Both the content of and effort in our worship say something about what God is worth to us. Often we don’t realize that even mundane decisions we make about worship speak to how we view God’s worth. We evangelicals are often accused of being pragmatic in our decision-making when it comes to worship–and for good reason. We have a long history of making decisions based on pragmatics like “what will get the most people in the door,” or “what’s most convenient for guests.” Certainly these aren’t all bad considerations, but we do need to ask important questions about where such considerations fit within the hierarchy of our priorities for worship. Because, to come full circle, what we do and how we act in worship betray what we think God is worth to us.
To expand on and apply McLuhan, in the instance of worship, it’s not only that the medium is the message…
The planning is the message.
The structure is the message.
The leading is the message.
The execution is the message.
The action is the message.
The effort is the message.
And, certainly, the message is the message.
John Bell writes:
The worship of God is not a casual thing. It is an expression of worth. That is what worship, or worth-ship, means. Worship which is offered with little forethought or preparation, worship which is shoddy and badly led, is not simply an inconvenience to the congregation, it is an insult to the Almighty. …
Is God worth simply the routine songs played by an organist or praise band who believe they only need to practice solo pieces, not the accompaniment to the hymns?
Is God only worth the rather tired repertoire of the choir which trots out the same old favorites whether or not they accord with the season or there are sufficient voices to do justice to the anthem?
Is God only worth the congregation’s favorite hymns, as if the object of worship were to titillate the ears of the singers and not offer real and deep praise to their Maker?1
Perhaps what I love most about what Bell says here is that he cuts to the heart of the matter beyond issues of style and preference. One can pick lead an organ-based hymn as heartlessly as a modern worship leader can throw together a “worship set.” This is a call to all of us, as worship leaders, to take seriously our call of planning and leading worship and to do so with great intention, prayer, forethought, and wisdom.
1John L. Bell, The Singing Thing: A Case for Congregational Song (Chicago: GIA, 2000), 90-91.
Check out more from John Bell in the previous post, “Eleven Reasons Why Singing is Important“