Stop calling it worship…

by vernsanders on May 26, 2009

This morning on facebook, I found the following important message from Byron Spradlin which I think speaks for itself:

STOP calling the singing time “WORSHIP.” I’m more and more questioning our calling the singing time “worship.” Doing that seems to cut the wrong groove in our minds, imaginations and hearts. WORSHIP is our way of life: including what we are doing the moment we move to get ready to come to a gathered church event—NOT simply the singing at that gathered worship event. So stop it. :-) Just a thought, not a sermon.

Comments? Please leave your thoughts…

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Liturgic or Lethargic?
June 2, 2009 at 9:05 am

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Shelley May 26, 2009 at 2:35 pm

You know, I think I have to agree! Worship isn’t about God for too many people anymore. It’s entertainment, it’s all about self. No matter how hard we musicians strive to make it not about that, it is. We worry about style, we worry about the “performance”, we worry about whether or not what we do in the chancel or auditorium will “bring in the crowds.” What will the people like or dislike. how will it be perceived, what if we change something and they don’t care for it. We don’t like this or that hymn or song. The worship wars are still being fought. Need I go on? I live this everyday as we are working to “improve” worship, part of the reason I was hired in the first place. So, go on, Vern, tell us now….what IS worship now and what should it be? And how do we change the mindset of our people, not only in the chancel, but the pew? I serve a church whose choir was bred as performers. The harder the piece, the better. “We want to sound like the xxxxxx Chorale!” They saw worship as their venue and changing that has been hard, but I seem to be winning. I’m trying to get more congregational participation rather than having them being entertained. Sometimes I wonder, as a traditional musician, but also as one who has designed and led contemporary worship as well, if there isn’t a bit of worship in some of the songs they do, as I see arms raised and teary faces. But society has become to entertainment-oriented, I wonder if there aren’t many in those services too, who don’t see why we are there. So, again, I ask, how do we worship?

vernsanders May 30, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. In a recent blog post I talked about “bi-seasonal dichotomy” and I think, with worship leaders, there is a “semi-schizophrenic platform mentality.” We want to do well…to please God, but we are torn because our feedback comes from people, and they want what they want (and most of the time, they want what they like).
I don’t have “the” answer, but I try very hard to teach all of my platform leadership that they are not performers…they are worship leaders, and that (in my opinion) worship of God is best served when the worship leadership is transparent…by that I mean not calling attention to one (or group)sself…whether that is by doing a “professional” musical rendition or by getting out of the way of the congregation’s worship.
It is a fact that (without a vulcan mind meld) we can’t be worship leaders and experience worship they way that the congregation does at the same time. The fact that every person’s individual experience and response to God in worship is different makes the problem compounded.
As Rory Noland put is so many years ago, it is in a large part about the “heart” of the artist, and one of the difficulties of a leader who is leading a group of leaders (i.e. a choir, or a band, or a handbell group, or an orchestra, or a gathering of children…) is that you don’t have complete control over their whole beings. At some point you have to trust that the corollary/extrapolation of the Scripture is also true: God won’t give you more followers than you can inspire to lead.
How do we worship?
Imperfectly, I think, just as we live, love, and be happy imperfectly in this life. Fortunately, Revelation gives us a picture of what is to come, and this worship is but a bit of rehearsal…

Pastor Andrew Logan May 27, 2009 at 9:33 am

Incredible how God speaks to His people the same thing at the same time. I just finished a TV interview that said virtually the same thing. You can see the interview on LeSea Broadcasting’s website for the Harvest Show for Tuesday May 26th.

I did an interview for my book Plugging Into Real Worship which clearly communicates what GOD calls worship and that it IS a lifestyle with benefits He wants to give us.

God bless,

Pastor Andy Logan
All Nations Word and Worship Center

vernsanders May 30, 2009 at 10:49 pm

Thanks for your comment Andy. Great minds think alike :)

Cortlandt Bender May 29, 2009 at 10:50 am

This reminds me that in the liturgical churches. people say we are going to do liturgy. It is all worship folks.

vernsanders May 30, 2009 at 10:51 pm

Agreed, Cort. Part of the difficulty is that we have adopted a cultural attitude that “worship” is that packaged hour in a church building on a weekend time of our choice. I think that Biblical scholars would argue that worship is a 7 day a week activity, and that “at church” we celebrate/lament/uplift/share corporately what we have been doing individually.

Paul Clark June 1, 2009 at 11:41 am

The incessant reference to music in corporate worship as “worship” with no qualifiers, or explanation leads our byte-obsessed culture (all of us) to dismiss the larger frame of local church worship, C(capital “C”)hurch worship, and yes, worship as the very essence of life. I sometimes have calls to come and “do worship,” which opens the can of worms even further.

