Episode 328: Worship – Cultivating Authentic Experiences

We set out to record this episode on both worship and preaching. By the time we were part way through we realized we had two separate episodes. Today, we’re focusing on worship. Next week, we’ll dive into preaching.

The Purpose of Worship

The place where the local church usually sees the most people is in worship. So, what’s the purpose of worship?

There are several directions we can take to answer this, but let’s start with the simplest: worship focuses on God, connecting us to God and to the people we encounter daily. It’s about centering on God’s love for everyone. We express that love first in words of praise, then in actions—living it out in our everyday lives. The purpose of worship is to serve and love God and those around us. We gather to experience and celebrate God’s love, especially how we’ve experienced it since our last gathering. Thus, worship involves a gathering to experience God’s love and a scattering to express it in the world.

Authentic and Contextual Worship

Authentic worship, focused on God, is contextual and indigenous to those worshiping and inviting others to join. Worship in one place won’t look the same as in another. This helps set the table for what worship is about and what we focus on today.

When planning worship, it’s essential that services focus on Jesus, have a flow, and move people from a place of welcome and centering on God to glorifying God and being sent into the mission field. Some services, however, may feel more like disconnected performances. Intentional planning can help create both flow and focus to worship.

Worship as a Corporate Gathering

Worship includes the words and acts through which we meet and experience God’s love, then respond by loving others. Worship isn’t an individual activity; it’s an intentional, corporate gathering of faith. One common stumbling block in many churches is what’s often called ‘worship wars.’

The real tension isn’t between traditional and contemporary music styles, but our preferences. When worship centers on God, it’s not about our style preferences; it’s about focusing on God’s love. Traditional or contemporary, worship starts with a focus on God’s love through Jesus and sharing that love.

Acts 2:42 states: ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers.’ Worship, at its core, is about proclaiming and celebrating the gospel of Jesus. If we shift the focus to our preferences, we risk manipulating others. Worship should center on Jesus, God’s love in human form.

The Role of Music in Worship

Music plays a vital role in worship, connecting us to God and helping us respond to God’s call. If music becomes about personal preference, worship turns into a self-serving concert. Worship is about experiencing God’s love communally and living it out in the community.

Essential elements of worship include liturgy—prayers, affirmations of faith, laments, confession, Holy Communion, and Baptism. These undergird the message of God’s love and send us into the world to live as God’s children. Regarding planners, worship planning should be a team effort, involving those responsible for each worship element. The pastor and music director shouldn’t be the only planners.

Team-Based Worship Planning

Worship planning is a team event. Each person involved in an element of worship should participate in planning. Some may join planning for a specific period, while others might be involved regularly. The goal is to focus on God’s love and how it’s expressed through scripture, creating a worship experience where people feel they’ve been in God’s presence and can carry that presence with them.

Scripting the Worship Service

Another tip from contemporary services is scripting the service. For example, if a service starts at 11:00 am, it includes a prelude at 11:00 am, greeting and welcome at 11:03 am, etc. Behind the scenes, it’s scripted to flow smoothly and keep everything connected, avoiding dead air. Moments of disconnection, such as waiting for someone to walk to the podium, create disconnection and raise subtle anxiety.

Long-Term Worship Planning

Planning shouldn’t be done weekly but should involve a larger perspective, considering key events like Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. These events tell the story of God’s love. For instance, graduation Sunday should help experience and celebrate God’s love, not be an intrusion. Holy Communion isn’t just a special occasion; it’s central to worship and should shape the whole worship experience. Ideally, we’d celebrate Communion every Sunday as part of worship.

The Liturgical Calendar & Obstacles to Worship

The liturgical calendar helps us tell God’s love story throughout the year. While not binding, it guides us in worship planning, music selection, and overall worship flow, helping us experience and share God’s love cohesively.

Before diving into essentials for worship, it’s important to address a common barrier—announcements. Worship isn’t the time for announcements or church projects. These should lead into or support worship, not interrupt it. Announcements are often about preferences and can distract from the focus on God. Most announcements can be communicated outside of the worship experience, avoiding unnecessary interruptions. Worship should focus on connecting with God.

Rehearsals for new hymns or songs can happen outside of worship time. Disconnecting to learn a new hymn during worship breaks the flow. It’s essential to maintain an uninterrupted worship experience.

Time Stamp for The Path of Christ-Centered Leadership

00:27 Influences on Leadership

02:37 Habits and Experiences Shaping Leadership

05:36 Identifying and Cultivating Emerging Leaders

10:05 Developing Leaders: Key Considerations

14:16 The Needs of Followers: Trust, Stability, Compassion, and Hope

37:57 The Importance of Spiritual and Mental Grounding for Leaders

43:09 Final Thoughts and Benediction

Other Episodes in this Series

Episode 327: Cultivating Christ-Centered Leadership

Episode 326: Discipleship – A Ministry Masterclass

Episode 325: God’s Mission – Exploring the Heart of Ministry