As worship leaders, we have a significant responsibility to weigh carefully the words we utilize and the language we employ. Having thoughtfully crafted our messages, we then need to ensure that recipients truly understand our meaning. I like the advice that says, "Don't communicate with the goal of being understood. Communicate in a way that makes it impossible to be misunderstood." And so where do we start with not being misunderstood as worship leaders? We start with the word "worship" itself.
" Worship" is one of those double-duty words frequently employed both as noun and verb. As you might expect, the way we use the word makes a rather large difference as to its meaning and activities implied. When used as a noun, "worship" generally refers to that hour on Sunday morning when we gather as a community of faith in our sanctuary. As in, "I will be attending worship." But it is "worship," the verb, which refers to what might actually transpire once we get to church. It is "worship" the verb that speaks of the transformational meeting that takes place between man and God, and our language needs to move people's understanding of worship from noun to verb.
If we are not thoughtful, we risk describing worship much like we do any recreational activity or entertainment event. We might utilize language that obscures worship's real meaning. For example, we might say, "Come join our worship. We meet at 9am on Sunday. There are plenty of parking spaces that are easy to get in and out of, coffee and snacks on the terrace after the service, friendly greeters, handsome buildings, padded seats, first class music, inspirational oratory, and fun children's programming for the kids." This hour may be such a good experience that many commit to attending worship services week after week, but they may not be worshiping. In this example, we really didn't help them understand the essence of this foundational, eternal activity.
We need to talk about worship, the verb, with a sense of anticipationÑdescribing it as an engaging activity for both worshiper and God. The volitional language of the Psalms encourage us to come into His presence, sing, shout, clap, bow down, praise, glorify, and adore, among a long list of other activities. The idea is that as we praise Him, we build a throne for Him in our midst and He dwells there, participating in ways that are unique and life giving. God has promised to be present and active in a powerful way when we worship Him here on earth. Worship is the meeting of the Bride of Christ and her Groom. This kind of presentness on God's part is catalyticÑoften bringing healing deep within a heart or manifesting itself in ways that are outwardly dramatic.
A few years ago, we were rehearsing for a Hosanna! Music recording at a church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. We were singing a song that declared our allegiance to the Lamb. Our choir had really made the shift from performing to truly offering themselves in worship and each word they sang was sung as a sacrifice of praise to God. A most astonishing thing happened. Suddenly, there was jumping and shouting and hugging on the back row of men (and this is in a Southern Baptist Church, mind you). One of the singers who had been deaf in one ear suddenly and miraculously could hear through both. It was real.
We hadn't intended to hold a healing service.We hadn't pitched a tent and painted "Revival Here Tonight" signs. We were simply dedicated to touching the heart of God with our thanksgiving, praise and adoration, and God was there moving among us. This is how God works in worship. He moves in ways we cannot anticipate and touches us in places only He knows how to reach.
When we talk with our people about worship, we need to speak of an activity in which we offer all that we are in a effort to engage the Living God and give Him room to do the restorative and healing work he longs to do among us. We gather to pour ourselves out at the feet of Him who sits on the throne, and He is faithful to touch and fill us up in ways that only He knows will meet our needs and further His kingdom.
So now, let's apply what we have learned by again inviting someone to worship with us this coming weekend. If we were to focus on the vitality of worship, the verb, we might say, "Come, join us in worship. We start at 9 a.m. on Sunday by coming boldly into the presence of God with praise, adoration, thanksgiving and exaltation. He is going to meet us there and our lives will be changed as He moves among us and brings comfort, healing, direction and peace." This straight talk might scare a few people, but think of the expectation kindled in the hearts of those who come.
God, His great name and transforming power are the core of our worship, not wide parking spaces, padded pews, pageantry and children's programs. These things are all good, but our language relative to worship must reflect the value of this foundational activity and our expectation of God moving among us. It is essential that we communicate about worship with an expectation of transformation. In our own minds, and the minds of our parishioners, it is essential that we transition the word "worship" from noun to verb.
Chris Long is part of the executive team that plans, promotes and produces Seminars4Worship events. He is the executive director of Call to Worship Ministries, which exists to call, encourage and inspire the Body of Christ to life-changing worship.
This article is used with permission, © 2003 Chris Long, Call to Worship, Inc.