The Elephant in the Sanctuary: Spiritual Disciplines that Enhance Worship, Part II.

Part Two

So, What is the Problem?

            Paul says in I Corinthians 14:26 (NIV), “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” The church gathers to gain strength and perspective regarding spiritual matters of life as a Christian.  Today, many equate the balances that are projected by the world onto the balances weighed by the church in the amount of instruction that the church should be offering to satisfy specific needs arising from the consumer mentality of the world.   Jesus said in John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  The world already hates Christ’s believers and Christians today have difficulty restraining from distinguishing the things of the world from the spiritual realm.  There are many churches inserting characteristics of the world into the church to attract more people to come to corporate worship at their locale. These characteristics create blurred lines and make it difficult for worshippers to determine where the world begins and godly spirituality ends.  Complications arise when churches combine with major coffee houses and restaurants and effectively overshadow the reasons worshipers gather in the first place. God calls us to new heights and wants to draw close to us. Stephen Miller says that, “God called Isaiah into His presence and revealed His glory to him! Isaiah probably didn’t expect that this would happen, as this king of theophany was rare, even for a prophet. Yet God was there, jolting Isaiah out of his worship-as-usual routine with a life-changing opportunity to see Him high and lifted up.”[1] We must move out of our regular routines and find time to become enthralled with a relationship with God. 

            Spiritual transformations have slipped through the cracks for many churches from the 1950’s forward into the turn of the twenty-first century.  Many churches have chosen to attract believers by promoting consumer desires instead of the essentials in spiritual development.  This spiritual development has increasingly become shallow across the church universal. While some churches are beginning to place emphasis on spiritual transformation, others are unwilling to have the conversation.  It has become the elephant in the room and few desire to have the conversation that would lead to change.  One of the causes of this spiritual immaturity arises from the large evangelistic crusades of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  These crusades brought about much awareness about Jesus and many were brought to salvation through them.  After people were converted, the Billy Graham crusade attempted to follow up with these individuals on a topical level to jump start their walk with Christ, but then left it up to the local church to continue the development of these young Christians.  Unfortunately, the church failed to under-gird these efforts thus creating Christians that did not have a solid spiritual foundation.  Although some new believers continued to stay strong, others fell away. 

            The emphasis placed on spiritual development has waned, thus creating musicians who are unaware of their spiritual needs.  Mark 12:30 reminds Christians to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”  This command is essential and is the cornerstone for a relationship with Jesus for all followers.  To follow this command, it is essential that spiritual development occur through the spiritual disciplines.  These spiritual disciplines allow the follower of Christ to become more intimate with God.

            Active participation allows the worshiper to enter the presence of God. Modern worship ministry, however, has begun to be more of a performance-based entity that attempts to please the audience through spectator-ship instead of a vehicle to promote active participation in worship.  Without active participation worshipers become complacent and lack spiritual direction in worship. Without a spiritual connection the average worshiper is unable to focus on the presence of God.  Worshipers often rely on worship leaders and their performance and talent to ‘feel’ the presence of the Spirit.  In an article on connecting talent and liturgy, Michael J. Joncas states,

 “The mysterious interplay of our natural talents and limitations being elevated and transformed by divine grace might be illustrated by the performances of Olympic athletes. These humans are blessed with certain natural talents and limitations; through long training and hard work they have cooperated in bringing these talents to their highest peak; yet what we will witness in their competition are primarily acts of beauty, utterly ‘graceful’ athleticism. Think of the breathtaking symmetry of a gymnast or the disciplined power of a swimmer. Disciples likewise put their talents and limitations at the service of the Spirit: Through wise counsel and long experience they learn the unique roles God has called them to play in his furtherance of the Kingdom, so what we hope by the end of our earthly lives is that the beautiful, graceful way of Jesus has become our way of living in the world.”[2]

