Thursday, 25 June 2015

Essay on Worship

Write an essay on worship in the life of the local church, establishing its importance biblically and/or theologically, and suggesting ways in which members can be helped to worship more meaningfully. Include a brief explanation on how worship relates to pastoral care.

This was an essay I wrote for the pastoral care paper. Therefore, it is aimed at looking at worship through a pastoral care leans, rather than a more general one, but hopefully most of you will still find it interesting. 


Worship is a big part of church life today. Our gatherings on Sundays are often called “Worship Services.” Yet what do we mean by the term worship? And why is there so much division over it?  If the People of God are going to truly worship God, then Pastors must develop a strong biblical and theological understanding of worship. This essay is an attempt to do this. It will outline some of the key biblical foundations for what worship is, from both the Old and New Testaments. Next, it will develop a theological framework for understanding what worship is from the biblical foundation and a Trinitarian understanding of who God is. It will then turn to some of the pastoral care issues which result from worship, some of the misunderstandings behind them and how having a good understating of worship is the first step towards solving these issues.

Biblical Foundations of worship

    There are three Old Testament ideas which are critical to its understanding of worship: homage, service and reverence.[1] One of the key Hebrew words literally means “to bend oneself over at the waist.”[2] This is the idea of giving respect or homage to God, for he is the one who deserves it. A second understanding which is often translated to worship is the Hebrew word abad, which means “to serve[3].” The people of Israel were saved from Egypt so that they could serve God (Deuteronomy 6:13). Tied up with this is the idea that to love other people is to serve God. Thirdly, a number of words denoting respect, fear and reverence were also understood to be worship.[4] It also invited many “cultic” practices of sacrifice and ritual.[5] The Tabernacle and the Temple were important centres for this as they were the places where God dwelled with his people. Therefore, there are many understandings of worship within the Old Testament. However, central was the first commandment “you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  God rejected worship where love for God and others was absent. (Isaiah 1:10-17 Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:6-8) Old Testament worship was born out of the covenantal relationship which God had with Israel and the redemptive act thought which he brought the people out of Egypt. 

   In the New Testament, this understanding of worship is built on thought the person of Christ. Jesus spoke of worshiping “In Spirit and In Truth,” (John 4:24) and claimed to be the new temple (Matthew 26:61, John 2:19): the place where God now dwelled on earth. This idea is transferred to the church, which becomes the place of God’s presence on earth in which all Christians are Priests. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2: 4-6) Jesus also fulfills the role of the sacrifice and high priest in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 8:1-3, 9:7-11). Paul commanded the Romans to offer themselves as “living sacrifices” as there “spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) Central however, to understanding worship out of the New Testament is the Greatest Commandments of Jesus: to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:34-40). Love for God is at the heart of worship. Again, it is built upon the redemptive act of God: this time the death and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, worship was done in the context of the community of believers. The best explanation of what the early church did when it met is found in Acts 2:42-47, the believer’s devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, the braking of bread, listened to and prayer. These elements remain critical for worship today.  

Theological Frameworks for Worship

   With such a range of biblical texts on worship, it is unsurprising that there are a number of theological frameworks for understanding worship. Farley identifies three different hermeneutical approaches to developing an understanding of biblical worship.[6] Firstly, there is a “praxis-ordinated regulative principle”. Under this hermeneutic, only those practices which have explicit biblical warrant should be included in worship.[7] Others have a theologically orientated regulative principle, where ideas which have a broad theological principle in scripture can be included in worship.[8] This approach has two distinct schools within it. One is the patriotic-ecumenical model. This group has a bigger focus on post-biblical liturgies, as well as the Biblical texts, which are mostly form the New Testament. The other is the biblical-typological model. This group is able to have a much broader use of The Bible than the other two groups, which focus more on the New Testament.[9] Yet it is also able to draw on post-biblical liturgies.

   Torrance identifies two ways of understating worship.[10] One is that it is something which we do: it focuses on human actions in worship. This is called the Unitarian view of worship. The other view is a Trinitarian view, where humans are able to worship through the power of the Holy Spirit and Christ as our High Priest.[11] This is the more biblical view of worship. A holistic expression of worship, based on a combined understanding for both these models, is one where we worship with an understanding of how the whole biblical narrative informs our understating of who God is and how he calls us to worship. This worship is not a human endeavor, but in partnership with the Trinitarian God who, thought the Spirit, cross and incarnation, worships with us and on our behalf.