I find the term “worship leader” to be troubling as well, especially when used exclusively for those who guide the music expression. Even “worship music leader” would perhaps serve better.

vernsanders June 1, 2009 at 2:10 pm

I know what you mean…for years I’ve heard people say things like “time for me to go and do church.” Labels help us know what we’re talking about but, in my experience, thngs are seldom as simple as the label implies…

isabelle hood July 22, 2009 at 2:47 am

I could not agree more, especially with the misuse of “worship leader”. The only worship leader is the Holy Spirit. Musicians are merely serving to lead the music, which is only a part of worship , to help the congregation to praise God effectively.

John van de Laar November 17, 2010 at 7:27 am

Thanks for this post, Vern. I have two thoughts:

1. Part of the problem with the evolution of our worship is the language we use. We commonly talk about “Praise and Worship”, but what we mean by “Praise” is “fast songs” and what we mean by “Worship” is “slow songs”. So, we’ve equated worship with music, and now we reap the harvest our language has sown. The key for me is to develop a robust theology of worship – but I’m not sure that using the language of “worship is a lifestyle” is the way to do that (as I wrote about on my blog here).

2. The worship wars – and the growing disillusionment with worship in some quarters of the church – flows, I believe, out of prioritising what I call “packaging” (style, presentation etc.) over the purpose (intimate encounter with God) and the tried and tested practices (praise, confession, intercession, thanksgiving, sacrament, Scripture etc.) of worship. People may “want what they want” in terms of packaging, but once they’ve really experienced a true encounter with God, they won’t settle for anything less, no matter how sexy the packaging is. And such encounters can happen in any worship setting – spontaneous, contemporary, liturgical, traditional, emergent etc.

Lots more I could say, but I’ll leave it there. I’m looking forward to your response, and those of your other readers.


vernsanders November 17, 2010 at 11:13 am


Thanks for the comment. I have felt for some time that part of the difficulty we face in any current dialogue about worship is the struggle over language to describe it. I’m fond of saying to people (with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek) “define ‘contemporary’.” (or traditional…or whatever…)

Those who produce worship “materials” whether they be writings about worship, worship music, blogs, or, in my case, a magazine, need to use “packaging” descriptors in order to identify exactly to what the materials are relevant. At the same time, one person’s contemporary is another person’s bleeding edge, to take an example, and a third person’s traditional…and here’s the point, whether any of them call it that appropriately or not.

It is a difficult discussion to have, and concept to relate, that those in church leadership must of needs sort through the materials by understanding the packaging labels, but determine, in my opinion, what is appropriate for any given service and/or any given congregation (or, in multisite situations, demographic slice of a congregation).

Then, again in my opinion, whatever the choices lead to should be called worship. Just worship. And whatever the materials are that are brought to bear are serving the greater goal of worship which you defined so well.

Which leads back to the primary problem. Most people (congregants and leaders alike) don’t have or want to take the time to be precise and/or fully informed in their preparation for worship, let alone in their survey of all the available materials in order to make informed choices. It is easier and quicker to just find a label that seems comfortable.

And that determination…the power to make the decision(s) about what is comfortable, is, in my opinion, the real agenda of the worship wars.



John van de Laar November 18, 2010 at 6:48 am

Thanks for the reply, Vern – some very good thoughts here.

Of course, in the final analysis you’re absolutely right. The essence of the worship wars is ultimately all about the power to label, to set the agenda, to make the decisions.

I agree that there is an unfortunate laxness about understanding of and preparation for worship – and ‘packaging’ is much easier to define, measure and put into practice than genuine encounter with God.

I guess the question is how to change this culture and develop a culture of growing, learning and commitment to do the work to make worship what it can be. But, that’s the topic for another post…

I hadn’t realised this post of yours was posted as long ago as it was – I just picked up through your Twitter feed. I’m grateful that you took the time to respond anyway.


vernsanders November 19, 2010 at 12:04 pm


you write:
I guess the question is how to change this culture and develop a culture of growing, learning and commitment to do the work to make worship what it can be. But, that’s the topic for another post…

and I say if you can figure out how to do that and how to “package” it, I’d be happy to help you get the word out about it…




sulene November 18, 2010 at 12:47 am

I try to incorporate all views in my thinking & admit that I do not have the liturgical or theological vocabulary or understanding as great people of wisdom, but speak as a congregational member & music group leader with a passion for God’s Word. So totally agree with not calling congregational singing “worship time”, since “worship” is ONE of the miriads of terms involved in a relationship with God where we engage in music, dance, etc, etc, etc.
I cannot understand what is unacceptable with the overall term “singing” or “music group” … for it is biblical?

vernsanders November 19, 2010 at 12:07 pm


Thanks for the comment.

As you can see from the comment dialogue between John and I above, I think that there is nothing wrong with any label, as long as there is an understanding that it is a label. It is the old “descriptions are abstracts of actual things” problem, and as long as we need language to communicate, we will have this problem I suspect.



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