The Substance and Expression of Worship

Recently, I’ve noticed many of the conversations about the new church have been about Worship Style. This is an important topic worth talking about.

In the upcoming weeks, we are going to add a new dimension to the blog…guest writers. Over the years, I have been fortunate to become friends with some really talented people. In order to deepen our conversations, I am going to ask these friends to write about certain topics they have a great deal of experience in.

All this to say…in a few weeks our first guest writer will be posting on the subject of worship. More details to follow!

For today, let’s open a new door and talk a bit about worship music. Now, I am fully aware that worship is much more than the music we sing in church. Everything we do and say for Christ is an act of worship. Our words and deeds define who we are in Christ, and the love we have for his Kingdom, however this is not the type of worship we are going to talk about here. We can save lifestyle worship (Romans 12:1-2) for another post.

Today, I’d like to talk about gathered, or corporate, worship. By this I mean the time Christians spend together in a worship service singing.

Let’s lay the groundwork for this conversation…

While in Seminary, I had a great class called Worship Perspectives. Basically, the class was a study about the history and trends of worship. One particular lecture was very helpful in trying to understand why churches often have very different “styles of worship”. Dr. Sharp spoke about the substance and expression of worship to explain this. Think of worship as a coin; one side represents substance, the other expression.

All musical styles have distinct characteristics that define what type of music they are. For instance, if I played you a country music song, and a Hip-Hop song, you would easily be able to tell the difference. Each style has a certain “substance” that makes it either Country or Hip-Hop. Worship music is no different. It too has certain components or elements that make it unique. Revealing truths about God, helping us to deepen our relationship with God, adoring him, being assured of God’s grace – these are some of the elements that make worship…well worship.

On the other side of the coin we have the expression of that substance. Chances are if you walked into ten churches you would experience ten different expressions of worship. Each church would do something differently; the sound would be different, one might be very traditional, the other extremely contemporary or modern. Some churches worship with the sounds of classical music, while others use sounds that are more like modern rock. One service might be very contemplative and another extremely high energy. Are any of these expressions right or wrong? Is one better than the other?

No, as long as the substance of worship is there. It’s the substance of worship that makes worship…well…worship. Think of it like this. If worship were a piece of candy, then the expression of worship would be the wrapper around the candy. What your worship sounds like is largely dependant on the community context in which you live.

Now here is the problem. In my experience, I have found that many people assess worship based on the expression, not the substance. We pay more attention to the wrapper at the expense of the candy. This can be dangerous. It can lead us down a path that causes us to fall in love with an expression, and not the God that the expression seeks to lead us to; rendering what we call worship anything but.

So, we’ll save the…What will the worship sound like?…question for another day. For this post, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the Substance and Expression of Worship.

So, what do you think?


~ by Anthony Orzo on November 18, 2009.

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