In my former post, “Worshippers and Their Leaders,” I talked about how I offended pretty much everyone in a worship leaders seminar with my drastic ideas about worship leading. I escaped with my life at the end of that first talk, mostly because it was lunchtime, and they didn’t have the energy to take me out and stone me. When I got up to speak in the 2nd session called “Good Worship,” lucky for me that they were too sluggish from lunch to throw anything at me with any degree of accuracy. So I just went for it. This is a sort of distillation of that provocative talk.
(The woman said) “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:20-24
I’m sure you’ve either used or heard the phrase, “good worship.” Not being on the committee that approves or disapproves of new expressions included in the Dictionary of Contemporary Christian Vocabulary, my opinion is entirely unofficial and doesn’t represent the views of any station or denomination. But I can’t stand it anymore; I have to tell someone about how much I object to this phrase, and would like to make my case for it to be banned from all Christian conversations! Okay, I employ hyperbole. It’s not that big of a deal, but since I’m entitled to my opinion and empowered by the internet world to express it, I will.
Here’s how it’s usually framed in conversation among Christians these days: “That was good worship… I go to so-and-so church because they have good worship… I’m looking for a church with good worship…” What does it mean – “good worship”? Is it the style of music, the choice of songs, the quality of instrumentation, the worship leader’s enthusiasm, the length of time devoted to singing in the service? We probably all have our own tastes and opinions about the essential components to “good worship,” but let’s see what Jesus says about worship to the woman at the well.
God looks for “good worshippers”…
Jesus said that the Father “seeks” a certain kind of worshipper. Notice he’s not looking for a certain kind of worship but of worshipper. It’s not good worship, but good worshippers that he’s after. So, we might think about shifting our thinking to match God’s (always a good idea) from the act of worship to the person who worships. It’s typical for modern Christians, when talking about worship, to refer to the style of music, the ambience in the building, or the number of worshippers in the building. But when God looks for good worship, his radar is not scanning for those things, but for people who are good worshippers. My guess is that he cares very little about the accessories and trappings of our worship. I don’t know if he cares whether the music is contemporary or the terminology is culturally relevant or the atmosphere is exhilarating or if it’s expertly presented? His searchlight is on people. Am I right? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he doesn’t love worship, he loves people, and wants for his beloved to be good worshippers. I want to be one of those he seeks and finds when he’s looking for worshippers (good ones)!
Here’s another limb I’m going to climb out to the end of, I wonder how many people are more in love with worship than they are with Jesus. I have no power or authority to judge anyone’s heart, but I’ve been thinking for quite some time that many of us, rather than worshipping God are actually worshipping worship (or the style of worship that we like or approve of most). Watchman Nee, the Chinese preacher and Bible teacher in the mid-twentieth century said that a prayer meeting that could be destroyed by “bad music” wasn’t much of a prayer meeting to begin with! I think his point was that our attention is not supposed to be on the music or other elements of our gatherings, but on God.
Can we claim to have our focus on Jesus rather than on the vehicles that we use to “enhance” our worship experience? If our country’s President were to arrive at your house, which would capture your attention, the President himself or his limousine? Would you go out to greet him or would you drool over his car, “What a beautiful limo, can I take her for a spin?” What do we love most, God or the vehicle that he shows up in?
Jesus said the Father “seeks” these good worshippers. That he “seeks” a certain kind of worshipper implies more than a casual or half-hearted effort on his part. You don’t seek something when there’s an abundance of it right in front of you. You seek something when there’s precious little of it and you have to go looking far and wide for it. When you play “Hide and Seek” the point of the game is to hide in such a way that makes the “seekers” actually have to do some serious seeking. You don’t hide in plain sight, but somewhere they’ll have to work at it a little. So, if there is some effort on God’s part to find such worshippers, it must mean that the streets (or even our churches) are not just overflowing with such people. He’s on a search, a quest to find people who worship him well!
In other words, the kind of worshipper that God is looking for might not be so commonplace as we might be inclined to think. I’m not saying that God doesn’t like most of the worship he sees, or that there are special people who do it right, and if you’re not one of those you’re not in the club. I’m just making the point that we might consider setting our sights a little higher when it comes to reflecting his glory back to him in worship. He’s seeking for a certain kind of worshipper!
Worship in the right place at the right time or worshipping as the right person all the time…
The Samaritans and the Jews were into worshipping in the right place – Jerusalem for the Jews and Gerizim for the Samaritans. Don’t you think that we American Christians are too – when we make worship into a production on Sundays in the sanctuary, and then call it “good” if it moved us?! By the way, you’ve got to admit that “sanctuary” a pretty weird word for the room in which we sing songs, give spiritual speeches, and pass the plate. Where is the “sanctuary” today? Look in the Bible and then in the mirror and get back to me.
Anyway, back to the conversation at the well. The standard sermon topic from this passage is, “We can worship anywhere!” And that’s true, but how many of us actually do worship outside the worship service? And speaking of weird terminology, that’s another strange one, don’t you think – “worship service”? I think I understand the word “worship,” but the word “service” has never really done much for me, and even less when we put it next the word – “worship.” I mean, who is being served in a “service” anyway? Is it God? If so, exactly how are we serving him in the “service?” And if we say that we’re serving him through worship, is it possible that we’re giving people the impression that this is how we serve him, by going to church and singing songs about him? And that’s the sum total of our “service” to God. When we leave the “service” our service is behind us until next Sunday’s service! (Tired of the term yet?)
Or is it the congregation that we’re serving in the service? OK so, our goal when we gather on Sundays is to serve us? Maybe that’s how we ought to spell it – “serve-us”! And in that scenario, if people in the church are the “servees,” who are the servants? Is it the pastor and his team of servants (musicians, Sunday School teachers, ushers, etc.)? There’s truth to be found in this, but is that what church leaders do – serve people in the church with a service? Is it their responsibility to put together an edifying (at best) or entertaining (at worst) service in which people can get their spiritual service out of the way for another week? Could that be one of reasons that we have so many drained church leaders and so many do-little church members? (Now I’ve stepped over the line from provocative to inflammatory! But having planted and pastored churches for over 30 years I feel, if not qualified, entitled. Of course, you’re entitled to stop reading if you want to (better yet, write a response). So here we are – you and I – entitled to our opinions and how we choose to express them. If you dare read on, do. BTW, I love you either way.)
Good worshippers live good lives…
So, God is more interested in the right person worshipping than a person worshipping in the right place. By the “right person” I mean that their life is right, not that they belong to the right group. And by “right” I don’t mean perfect, but that they’re someone being gladly transformed into the personality of the One doing the transforming. Over the years I’ve seen some of the most avid and vociferous “worshippers” live some of the most vividly duplicitous lives. I think I’ve seen people attempt to cover their compromise with insincere and pious worship. Good worshippers live good lives! They’re not perfect, nor is their submission to God entire, but they live humbly and repentantly.
This might even have something to do with worshipping in spirit and truth. To my mind, first it means that the good worshipper worships the right God, God as he is, not as they want him to be. You can’t worship the wrong God (or a wrong idea about the right God – that’s “idolatry”) and it be good worship! That deserves a lot more elaboration, but that’s for another time. But secondly, worshipping in truth might well imply that the worshipper should be truthful, sincere, real in their worship. The good worshipper is honest about their flaws – that’s what makes them bow. I know that when I get on my knees, it’s not usually because the worship leader asked us to, it’s because I’m feeling particularly grateful for the grace that makes this sinner acceptable to him.
Good worship involves the whole person (spirit, soul, and body)…
This will have to be unpacked another time…