Spiritual development teaches the individual to stay true to the main purpose of humankind; to love God completely through an intimate relationship with Him and to use their given talents for the pleasure of God furthering His Kingdom.  Paul Richardson reminds us that, “It is precisely this shifting of attention from ourselves to God that best forms us, for it reorients our relationships: to God, to other believers, and to the world.”[3] This intimate relationship can only be encouraged through the development of spiritual disciplines within the life of the worshiper.  These disciplines allow the believer to be more in tune with their spiritual being.  The spiritual disciplines are those practices found in scripture that provide a foundation for the growth of a relationship with God so that a deeper understanding of God may be achieved.  All disciplines point toward the culmination of worship where they reach their peak.  According to Lyndel Vaught, “Every day, Jesus withdrew from those around him to spend time in a dialogue of prayer with God the Father. Those encounters were times of daily personal worship.  When He rejoined His disciples to teach, preach and minister, all of His actions, thoughts, feelings were guided and directed by His sustaining relationship with the Uncreated One through daily personal worship.” [4]  Personal relationship through the spiritual disciplines is the answer for strong worshipers in the church.

            John 4:23 states, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”  What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth?  What does it mean to be a true worshiper?   Many do not understand the act of worship and how to actively participate in it.  By worshiping in the spirit, we obtain a spiritual sustenance that goes beyond words; this sustenance is obtained during the act of worship. A true worshiper does not depend on the physical realm to provide nourishment but looks to the spirit and the truth of God. Therefore, a true worshiper relies on the Word and Spirit of God.  The problem culminates when those responsible for worship no longer teach the act of worship to their congregants but simply copy the world and provide entertainment. Matt Boswell states that,

One of the greatest needs of the modern church is theologically driven worship leaders. The church is starving for worship leaders who will teach them to sing about the great gospel of Christ in all its richness. This need for theologically driven worship leaders exists in large part because many believe that worship leadership and theological aptitude are mutually exclusive. Theology, they believe, is the occupation of pastors and professors, while worship is the business of church musicians and songwriters. So, pastors and professors teach the truth and the worship leaders lead the singing. And because of this, our churches are limping along with people who do not understand that the greatest truths of the gospel have always been designed to cause the greatest praise.[5]

In the recent decade, disconnection from the spiritual vitality of corporate worship has led many to fill their life with other activities on Sundays.

            Due to the deficiency of spiritual disciplines, the believer’s spiritual life has become shallow.  One document dating back to the first century contains the teaching of the apostles.  This document, called The Didache, provides a glimpse into the spiritual work of the apostles shortly following Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  It states, “There are two paths, one of life and one of death, and the difference is great between the two paths.  Now the path of life is this – first, thou shalt love the God who made thee, thy neighbor as thyself, and all things that thou wouldest not should be done unto thee, do not thou unto another.”[6]  The essence of this teaching is that the love of God must be at the center of life.  Loving God and one’s neighbor are crucial in the development of all spiritual areas within the Christian life. Loving God and others become the foundation on which worship is built.  Love becomes the foundation for a personal relationship with God, which in turn becomes the foundation for worship. 

            When a believer experiences passionate, life giving worship, it can be frightening. The fact that passions arise in worship and can lead to a call from God that could move the person out of his or her comfort zone can be daunting.  In observing many encounters with God throughout the scriptures, most encounters show God as awe-inspiring; the person rarely remains the same and the presence of God changes their lives forever.  When the presence of God is experienced, a change occurs without exception.  Mark Labberton expresses that, “Worship names what matters most: the way human beings are created to reflect God’s glory by embodying God’s character in lives that seek righteousness and do justice.  Such comprehensive worship redefines all we call ordinary. Worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”[7] If we truly experience God, then God’s purpose will become our purposes. Waking up to God means taking control of our spiritual development and learning the difference between spectator, or entertainer, and active participant in worship.

[1] Stephen Miller, Worship Leaders: We are not Rock Stars, (Chicago: Moody Press), 2013, 5.

[2] Michael J. Joncas, “Disciples at Worship: Connecting Liturgy and Life”, Pastoral Music 37,  (Nov 2012): 54.

[3] Paul Richardson, “Spiritual Formation in Corporate Worship,” Review and Expositor 96, (1999): 519.

[4] Lyndel Vaught, “Worship Models and Music in Spiritual Formation,” Journal of Religion, Spirituality & Aging 22, (2010): 105.

[5] Matt Boswell, Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader, (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), Kindle, Location 142.

[6] Charles H. Hoole.  The Didache.  (Lexington KY, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), 16.

[7] Mark Labberton. The Dangerous Act of Worship. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 13.

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