When I was a kid loved walking along the railroad tracks behind my grandfather’s house. My brothers and I would search for loose railroad spikes that could easily be pulled off the rails and kept as souvenirs. Little did we know that our “treasure hunt” was not only illegal but extremely dangerous. Those little iron spikes were some of the only things holding those tracks intact. Needless to say, without sound tracks, a train might not make it to its destination on time. Or in one piece.
Corporate worship is like a train. When God’s people come together to seek His face and declare His praise, we “go” somewhere together. As the author of Hebrews put it, we “draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16). Worship is a journey into the heart of God. It’s a dynamic activity, not a static one.
Just as a train needs two rails to reach its destination, so does corporate worship. I call these two rails “acceptability” and “accessibility.”
Above all, worship must be acceptable to God. His word makes clear what kind of worship is acceptable to Him. Here are two characteristics of this kind of worship.
1. Worship That Is True. Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is Spirit and those who worship Him must do so in truth. We must worship Him in accordance with who He is, how Scripture reveals Him to be, not in accordance with how we simply think He is or how we think He should be. To do the latter would be to worship a fabricated version of the true God and not the true God Himself.
Therefore, the content of our corporate worship must consist of truth and nothing but the truth.
2. Worship That Is Consistent. God offered a pretty brutal and honest critique of His people’s worship in Amos 5:21-23. Here are a few of the “highlights.”
“I hate…your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”
Ouch. What was the reason for God’s utter contempt of their worship? Were the harps out of tune? No, verse 24 gives us the answer: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The problem with Israel’s worship is that it was completely incongruent with their actual lives. They drew near with their lips but their hearts (and lives) were far from Him (Is. 29:13).
It’s not that our lives have to be perfect. There’s plenty of room around God’s throne of grace for weak and imperfect people. We are all on a journey towards becoming like Jesus. Therefore, we aren’t hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we have attained thus far in our journey with Jesus. However, we are in danger of being hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we are pursuing.
Consequently, let’s sing and pray boldly of the things we’ve yet to attain but do so from hearts and lives that are in pursuit of them.
Not only must corporate worship be acceptable to God, but He makes it clear in His word that it must be accessible to others.
The ultimate example of worship that is inaccessible, and God’s heart towards this matter, can be seen in John 2:13-17.
The time was Passover. The Jewish feast when all of God’s people were required to go on pilgrimage to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. This was a literal worship journey.
As His people made the difficult trek from the four corners of the nation, carrying their gifts and preparing their hearts by singing the songs of ascent (Psalm 120-134), they finally arrived at their destination only to find a roadblock right outside of the temple devised by the religious spirit of the day.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had set up an extortion ring under the guise of concern for proper worship.
Many of the pilgrims had a long journey and in lieu of bringing their own sacrifices, they brought money to purchase animals for sacrifice when they got to Jerusalem. These animals could be conveniently purchased right outside of the Temple. For an exorbitant price.
Not only were the prices of the animals inflated, but your Roman denarius wasn’t acceptable. You would first have to exchange it for the Jewish shekel. The money changers were more than happy to assist you with this. However, the exchange rate was horrible. (Sort of like a store that is “cash only” and conveniently has an ATM in the corner with a $5 usage fee!)
Needless to say, this road block made Jesus livid. You probably know the rest of the story.
I believe this story reveals Jesus’ heart for accessible worship so clearly. Paul shared His heart to a degree as we see in his dealing with the Corinthian’s inaccessible worship practices (1 Cor. 14).
How do we as worship leaders create worship experiences that are accessible? Here are just a few ways.
1. Remember Why We’re Here. First, I often find it’s important to remind myself that first and foremost my role is about serving others. Like King David (2 Samuel 5:12) I realize that God has put me where I am for the sake of others, not just myself. Remembering this puts me in the right mindset to make good decisions. Often when considering a new song or direction I’ll ask, “Is this going to help people worship?”
2. Content That’s Intelligible. Are the songs we write and choose to use clearly understood? Good poetry is incredibly valuable in our songs but not when it’s at the expense of clarity, in my (hopefully) humble opinion.
3. Content That’s Familiar. Scripture commands us to sing new songs and yet a good dose of familiarity will go a long way in corporate worship.
4. Leadership That’s Followable. Do I run off on my own adventure when leading worship or do I bring people along? Does my musical skill provide a solid foundation for people to run on? Am I so inconsistent and unpredictable in my actions that people feel a little unsure about how to join in?
5. Leadership That’s Inviting. Is my demeanor warm and inviting or cold and commanding? Do I help people feel at home through my words and eye contact or do they feel like they are guests in someone else’s house?
What are your thoughts regarding acceptability and accesibility?