It seems that everywhere I turn the question of worship comes up in conversation.  It may be discussions with other ministers, both in this state and across the country about what constitutes worship or the essential elements in worship or whether it is possible to attract new people with traditional worship when contemporary worship seems to be so popular.  We debate about the style of music and whether or not the Apostle’s Creed is necessary.  Screen or no screen, and if you have a screen how much do you put up there?  The balance of visual vs. auditory is a big discussion.  Is only a piano needed or do we need guitars and drums? The list of debating points goes on and on.

I am perfectly willing to engage in those discussions and I certainly have my own thoughts along those lines, namely that where possible I think it is good to offer both more traditional forms of worship as well as more contemporary forms of worship.  Some new churches that have started do only contemporary forms of worship, and that is great, and some older established churches prefer to have only the traditional forms of worship, and that is great as long as you do each of them well and with authenticity.

Having said that, I think we do a disservice to the Church and to each other when we limit discussions about worship to such matters that revolve primarily around style and form.  In fact, we seem so often to forget that what we are talking about is WORSHIP.  We substitute discussions about the worship service times on Sunday mornings for discussions about what it means to worship the Lord in spirit and truth

I have known many people over the years who attended a church that did not offer the style of worship service that they most preferred, and yet they were able to come and worship on Sunday mornings because they came with open and expectant hearts before the Lord.  They worshipped on Sunday morning regardless of the style of worship because they did not confine their worship of God to that one hour of the week.  Rather, they worshipped in their Sunday School classes, small groups during the week, private prayer/devotion time daily, and in their job or other setting in which they spent most of their week.

In other words, the gathering with their church family was part of a continuation of the worship that went on throughout the week through prayer, devotion, acts of service to and with their neighbor, and in their work and home setting.  Even if certain elements of the worship service did not appeal to them at a deep level, they understood when they came into the sanctuary that object of the worship was God.  They did not see themselves as the consumers of worship or the recipients of a worship service planned by a group of church leaders.  Rather, they were with the gathered Body of Christ in that time to participate in the worship of God, and they participated in that worship of God through the particular order of service planned for that day.

Now, I wholeheartedly believe that those who plan and lead the worship services need to do so with much thought and prayer.  Those who guide the congregation in that worship time need to make sure that the different elements of the worship service are done to the best of their ability because we owe no less than giving of our best to God.  Also, I do think it is good to have a variety of worship styles because people are different in what speaks to them most.  I am more moved, for example, by a contemporary song or by one of the great hymns of faith than I am by Gregorian Chant.  I like to hear a good message preached in addition to having some silent time in prayer as opposed to total silence for the entire service.  I am fine with the raising of hands in worship and shouts of “Amen!” while at the same time finding it distracting when the preacher calls for the Amen instead of it rising organically out of the congregation.  However, regardless of the style/form of worship it is up to each person who comes to that time to come with an open and expectant heart, ready to listen for that word from God, and ready to experience God’s presence in their/our midst.

A man by the name of Bill Easum gave a great answer many years ago in a conference I attended around this question of worship.  The question was asked of him, “What is the line between entertainment and worship?”  Bill answered with the best answer I have heard to date: “The difference between entertainment and worship is what you do afterward.”  Regardless of the form of the worship service, if it doesn’t move you to spread the love of Christ in word and deed, it’s just entertainment.  It may be entertainment with a majestic pipe organ, an out of tune piano, or with guitars and drums, but if the service doesn’t call you to action for Christ and doesn’t lead you to respond to God’s claim upon your life, then it’s just entertainment.

When the woman at the well asked Jesus a question about which place of worship, Mount Sinai or Mount Gerazim, was the proper place for worship, Jesus replied that the “where” of worship did not matter.  What mattered, and what matters, is worshipping in spirit and truth.

That answer by Jesus still holds up today.