Dead Worship, Anyone?
Every new worship leader goes through that painful transition period where the rose-colored glasses come off and you realize that not everyone is as “into” worship as you are. Part of the reason you took on this role is that you simply love to worship God with the people of God, and your fervor is spilling over. But, when you’re doing it week in and week out, and when you’re looking out upon the countenances, posture, and engagement of Christ’s Bride, you can’t help but get a little depressed.
If the good news of Jesus really is as sweeping and epic as the Scriptures proclaim it to be, why do our worship services which seek to display it, retell it, savor it, and revel in it seem so often to not look like the gospel is as grand as it is? Why do our services lack passion? (Notice that this line of questioning transcends issues of musical style or high- or low-church liturgy.) There are hosts of important answers to this question, from cultural, to sociological, to theological, to biological, to psychological, to existential.
Lincoln’s History vs. A Dictionary’s History
One answer worth pondering is given by Michael Horton, where he helps us to understand the difference between viewing history “from within” and “from without.” It is the difference between truth and dramatic truth:
H. Richard Niebuhr contrasted “outer” and “inner” history–one as told by a supposedly objective bystander, the other by a participant in that history:
“Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address begins with history: ‘Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ The same event is described in the Cambridge Modern History in the following fashion: ‘On July 4, 1776, Congress passed the resolution which made the colonies independent communities, issuing at the same time the well-known Declaration of Independence.’ …”
It hardly seems that Lincoln and the Cambridge Modern History were describing the same event. “Hence,” Niebuhr adds, “we may call internal history dramatic and its truth dramatic truth, though drama in this case does not mean fiction.” We cannot approach the preaching of the Word as if it were merely describing its doctrinal or moral content; it must be preached as indeed it was written–namely, as the dramatic, developing story of God’s creative and redemptive work in Jesus Christ as God’s true and faithful Israel.*
The Gospel as Dramatic Truth
We can extrapolate outward the very poignant illustration beyond preaching to the entire worship service and experience. Do we celebrate the Gospel of Jesus Christ as dramatically as it truly is? Do we sing, pray, hear, read, and taste the Glorious Message as passion-filled insiders who have been changed by it, or as cold and clinical outsiders who are analyzing it? It’s the difference between Lincoln standing in a context of racial inequality and passionately remembering and rehearsing the Declaration’s glorious truths upheld and the dictionary reporting the game-changing event of 1776.
Toward a Solution
“Solving” this problem is multi-faceted and way too complex for my very limited brain to handle. But there is a very simple and easy first starting place for us as worshipers and worship leaders–personally cultivating a life of savoring the Gospel. A few weeks ago, Scotty Smith preached a soul-melting sermon at Coral Ridge in which he outlined two simple practices to staying smitten with the love of God in Christ:
- Stay focused on the dying love of Jesus on the cross–perpetually survey, think continually on, place before you, always go back to the cross; never depart from thinking on it, even if at times doing so feels rote.
- Stay focused on the undying love that Jesus has for us–remember, savor, rehearse Jesus’ ongoing, perpetual love for you; remember that, in Christ, God cannot be more pleased with you than He already is and that He delights in you as a Father would a child who is perfectly obedient, perfectly selfless, perfectly perfect.
Cultivation of a passion for the good news of Christ is the most important thing that pastors and worship leaders can do to lead their flock. Human beings have an instinct for being able to identify the difference between those who believe in truth coldly from the outside and those who believe in it passionately from the inside.
And, by the way, this is at the center of what it means to be a “Spirit-filled” worshiper and lead “Spirit-filled” worship. Someone who is Spirit-filled swoons for the things the Spirit swoons for. The Bible is clear that the Spirit’s heart skips a beat over Jesus. The Spirit desires, even “lusts after” the Son (Gal 5:13-26). Being Spirit-filled means to get caught up in the intra-Trinitarian infatuation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So let’s keep in step with the Spirit by doing no more and no less than lingering at the foot of the cross to survey Christ’s dying love and meditating on the very throne room of the Father, where Christ has ascended, and is pleading His undying love for us, to which the Father replies, “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well-pleased.” Because the punch line is, when God is talking about Jesus, He’s talking about us (Eph 2:6).