“Worship is fundamentally a series of actions. We sing, we pray, we praise, we confess, we cry out to God. But none of our actions would mean much if God did not act as well…In fact, we could not worship at all if God did not invite us and enable us to do so…This is why the view of worship in which we are the actors, so to speak, and God is the audience—a view attributed to the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard—is not quite adequate. It’s a good way to counter our tendency to make leaders the actors and the congregation the audience. But maybe we need to get rid of the theater metaphor altogether. Worship is a dialogic encounter, a loving conversation between God and the people of God.”
– Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), 44.
This is a fair check. I often have reminded my congregation that they are not “watching” me or any of the other worship leaders as spectators at a concert or couch potatoes in front of a TV screen. I have said, “God is the audience of our praise.” I still think in our entertainment-saturated culture that this is an appropriate reminder for people who, with Pavlovian immediacy, tend to zone out become passive during worship. Still, the Rienstras are right. Theater is not the best metaphor, and perhaps it’s not even a helpful one. Worship truly is a dialogical encounter with God. Perhaps some better metaphors are (on the stately side) a town celebration of a King or (on the intimate side) a cup of coffee with a friend. The main point is that God Himself is not passive in worship. He’s an active participant. He’s speaking, giving, ministering, feeding, calling, convicting, preaching, healing. In fact, He’s the initiating party in all worship-encounters. Even more to the point, apart from God’s active involvement in worship, worship would cease to happen. It would be like planning a dance party for the “residents” at a cemetery. God must act. God must call. God must revive.
If you’re interested: see my full Review of Worship Words, by Ron & Debra Rienstra. It’s a great book!