Breaking News! Worship is Not a Synonym for Religious Music

Many followers of Jesus are leaving traditional churches in search for a more honest and fulfilling expression of their spirituality. It’s time to take a fresh look at the topic of worship.

When someone speaks to you about “worshipping God,” what do you think of? Singing a hymn or contemporary worship song? Perhaps reading a psalm? If you’re from a more charismatic background, maybe you’ve raised your hands now and then or joined in a group dance. And if you’re really on the cutting edge, you might even have seen someone painting an image on stage during a worship service.

These activities are all admirable and certainly valid, but they are far from the totality of what it really means to worship. Increasingly, Christians are leaving modern “worship services” behind and seeking out new and different ways of interacting both with their Maker and with others in a spiritual community.

I was struck by a recent blog post by Thom Schultz in which he describes a rather unconventional experience at a Christian gathering:

The faithful gathered around candle-lit tables in the darkened room. They heard a reading of Psalm 34:8. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

They then tasted–literally. They selected small cups of various flavors and condiments. Some people discovered a familiar taste and reached for a second helping. Others gasped and chuckled as they felt the pungent impact of a spicy sauce.

Then, as the musicians played softly in the background, the worshipers were urged to make a metaphorical leap. How does this taste remind you of the Lord’s goodness?

Many made the leap. One participant related the taste of peanut butter to the Lord’s “sticky love–persistent in forgiving me.”

Most went along with this playful experience to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” But some were discomforted. This did not fit their ingrained paradigm of a proper worship gathering.

My heart leapt when I read about this, as I myself have long wanted to experiment with various ideas around experiencing God’s love within a culinary context (and I’m not talking about Sunday potluck). One of my enduring desires is to host a chocolate tasting party. Mmmm…but back to the topic at hand.

Schultz goes on to share how “the prevailing passive spectator model of the American church service is losing its shine” and that “most existing church buildings are modeled after lecture halls or theaters, which are not conducive to a participative experience.” I believe this is a huge reason why house churches and various organic/missional ministries have sprung up in record number over the past few years. It’s not always that people have a deeply-held theological bone to pick with teachings of traditional churches—rather it’s that, in a world which is desperately in search of a sense of loving community and belonging (something you simply don’t get with Facebook posts and Snapchat videos), the typical church is just not providing it.

I would also argue people’s underlying spiritual needs are not being acknowledged within the usual format of a Sunday service. Many years ago when I was but a lad, my family had been an integral part of a new church plant for a year or so, yet my parents were increasingly feeling uncomfortable with some of the decisions the lead pastor was making in terms of how to structure the worship service. My mom (probably with her hippie roots showing) finally communicated some of her concerns to the pastor, to which he made the rather odd retort: “so what are you going to go do then? Worship in the woods?”

Well, why not? (I wrote a bit more about my thoughts on that here.)

It is foolish for church leaders to ignore the fact that some people simply don’t get anything out of sitting in a chair in a building watching a performance for two-ish hours every Sunday morning. That’s not the kind of spiritual experience they want, and it’s not going to provide the kind of spiritual growth they need. And if you expect to find some Biblical justification for the way a modern worship service is constructed, you won’t find any. What you will find in the Bible is:

  • Worship isn’t an event or an activity, it’s a way of life.
  • Worship doesn’t happen in a special, sacred building. It happens anywhere, anytime.
  • Worship isn’t about singing some religious-themed songs once or twice a week. Worship is about dedicating every thing you do, every day, to the glory of God.
  • Worship is seeing God in the jagged edge of a rock, the cry of an eagle flying overhead, the crash of waves against the shore, the miracle of birth, the mammoth number of stars in the sky. Worship is communion with God, acknowledging the Divine Presence within all things.
  • Worship is Spirit. Worship is Truth. Worship is Jesus.

We make things way too complicated in Christian circles. We place heavy burdens on people that were never meant to be there. Worship is not about ticking off boxes on some kind of religious duty chart, it’s about looking at life through a fresh pair of eyes, seeing God’s love and goodness in the “land of the living,” and living a life that honors the path set before us by our beloved Jesus.

I have a confession to make: I’m just not interested in attending worship services anymore. I’m far more interested in being a part of a worship community. I’m much more interested in art & innovation, the act of creation as a way to worship the Creator. And I’m way more interested in the practice of mindfulness meditation, so that less inner darkness and daily turmoil can rob me of my joy; so that worship can burst forth spontaneously from the depths of my soul.

The Apostle Paul says to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, which is our spiritual worship. Maybe, in the end, worship isn’t something we do.

Worship is who we are, in Christ.

Jared White