   Given this theological approach to worship, how then do we understand it?  Firstly, worship is primarily not about what we do for God, but what God does for us.[12] For it is only through God’s Spirit that we can truly worship God. Worship should be focused on God.[13] It should be a celebration of what God has done for us.[14]Often, worship can be about creating some sort of experience, which can become distracting. Therefore, worship should not be done for utilitarian reasons.[15] In today’s world, where efficiency is valued highly, it is tempting for ministers to want to “use worship time” to achieve something tangible. However, true worship is really only worship if it is about glorifying God, rather than achieving some aim. To do so is ultimately idolatry.  

   Secondly, worship depends on revelation.[16] One can only worship God when he reveals revivals something of himself to them. The more one knows God, the better one can worship him. Therefore, when theology is understood to be about the knowledge of God, better theology can lead to better worship.[17] That is why edification and scripture is central to Christian worship. God is Trinitarian, and the whole trinity is involved. As Torrance puts it, worship is “our participation thought the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the father.[18]

   Thirdly, Worship is not just a Christian activity, or indeed just a human activity. Indeed, the whole cosmos is involved in worshiping God.[19] That said, God made humans in his image to be the pinnacle of creation or, as Torrance put it, the priest of creation.[20] Therefore, as the whole cosmos worships God, the whole of a human person should also worship God.[21] The western tendency is to break a people up into emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual compartments. This has impacted western worship, with people seeing it as being good for particular parts of a person. However, true worship is total worship where the body, mind and spirit are an offering, in response to Christ offering (1 Corinthians 14:14-15.)[22] Worship is something which people must participate in, it is a verb, as Webber says.[23]

   Fourthly, Worship happens in the context of a community. Worship is about being the church.[24] Again, the west emphasises the individual. This has led to worshipers going to a service, but not necessarily relating to other worshipers in any meaningful way. Furthermore, it is a contributing factor to the so-called supermarket effect, where Christians chose a congregation to belong to because of personal preferences. However, in worship people come together and create a community.

Some Components of Worship

   Given this theological understanding of worship, how then do we understand the place of the components of worship, such as music? Music is an important part of worship. As Torrance says “true theology is theology that sings.”[25] Music has been used in worship by both the Israelites and the early Christians. Music can help grow unity, when people learn to sing each other’s songs.[26]Thought-out church history, songs have helped Christians to learn theology, as they are an easy way for people to learn ideas.[27] Music can also relate to people emotions. Thus music can provide a holistic mode of communion with God. Yet it is easy in our context for music to become the focal point of worship. Indeed, the part of the service which involves music is often called “worship” Yet worship is “more than a song.”[28] It is about God. Thus it is important the people understand this. 

   The other component which has historically been an important part of worship is the sacraments. For Protestants there are just two sacraments: Communion and Baptism. Roman Catholics have seven sacraments. Communion has been an important component of Christian worship since the early days.[29] While there have been great divisions around communion in the past, there is now largely a spirit of tolerance and understating around the Lords supper, if not total unity.[30] At the table, we can participate in the sons’ incarnation, communion with God and others, making it one of the places where we are most human.[31]   We are called into Gods narrative of his redemption of humankind.

Pastoral Issues Around Worship

   Our attention now turns to the pastoral issues surround worship. There are many issues surrounding worship which pastors have to deal with. It is further complicated by the fact that often the issue which is presented is often not the real issue.[32] Unfortunately, is beyond the scope of this essay to give solutions to them all. This essay will rather attempt to look at them thought the theological understanding of worship outlined earlier. Pastors must continuously point the congregation back to what worship is about. The better people understand worship, the more likely they are to see through the issues. However, knowing something does not necessarily change behavior. It is also important the pastors model themselves deep understating and love of worship. Pastors are called to care for the soul, which includes leading them in worship.[33] Pastoral care is about pointing people to Jesus.[34]  This is also what worship is about. Therefore, Pastors must view their whole lives and ministries as worship.  

   Firstly, worship styles can easily divide congregations. Some favor a more traditional form of worship: with hymns and organs, whereas others prefer more modern styles of music, often influenced by the charismatic movement. There are multiple types of worship. Redman lists four different new movements: Seekers services, the praise and worship movement, contemporary music and liturgical renewal movement.[35]Therefore, it is critical that pastors are able to look beyond styles, to God, the object of worship. God created humans as creative and diverse people. Worship should celebrate God through the creatively and diversity within a congregation. But ultimately, who God is, not who they people are, should come first.

