Worship words: toward a delineated, nuanced understanding and practice
On Sunday mornings in many congregations, various men suddenly become active, having been assigned to do the “welcome” or “call to worship” or “table talk.” Have you heard one of these speakers (we’ll call this person “John”) say something like this, just after a couple of songs led by “Jim”?
Wow, Jim. That was so great. Y’all, you might think Jim and I planned that for several weeks together. But it must have been the Holy Spirit working, because Jim just led two songs that talked all about the love and grace of God and Jesus and the way God gave us His grace to atone for our sins, and I was going to talk about sin and how I have to show grace to others when they sin, and if I don’t, I’m sinning too. Isn’t this how to be a Christian by following Jesus who loves and forgives? And He forgives me, too, so I’m so thankful. What a great thing to focus on in this Christmas season as we worship the Lord together!
Actually, I’d prefer that such pseudo-inspired leaders didn’t attribute such definitional verbal haze, vague generality, and lack of purposefulness to the Spirit of God, thank you very much.
In less than a minute, John has gone all barista on us, making a Sunday morning smoothie¹ of inspiration, grace, atonement, sin, forgiveness, Christian identity, discipleship, love, gratitude, Christmas, and worship.
Where is the focus, actually? Probably on John’s winsome personality.
Where is the understanding? Probably in the wind.
Everyone would have been better off if John had spoken clearly and specifically about just one or two of those things—perhaps grace and gratitude. Like John, many men also spoon some presumptuous additives into their smoothies, deeming the songs to have been sung in order to serve their words. (Preachers of sermons are probably the worst culprits in this.)
In the smaller conceptual context of worship, it is the same kind of smoothie—no matter how good it tastes in the moment—that I want to pour into a centrifuge in the next couple of posts, in order to separate the ingredients.
Most Christians have not understood the distinction between horizontal and vertical, and they sometimes gush forth about “such great worship this morning” when there has been no vertical component, or they are glad for the “blest tie that binds” when the order of the day has been closed-eye meditation on atonement. When such elements are delineated and separated in our minds, I suspect we’ll be able to derive more benefits from the strawberry and the banana and the flax seed—or the worship and the teaching and the edification.
¹ Here, I am re-purposing a similar analogy from Gary D. Collier, who comments about the negative effects of throwing various scripture passages into a blender instead of treating each one separately within its context.