Worship: Style or Substance?

Worship: Style or Substance?
By Tim Pedigo

One can scarcely enter into a conversation about worship without an interesting variety of questions and comments arising. Which style of music is the legitimate form for worship? Is a praise and worship team more suitable for the worship service than a church choir? Are guitars actually biblically approved instruments for worship?

The other set of questions seems to hover around where we are in worship. What is the state of worship in our churches today? Why does it seem that people are not getting involved the way they should?

The two words that keep coming to mind when I think of worship are attitude and understanding. A right attitude or spirit in worship rises up to heaven as a sweet smelling perfume. Understanding whom we worship and why we worship Him is the vehicle of worship.

I believe that the answer for our music and worship can be found in Colossians 3:16-17 – “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

This passage of scripture calls for a variety of musical forms and allows for a breadth of spiritual expression that cannot be captured in only one of them. A psalm speaks of a sacred song that should be accompanied by a musical instrument. A hymn is considered a song specifically of praise to or about God. A song is simply a musical form that could be either sacred or secular, so the Apostle Paul specifies “spiritual songs.”

I realize that we all have our favorite style of music, whether it is just music for listening pleasure or music designed for worship. We are all uniquely and wonderfully made; which shows, once again, how diverse God is and how variety is a part of all creation. Worship should be no different. Altering the style of music employed in worship is a healthy thing that will enhance any service. We should allow each other a little latitude and make the stretch in order to encompass everyone’s musical tastes.

That being said, I do think that there should be a definite distinction between what we accept in our church worship services and what even the secular Christian music world might say is acceptable. If we are not careful, we will simply plunge into the abyss of mass marketing and follow the next great wave that the music world says is cool, current, or considered relevant.

I’m not so sure that God cares for either. God is less concerned with style, with cool, and with current as He is with “condition.” He is not nearly as interested in the forms of our worship as He is with the extent of our understanding when we worship.

“There are entire congregations who worship praise and praise worship but who have not yet learned to praise and worship God in Jesus Christ. The song, the dance, the banners have been accepted as worship instead of being seen as a means of expressing worship.” – Judson Cornwall – Leadership Magazine

Let’s get back to what worship is. The definition of worship is “honor paid to a superior being.” It means “to pay homage; to bestow honor and reverence; to respect and give adoration, praise, and glory to a deity.” In spiritual terms, it is simply to humble ourselves before God in thanksgiving and love. It is giving – giving honor and respect to God. When and wherever we worship the Lord, our entire focus and energy is to be given to Him. Our attitudes, our lives, our possessions, and yes, even our talents become secondary.

“I’m coming back to the heart of worship and it’s all about you Jesus.” Matt Redman penned these words in his worship song that many of us sing. Can you say it any more profoundly than that?

Exodus 30:34-38 has had a great impact on my thoughts about worship. It has caused me to examine my own attitudes about how I enter into the courts of the Lord.

Exodus 30:34-36And the Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight : And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. (KJV)

This perfume, or incense, that was to be made had only one purpose. It was made and set apart for use only in the Tabernacle because it was to be holy.

Exodus 30:37-38 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the Lord. Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

The fragrance that was prescribed here was designed for God alone. When the incense rose up it was to be unique to Him. This is how our worship should be, unique and set apart for Him only. It is to be a separated and sanctified gift that rises up out of our hearts to an audience of one.

If our worship doesn’t seem to be reaching the throne of God, maybe we should worry less about style and be more concerned with substance. As long as we are not emulating or imitating the secular or some other style of music just for the sake of being “current,” we can implement many different styles into our worship. We have more talented musicians, singers, and worship leaders than we have ever had. I am all for refining talent because I believe that God deserves our very best effort, but I am convinced that talent that is devoid of understanding and anointing has ruined more opportunities for worship than any other single thing.

I love to hear talented singers use their gift for the Lord. However, I personally don’t need to hear a song so full of vocal gymnastics that it destroys yet another melody, detracts from the message of a song, or kills any potential move of God in a service because of the singers need for showcasing talent. I am in awe of the praise bands in some of our churches, but I’m not impressed when the band so drowns out the singers that the message is lost.

I’ll go a step farther and put myself out on a limb to say that I am not against any of the other forms of worship, such as the use of sticks or interpretive signing. However, when the movements are more about sweeping movements that border on dance and are less about signing the actual message, it makes me understand a little better what Judson Cornwall was talking about when he said, “There are entire congregations who worship praise and praise worship but who have not yet learned to praise and worship God in Jesus Christ.”

Every second of a worship service belongs to God. Anything that we do to draw attention to ourselves comes between the worshiper in the pew and God. We say the phrase often, “It’s not about us. It’s all about Him.” We must remain focused on this one central idea and make sure that it is always in the forefront of our thinking.

John 4:23-24 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (KJV)

Talent is not enough. Style is not enough. We must worship God with spirit, with truth, with anointing, and with an understanding that it is truly all about Him.

From: Pentecostal Herald, September 2006. Bro. Pedigo is the Assistant Pastor at Calvary Tabernacle, Indianapolis, IN and an instructor at Indiana Bible College. He is a well known song and music artist, with many songs published.