Whether you’re a worship leader, a pastor, a church leader, or a congregant, having the basic building blocks of a philosophy of worship is vital. When you have your philosophy in place, it helps guard against the type of decision-making that will ultimately hurt or mal-form you and your congregation. When you lead and make decisions from your philosophy, as opposed to from your hip, your leadership becomes much more purposeful, wise, and (when your philosophy is borne out of theological reflection) biblical.
I recently developed this outline with questions and bullet points that I now give out to interns and folks who are ready to think critically about worship. In my opinion, these are probably the most important questions to ask, and hopefully they’re set in a way that they are useful to just about any brand of Christian worship out there. Please pass this on to worship leaders and worshipers for whom this may be useful!
(Here it is as a PDF in case its more useful to download and pass around.)
Use these guiding headlines and questions as a structural framework for your philosophy of worship. Know that just because the questions are detailed doesn’t mean your explanations need to be long. Sometimes, answers to several questions can be summarized in a single sentence. Strive to be both thorough and brief.
Everything bolded must be addressed/answered. Questions not bolded are suggested lines of thinking to prime the pump for important philosophical issues at stake.
As all these topics and issues are processed, it is important to refer to and interact with Scripture. It is expected that statements and arguments are scripturally grounded, with parenthetical references and perhaps occasional quotations.
Defining and Defending Worship
1. Define “worship” in its broad sense. Address the three spheres of the “broad sense,” as they funnel down toward the “narrow sense”:
- The three spheres
- What is worship most broadly as a human action? Aim at large, more dictionary-like definitions.
- (Getting more specific) What is uniquely Christian worship?
- (Getting even more specific) What is worship in the context of all of life? (i.e. what many refer to as “whole-life” worship)
- Other helpful questions:
- How is worship related to and a reflection of the essence and attributes of God (e.g. His Trinitarian nature)?
- How is worship related to and a reflection of the gospel of the saving work of Jesus Christ?
2. Define “worship” in its narrow sense (i.e. corporate worship).
3. Corporate worship vs. Individual worship
- How do they overlap?
- How are they distinct?
- How do they inform one another?
4. Whom is worship for?
5. What role does corporate worship play in the Christian life?
- Is it merely beneficial? Is it necessary?
- Does God do anything unique in the context of gathered, corporate worship that He ordinarily reserves for only that time and place? If so, what?
- How does worship shape believers?
6. What is happening in worship?
- Is worship merely helpful, formative ritual?
- Does supernatural activity take place in worship?
- If so, what is happening? Address issues of God’s presence / encounter with God.
Form, Content, & Expression of (Corporate) Worship
1. What dictates the form and content of a worship service? In other words, what guiding voices inform the elements, content, and expression of corporate worship?
- What role does Scripture play?
- How does the Bible inform worship?
- Explain (you don’t have to necessarily use the terms) where you fall on the Regulative Principle vs. Lutheran Principle spectrum/divide.
- What role does tradition/history play?
- What obligation does Christian worship now have with engaging elements, structure, and content of Christian worship of the past?
- If tradition should be a part of worship, what should or might it look like?
- What role does cultural context play?
- How should biblical Christian worship be contextualized to given times, places, and cultures?
- What role do cultural forms/expressions play in worship?
- Should worship reflect the culture?
- Should worship be distinct from culture?
2. How is corporate worship to be structured?
- What informs the structure of worship? How should worship flow?
- Is only music “worship”? Are other elements of the service besides singing “worship”?
3. What elements of worship are non-negotiable?
- In other words, are there “universals” for Christian worship which transcend context? If so, what are they?
- Be sure to address the issue of ordinances/sacraments of Baptism & the Lord’s Supper.
4. Worship and Non-Christians
- How should we think of worship in relation to the non-Christian?
- Are non-Christians capable of worshiping God?
- In what way(s) is corporate worship “for” non-Christians?
- Does corporate worship evangelize? Is corporate worship an evangelistic rally?
- Address issues of accessibility and intelligibility.
5. Is worship “replaceable” or “substitutable”?
- Can a church engage in worship by a corporate deed of mercy? (e.g. Does a community work-day substitute for what corporate worship is and does?)
- Can individuals just as easily and rightly worship God on their own (e.g. on an individual retreat, in the wilderness, in nature, in a solitary place, in their own private devotional life) instead of attending and participating in corporate worship?
6. What human faculties (e.g. mind, body, will, emotions, etc.) should be expressed/summoned in worship, and how are they best employed?
7. Describe the scope and balance of worship expression.
- Should worship be loud, energetic, and up-beat?
- Should it be soft, quiet, and reverential?
- Should worship be emotional?
- Should worship be cerebral and intellectual?
8. What role does music (and particularly singing) play in corporate worship?
- Is it necessary?
- If so, why is it valuable? What does it accomplish?
- Is music unique among art forms when it comes to use and implementation in corporate worship?
9. How do the previous two questions intersect with issues of cultural context?
- Is there any sense in which issues of “propriety” (i.e. what is appropriate) in worship expression are relative based on a given cultural context?
- Are there liabilities inherent in certain cultural contexts/expressions which should be challenged, pastored, shepherded, to grow beyond?
10. How does the fact that the Church is trans-/multi-cultural, trans-temporal, and trans-national play into how worship is expressed?
- Does the Church bear the responsibility of reflecting its diverse nature in the actual expression of its worship?