How Do You Evaluate Worship?

I have participated in several thousand church services in my lifetime. If you are reading this, then chances are, you have been to a few yourself. If I asked your evaluation of the latest public worship service you attended, what would you say?

One of the most difficult things about evaluating “worship” is that often the basis of the evaluation (whether intentionally or subconsciously) is based on very subjective thought and emotions. How do we as worship leaders (and we are ALL worship leaders of some kind), evaluate our worship gatherings more objectively and according to the Scripture?

Tim Keller in his essay in “Worship by the Book” (D. A. Carson, ed.) has presented a helpful handle on this topic. He provides 3 basic criteria for evaluating public worship (these could also apply to private worship as well). I will deal with the first one in this post and flesh out the remaining measures in those that will follow.

Doxological Evangelism, the first criteria he mentions, is based on the principle that true worship will be a testimony to the nations (Ps 105:1-2). The Old Testament is frequent in it’s call for the people of Israel to worship not only before the Lord, but before the nations as well. The New Testament also clearly demonstrates that unbelievers are to be expected in our worship gatherings today (Acts 2:11; 1 Cor 14:23-24). The balance point to this is “shewing forth the praises” (of a “peculiar” people) in a way that unbelievers will understand. Our goal is not to remove the offense of the cross from our worship gatherings but to communicate the offense of the cross as clearly and authentically as possible.

Sustaining a life giving quality in our corporate gatherings that is spiritually stimulating for both believers and non-believers alike is essential to the health of our churches. Non-believers want and need to experience the transcendent nature of God. Communicating truth and grace in a way that is overly sentimental  (whether it be traditional or popular) can rob us of the power that comes with embracing the mystery of God (Col. 1:26, 27). However, if we ignore the imminent nature of God in our worship, it is possible for “God” to get lost in the “out there somewhere” and have little relevance to daily living.

If what the world offers is merely externals (Solomon calls it “vanity”), then why should our worship be characterized by the same? What actually makes our worship sincere and “peculiar” is not externals (forms, expressions, etc.), but the inward, vibrant relationship that we should each have with our Creator.

Worship style is not really the issue here. “Style” is best determined by church leaders who will take a serious look at the Bible, their own spiritual heritage, and the community they are trying to reach and discern with wisdom the best approach to corporate worship. However, I am encouraging us all to evaluate our worship based on the Hebrews 13 model that looks for the “fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name”. Are our gatherings bearing fruit, in that, the unchurched are drawn to our Savior as they observe our worship? What are you doing that will help to engage your church in authentic expression while giving unbelievers an honest look into our relationship with the Almighty?

I will look at the Hebrews 13 model as well as Keller’s two remaining measures in greater depth in the posts to follow. I look forward to your insights and comments on this issue.

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