The Worship Service:
A Hindrance Or A Highway For Revival
The uniting of God's people in corporate worship is of
crucial importance to the life of the church. What takes place during this
time should prepare the way for God to visit His people in revival. It
is possible, however, for what occurs in the "worship service" of
the church to actually be a hindrance to revival. How can this be
true? Let's look at some of the ways revival may be hindered by what
we do, or don't do, in our services.
A Misunderstanding of What It Means To Worship.
The word "worship" has numerous connotations in today's
in itself has resulted in many of the problems we face. In order to
truly worship God as He desires to be worshiped, we must understand
what worship is from His perspective. We must allow His Word to give us
a true definition of worship.
The primary word used in the Old Testament for worship is
the Hebrew word shachah. In each of its 170 uses, it has the
same meaning: to prostrate oneself, to bow down or stoop. In the
New Testament, the Greek word for worship,
proskuneo, has virtually the same meaning: to crouch, prostrate
oneself, to kiss the hand,
do reverence, to adore. True worship, therefore, must begin with a
heart attitude of bowing or prostrating oneself in adoration and
reverence before the One Who is being
worshiped. In many instances there may be a physical expression of
worship as well.
"And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with
their faces to the ground" (Neh. 8:6b).
"And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him
who lives forever and ever." (Rev. 5:14b)
Today, we see very little of this attitude of stooping, of
humbling oneself in worship. Instead, it seems the church is spending
an inordinate amount of time standing and celebrating. Although
both worship and celebration should be part of the life of the church,
there is a significant difference between the two. In worship, there is a
sense of awe and reverence for who God is.
He is the focus of worship. In celebration, we rejoice and enjoy
what God does, or has done. In actuality, the truest
celebration springs from a worshiping heart.
There is obviously a place for celebration in the life of the
church, but it ought never to replace worshiping
In today's church climate, with its focus on celebration rather
than worship, an unbeliever or backsliding Christian can actually feel
"at home" and enjoy himself in many of our services. In true
worship, however, when the focus is on God, a sinner will not feel "at
home." In God's presence, sin is revealed. A sinner will be faced with his
sin and his need to bow before a holy God in repentance.
There is no record of revival beginning among a people who
were always celebrating, but never worshiping. The record, however, is
full of those times God came in revival blessing while His children
were on their faces before Him. God's requirements have not changed:
"if My people . . . will humble themselves"
(2 Chron. 7:14).
Seeing Worship As A Means to An End, Rather Than An End
in Itself. Our drive to evangelize and our desire to grow
numerically have led us to "use" worship as a tool to reach the
lost. We have
gone so far as to turn our worship services, as opposed to
evangelistic services, into "seeker-friendly" meetings, so the
world will feel
at home when they come into the house of God. We should always
be sensitive to the unsaved, but nowhere in Scripture are we told
to accommodate the world in what God calls the believer to offer
Worship, as we find it in Scripture, is the exclusive right,
privilege, and responsibility of the child of
God. It is spiritually impossible for an unbeliever to worship. The
prevailing idea that the church needs
to sound like the world in order to win the world demonstrates a
serious misunderstanding of what church really is. It demonstrates
more concern with what the world thinks than with what God thinks.
There is one fundamental reason why the living God wants His
people to assemble in worship: that is, to ascribe to Him the worth and
value that are His, individually and as a body, and to present their bodies
as living sacrifices. Worshiping God is not a means to an end; it is
an end in itself!
Missing Ingredients in Worship. In some churches, the
vital elements of worship are being omitted from the service because
so much time is being taken for other things. What are these
"vital elements" of worship? One of them is prayer. Jesus said,
house shall be called a house of prayer" (Mark
11:17), yet prayer is not central in so many of our modern day services.
In our travels, I have sometimes checked the amount of time
churches actually spend praying in their worship services. At one point, four
out of five spent more time welcoming the visitors than all their
praying combined. Two out of those five spent more time making
the announcements than in prayer. Recently, in one of the largest
churches in our land, a total of forty-five seconds was actually spent in
prayer, while ten minutes were given to a humorous Sunday
Another vital element of worship missing from our services is
the reading of Scripture. How often have you heard an entire chapter
of God's Word read in a worship service? The Apostle Paul
instructed Timothy to give attention to the public reading of Scripture
(1 Tim. 4:13). We, too, need to heed this instruction.
When Man Sees the Pulpit as "His"
Stage. We live in a society that craves entertainment. Sadly, this
desire to be entertained has
gained more than a foothold in the church. By design, many of our
church buildings have become theaters. What was once called the
"pulpit area" has now become known as the "stage" for
"religious performing." This is true both in preaching and in music.