    While this is probably the biggest pastoral care issue today, there are many others. This includes people putting “worship” itself, or the experience of worship, above God, and thus began to worship “worship” rather than God. This is often of matter of using the right language.[36] For example, calling the musicians “the worship team” implies that music is what worship is about. Another issue is that sometimes gifted people get elevated in the way that they are seen in the church. Furthermore, it can lead to other members of the congregation feeling inferior and unimportant. There are also people who have been burned by churches, who often find it difficult to worship God.  Sometimes, when people get burned by a particular style of worship, they become antagonistic towards it. What these issues all have in common is that they often arise when people forget what worship is about, and who it’s about. They forget the story which they are called up into, and the God who calls them into it. They forget that the way they love other people is part of their worship. Reminding them of this is the first step towards healing.   


   Worship is an important part of church life. As we have seen, worship is expressed in multiple forms throughout the Bible. And it continues to be expressed in multiple forms today. Yet what is important is that it is an expression of who God is and what he has done, is doing now and will do in the future for his people. Worship is about all areas of life (including writing this essay) being caught up in the relationship with Father, Son and Spirit, which thought the incarnation and the cross, we are called into. It is about coming to know and love God more and having our relationship with God and other humans enriched. It is about doing all things for the glory of God (Colossians 3:17.) It is therefore critical that pastors engage with this area of life deeply. This will enable people to worship God in more meaningful ways and will help overcome some of the issues which arise when worship is not understood properly.   


Alexander, Desmond and Roster, Brian, New Dictionary of biblical theology in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007

Basden, Paul and Zahl, Paul, Exploring the Worship Spectrum: Six Views. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2004
Douglas, J.D, Hillyer, N, Wood, D.R.W, Marshall, I.H,. New Bible Dictionary in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007

Dawn, Marva, A Royal “waste” of Time: The Splendour of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1999

Earey, Mark, Grove Worship Series: Leading Worship. Cambridge: Grove Books, 1999
Farley, Michael, “What is Biblical Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51 (Spring, 2008) : 592,  accessed electronically at  1 may 2011

Ferguson, Sinclair, Wright, David, and Packer, J. I., New Dictionary of Theology in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007

Jenkins, Michael, Letters to New Pastors. Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 2006

Martin, Ralph, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral and Practical Reflections. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994

Redman, Robb, The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002

 Saliers, Don, Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine. Nashville: Abington, 1994
Torrance, James, Worship, Community and The Triune God of Grace. Downers Grove: IVP, 1996

Webber, Robert, Worship is a Verb: Eight Principles for Transforming Worship. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995

Willimon, William H., Worship as Pastoral Care. Nashville: Abington, 1979  

[1]D.G. Peterson “Worship” n.p,  in  Desmond Alexander and Brian Roster,  New Dictionary of biblical theology in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007
[2] ibid
[3] ibid
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6]  Michael Farley, “What is Biblical Worship? Biblical Hermeneutics and Evangelical Theologies of Worship”  Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51 ( Spring , 2008) : 592,  accessed electronically at  1 may 2011
[7] ibid, 592
[8] ibid,596
[9] ibid 602
[10] James Torrance, Worship, Community and The Triune God of Grace (Downers Grove: IVP, 1996)  20-24
[11] ibid, 20
[12] I. H. Marshall “Worship,”n.p, in J.D Douglas, N. Hillyer, D.R.W Wood, I.H. Marshall, New Bible Dictionary in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007
[13]Marva Dawn A Royal “waste” of Time: The Splendour of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1999), 8
[14]  Robert Webber, Worship is a Verb: Eight Principles for Transforming Worship (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995) 22
[15] Dawn, 1
[16] P. D. Mason, “Worship,” np, in  Sinclair Ferguson, David Wright and J. I. Packer, New Dictionary of Theology in The Essential IVP Reference Collection on CDROM, New Edition, 2007
[17] ibid
[18] Torrance, 15
[19] ibid, 13
[20] ibid
[21] Mason, n.p
[22] Torrance, 15
[23] Webber, 2
[24]  Dawn, 9
[25] Torrance, 10
[26] Dawn, 182
[27] Ralph Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral and Practical Reflections (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1994) 42
[28]  Quote from Song by Matt Redman, Heart of Worship, 1999
[29] See 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
[30] Martin, 145
[31] Torrance, 39
[32]  Robb Redman, The Great Worship Awakening: Singing a New Song in the Postmodern Church  (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002)  175, Michael Jenkins, Letters to New Pastors (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, 2006) 7
[33] William H. Williomon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abington, 1979) 35
[34] Torrance, 45
[35] Redman, 3-72
[36] Mark Earey, Grove Worship Series: Leading Worship (Cambridge: Grove Books, 1999) 21

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