Five Foundational Questions for Worship Design

Featuring Daniel Collison Posted on April 29, 2008

Why should we worship God? What is worship? Does the style of worship matter to God? Should we plan worship? What do we want to happen to people in the worship experience?

These questions continually ruminate in the hearts and minds of pastors and musicians as they approach the daunting task of designing worship experiences. Perfect answers are probably out of our reach. Our need, however, is not to have perfect answers, but to actively pursue the best possible answers to these questions prior to actually planning worship. So, starting at the beginning…

1. Why Should We Worship God?

We are created to worship God. It is essential for our existence and vital for our spiritual survival. Worship reaches to the core purpose of our intricate design and to not worship would be like owning a car you never drive, a house you never lived in, or a family that you never spent time with. (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9)

2. What is Worship?

When asked “what is worship”…some people might respond: “meeting at the church building to sing songs and listen to a sermon”. Others might say: “worship is a specific order of liturgy”. Really, these are merely acts of worship but not worship itself.  The following theological framework defines worship in broader terms and in reference to individuals, Christian community, and the Gospel:

Worship in Life

Worship is above all a lifestyle of acknowledging God in every facet of our lives. The Bible makes it clear that God delights in our worship of him. In fact, according to Jesus, worshiping God is so much a part of who we were created to be that if we don’t worship him, the rocks will cry out and do so (Luke 19:40)! Further, God wants us to worship him sincerely with our whole being, in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Worship in Community

Worship is a gift from God and not a human invention. It is an explicit invitation to experience the divine mystery of God’s manifest presence in life transforming ways. This occurs on both personal and corporate levels; however, there is a marked spiritual potency in larger gatherings of people in community for worship. The Bible demonstrates that as the people of God gather in community to worship there are tangible results of personal transformation and empowerment for the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God.  Whether it was worship in the Exodus event or gatherings of the New Testament Church, the presence of God was distinctly pronounced when people worshiped together.

Worship as a Witness

Worship is one of the most effective outreach environments available to the church today. What other Christian context can offer seekers the opportunity to experience authentic prayer, meaningful life stories, relevant biblical teaching, stirring music, and interaction with others seeking God? To this end it is important to design the worship environment as a safe place for both Christians and pre-Christians to experience God.

To reiterate a definition of worship: “Worship is an explicit invitation to experience the divine mystery of God’s manifest presence in life transforming ways”. For certain God exists everywhere at the same time. Yet, it is very clear throughout the Bible that in the midst of worship or at a critical junctures of intervention, something wonderful and at times overwhelming occurred: God made himself especially present or manifest. Like…

• The times of Moses where God’s presence dwelled with the Ark of the Covenant.

• The worship experience of Isaiah where God’s presence became like a king sitting on a throne and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6)

• In the book of Acts where the Christians were gathered for worship and the building that they were in was shook by God’s presence. (Acts 4:31)

We may not have our buildings shaken by the presence of God, but when we worship we should expect to experience the divine mystery of God’s presence, because it is indeed the very presence of God that we are meeting with.

3. Does the style of worship matter to God?

Style certainly matters to people! If we were to take an informal survey about what people like best in their worship services we would hear statements like: “I love our preacher”…”Contemporary music is the only way I can reach God”…”Traditional Worship moves me deeply”…”I like to attend the 10:30 AM service because it fits my schedule”…Are these comments bad? Well it would be refreshing to hear something like: “I just love God in our worship and it doesn’t matter really what happens”.  Reality dictates, however, that we connect people to God from where they are at.

This is not a new idea. Throughout biblical history the styles and forms of worship were continually changing. Some of the changes were initiated by God and others simply by the practical issues of daily life. One contrast in the Old Testament would be the difference of worship styles between Moses in the Exodus event and King David in the shaping of a national identity. Mosaic worship reflects a highly patterned and institutional form of worship with very little music. King David shaped worship with music and even some non-sacrificial practices.

The most important point was and always will be directed at the question: is the focus of this worship upon God? If our ever changing and chosen styles, preferences, and delivery modes are focused on God, then yes, style matters to God, but only insomuch as it directs everyone to God himself. Reflecting this it is important to establish a philosophy of worship:

Worship Philosophy

Audience of One

Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard believed that, in worship, we have an audience of “One”. Those in the congregation are the performers, the leaders on the platform are the coaches, and God is the audience. This further implies that the whole worship team—not any one individual—functions as a coach. In this way, it is God, rather than any single human personality, who is magnified.

Cultural Relevance

Since the beginning of human history, people have worshiped God in ways that employed the communication methods and art forms of their particular culture and time. Likewise, we want to fully embrace God in the worship experience in biblical, meaningful, and relevant ways through appropriate 21st century cultural forms.

4. Should we plan worship?

In our day to day lives we plan weddings, social events, family reunions, birthday parties, and business deals. The success or failure of these events usually lies in how well the event was planned. Worship is no different, except what we are planning is a God event! So really, out of a passion for God and a desire to connect people to God, planning worship should be one of the highest priorities of every Church.

5. What do we want to happen to people in the worship experience?

First and foremost…experience God. In the experience of God, several wonderful things can happen.  People can begin or renew a relationship with Jesus Christ, make a deeper commitment of some part of their life to God, receive emotional or physical healing, gain life perspective, obtain a greater understanding of the world around us, learn more about biblical truth, learn to love others, and most importantly, become more like Jesus Christ.