There is no place in a worship service for
entertainment. The people are not in need of seeing how clever man is,
but how holy God
is. They need an encounter with Him. Yet so often a congregation
leaves more impressed with the singer than with the Savior; more
impressed with the personality of the preacher than with the power of the
Holy Spirit. In entertainment the focus is on man, while in worship
the focus is always on God. Today it seems that, especially in the world
of "Christian music," God is often being used to display man's
talent, rather than man's talent being used to display God. We must
strive with all our being to keep the congregation's focus where it needs
to be. God, after all, is our "audience" in worship. It is His
that we are to seek. We must continually remind ourselves of this:
It matters not if the world has heard, or approves,
The only applause we're meant to seek is the applause of
Insensitivity to What the Holy Spirit is Doing in a
Service. It is extremely important that those of us involved in worship
leadership remain open and sensitive to the working of the Holy Spirit when
we are leading the church in worship. The pushing of our own agenda
can quickly hinder what God is doing at a particular moment in a
service. Let's look at some specific examples involving different areas
Imagine a point in a service when something has taken place that
has unquestionably led the congregation to a serious evaluation of
their lives in light of God's holiness. The people's hearts have been
deeply moved. The choir is scheduled to sing next, but they have planned
to sing a rhythmic, upbeat version of "Blessed Assurance." There
is nothing wrong with the song, but the timing is not right.
Music Director, what do you do? Do you just go ahead and do what you
have planned, or do you adjust and have the congregation sing a hymn
or chorus that is in the flow of what is happening? How often I have
seen the Spirit of God quenched by the wrong music. A soloist or
choir may be scheduled to sing, but if what is planned would turn
the people's focus away from what God is doing, it would be better not
to do anything. There are times when the best thing that could happen
Organists, pianists, and musicians must also be sensitive to what
is going on in a service. If, for instance, the service has closed with
a deep sense of conviction, they must be careful what they play for
a postlude. The focus can so quickly be turned away from God and
what He has been doing, and turned toward themselves and their music
by playing some boisterous number. Sometimes it may be best to
just continue quietly playing the commitment hymn.
Many times I've seen the Holy Spirit grieved by a pastor who,
after God has spoken deeply through special music or in the
corporate worship of the congregation, gets up and tells a funny story in order
to "get his audience." What has really happened is that the pastor
has drawn the focus away from God and toward himself. Worship
has been hindered.
We must remember that those who are part of the worship
leadership will either help or hinder what God wants to accomplish in
the service. We must be careful not to quench or grieve the Holy Spirit
by being "out of the Spirit."
Substituting "Adrenalin Highs" for the Holy
Spirit. Many in the Christian world seem unaware of the powerful effect
have on the emotions. The secular world and the New-Age community
are well aware of the adrenalin rush that can be produced by
the continuous repetition of words and musical phrases.
In his book, Adrenalin and Stress, Dr. Archibald Hart points out
that adrenalin addiction is just as real as an addiction to drugs. He
shows how this happens within the context of some worship styles. In
many of our churches today we have mistaken "adrenalin highs"
produced by constant musical repetition for the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In our day, when so much emphasis is placed on "having
an experience," people are open to deception. The "feeling"
get from the constant mantra-like repetition of choruses is not the
Holy Spirit. When it becomes necessary for people to get a certain
"feeling" when they worship, they may very well have become
what the music does to them. The tragedy is that in such situations,
the Lord's "manifest presence" has departed, yet no one realizes
is exactly what was happening in Jeremiah two, when not even
the leaders were asking, "where is the Lord?"
Offering what is Unacceptable to God. The presenting of
offerings which are unacceptable to God is, and always has been,
the fundamental hindrance to God's blessing of His people.
Numerous Scriptures record God's dealing with His children because they
were offering Him worship He could not accept.
One example of this is in the book of Isaiah. In chapter one, we
find Israel going through the motions of worship. Even though the
people had all the outward appearances of "doing it right," God
His back on their sacrifices and prayers because their hearts were not
His. The words He spoke to them should make us pause and think:
"Bring no more futile sacrifices . . . When you spread out your hands, I
will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I
will not hear . . . Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean"
It is not the outward excellence of the offering God looks for; it is
the excellence of the heart. The sight and the sound of our offerings
make no impression on heaven unless they are being lifted up with
holy hands. No matter how beautiful they may be, the voices
of unregenerate or backsliding church members are unacceptable to God.
Yet our loving God still says to us, "Come now, let us reason
together . . . Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as
snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool"
(Isa. 1:18). His words still call out to us as His people: "Return to
Me, and I
will return to You" (Mal. 3:7).
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once said that the most important and
highest activity any company of God's people could ever engage in was
to offer Almighty God acceptable worship. Jesus said that the Father
was looking for a people who would worship Him in spirit and in
truth (John 4:24). Such a people prepare the way for revival.
Lord, may our worship services be a highway for
Your presence, and not a hindrance.
Ron Owens for the past 6 1/2 years has served as Associate to
Henry Blackaby in the Prayer, Revival and Spiritual Awakening Office of
the North America Mission Board (formerly the Home Mission Board)
of the Southern Baptist Convention. Prior to that he and his
wife, Patricia, ministered through music and the spoken word in
different parts of the world in the areas of worship and revival.