In his opening chapter to The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer exposes the crux of what makes churches crumble:
The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him…Perverted notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear. The long career of Israel demonstrates this clearly enough, and the history of the Church confirms it. So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God…The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him—and of her.1
These words seem timely now, but the reality is that they are perpetually timely. As idol-factories, our hearts are prone to wander. If Tozer is right, then worship leaders and planners have a burden to bear. That burden is to give their people a lofty view of God. They must be exposed to God’s greatness and loftiness. God’s transcendence must never be lacking in a worship service.
Critics of modern worship have continually pointed out the me-centered nature of so many modern worship songs. Thankfully, I believe the leaders of the modern worship movement have been heeding these criticisms. My reviews of recent worship albums such as those of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Gateway Worship, attempt to point that out. But modern worship must continue along its trajectory.
There is no better place than in the worship service for the Christian Church to fulfill her “heaviest obligation.” More than in Sunday School, small groups, and special events, God has ordained a unique and special ministry of His Spirit to take place in the context of the gathered people of God. It is uniquely in the context of worship where it seems that all the parts of the self—the intellect, the affections, the body—are stirred together in praise and experience of God Almighty. Worship leaders should, consciously and subconsciously, always be asking themselves the following set of questions:
· What view of God is being presented to the people of God this week? this month? this year?
· Is one of my primary aims and goals to have people walk away from a worship service inspired by the greatness of God?
· Are songs which do have more of a me-focus (which, by the way, are okay, given that many of the Psalms were written from such a perspective) set within a proper context of God’s greatness, whether that context be other songs surrounding them or other liturgical elements accompanying them?
How can worship leaders awaken their sensitivity to this very important issue? A great place to start is by studying the attributes of God, and particularly His incommunicable attributes (those characteristics of God which he does not share with humanity). If you are a worship leader or congregant and this is new to you, I’d suggest asking your pastor to recommend a good systematic theology text from your church’s tradition that will walk you through a deep, meditative study of who God is. (And if your pastor can’t recommend anything or says that it’s not valuable, I’d further suggest you find another church J.) But for now, here is one list of some of the incommunicable attributes of God, perhaps to whet the appetite for further study:
· Independence (a.k.a. Aseity, Self-Existence)
· Unchangeableness (a.k.a. Impassibility, Immutability)
What happens when worship leaders commit to studying and meditating upon the being and attributes of God? For one, you develop a radar for and sensitivity to content that doesn’t measure up. You start to listen to and evaluate worship songs with a different set of ears. Furthermore, almost by instinct, you begin to crave extolling the greatness of God and you begin to develop a jealousy for God’s greatness when it is absent. Meditation upon God is very much like an addictive drug. You end up seeking more and more of God. The difference is that, because of God’s infinitude, there is no point of diminishing returns, and because of His goodness, there are no ill side-effects…only blessing and “grace upon grace.” The pursuit of God in all His greatness is the only truly healthy addiction, which nourishes us, strengthens us, and centers us. And once a worship leader is hooked, they never turn back.
Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.
(Psalm 29:1-2, NIV)
1 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1978), 3-4.