When I enter into dialogues about worship with other leaders from other traditions, I sometimes get the sense that certain traditions think they have the corner on the market when it comes to being truly “Spirit-led” and “Spirit-filled.” I’ve even heard, both first- and second-hand, criticisms of services I’ve led or been a part of that seem utterly “devoid of the Spirit.” Many times, those criticisms could be translated quite accurately as “lack of emotional fervor.” While I’m all for emotional fervor, I’m also all for thinking the biggest thoughts we can about God, and I think sometimes our discussions of the Spirit’s work in worship are very limited and limiting. I have written about what Spirit-filled worship looks like before, but I found myself, once again, recently jamming on Trinitarian theology and read a great explanation of “Spirit-led worship” worth sharing as an extended quote. Robin Parry’s Worshipping Trinity (now in its second edition) is one of the best, comprehensive takes on Trinitarian worship out there. In fact, I can say that in many ways my chapter in Doxology and Theology is a distillation of a lot of the same ideas. The greatest part about Parry’s book, though, is that it sits in dialogue with modern worship and is very accessibly written. Here’s what he has to say about all of this:
Spirit-led worship is thus not the reserve of Pentecostals and charismatics; rather, it is the heritage of all genuine Christian worshippers. “Spirit-led” worship is not a theological synonym for “loud” worship or “bouncy” worship or “worship-led-by-a-rock-band.” Spirit-led worship can be very loud and energetic, but it can equally be meditative and candle-lit. Spirit-led worship may be found where incense rises and liturgy is sung just as much as it may be found where flags are waved and the singing is in tongues. And the converse is true–all that glitters is not gold, all that shouts and shakes or glows and rises before the Lord is not worship.
Spirit-led worship is worship that is sincere and honest. It acknowledges our need of God’s assistance and sees that only in Christ are any offerings we make acceptable. Acceptable worshippers come to God in weakness and humility and receive grace in a time of need. Spirit-led worship is not insecure worship, ever-anxious of rejection by God, but confident worship that delights that everything necessary has already been done. It is not arrogant self-promotion (thinly disguised as humility) but humble confidence in the one in whom we have been brought to trust. God requires worship and God has offered that worship on our behalf in Christ–and by the Spirit God enables us to offer ourselves to him through Christ. Our response to God is a participation (enabled by God) in God’s own response to God…worship is “a gifted response” for which we can claim no credit.
The Spirit’s guiding role in worship is one that Pentecostals and charismatics often recognize. The Spirit is the worship leader who enables us to be led by Christ in worship. In the charismatic traditions there is a very deep appreciation of the Spirit as the worship leader who orchestrates gatherings of the community. Spirit-led worship will exalt Jesus and the Father. It will have an intercessory edge, for we will be led to share in the Messiah’s prayers for the world… The Spirit will also create communities in which everyone is empowered to offer worship through Christ in the Spirit. This may be through liturgy which, contrary to the views of some in my own charismatic free church tradition, can (and should) be very uplifting…and participatory… The Spirit generates fellowship, unity, and community between Christian and Christian as well as between Christians and Christ when we worship. He does not make us all the same but enables us to love and embrace each other in all our diversity (1 Cor 12). If our communal worship is not like this–if it excludes people from participating or simply draws people as individuals towards God but not towards each other–then we need to start asking hard questions about whether it is as Spirit-led as we may like to imagine. Spirit-led worship will also have an appropriate openness to the new and unplanned. The Spirit blows where he wills and gives gifts to whomever he wishes to (John 3:8; 1 Cor 12:11). Here is where liturgy can sometimes actually shut us down rather than open us up to the work of the Spirit.*
Well-said. Well-put. Challenging across the board. Parry reminds us well to lift our eyes higher and higher about the work of the Triune God in our worship services.