. Ala. He also plays for camps and events all around the nation.