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Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Worship Quote of the Week

Seeker-oriented contemporary churches argue that worship does not need to present the whole gospel. The purpose of worship, they say, is to get people in the door. Then, after they have gained a hearing, they present the gospel in small-group settings. This argument may be good marketing, but it fails to understand the biblical purpose of worship. Worship brings glory to God because it remembers God’s saving deeds in the past and anticipates God’s culmination of his saving deeds in the new heavens and new earth.

Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 85.

Here's what I like about this quote. Anytime we attach any agenda to worship, no matter how good, we start down the road toward idolatry. We don't witness to non-Christians by worshipping. The Spirit witnesses to people through our worship.

The difference-- the former will quickly lead us down the path of marketing. The latter comes through fastened attention and loving adoration of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
posted by John David Walt | at 7/01/2009 07:11:00 AM



Blogger NAJS said...


Yet again, we have an accord – must read that book. Worship (Worth-ship) is for Gods benefit. Not cause he needs it, it’s just that He Alone is worthy of it.

Taking a commercial view to ministry leads us down shallow paths, diluting His message by cherry picking components perceived as “popular” or “accessible”. By living our lives rooted in our communities, serving those in need, drawing alongside the broken His truth will be seen, despite our imperfections. That’s Grace in action!

I heard the other day that Christian population from 100AD to 320AD grew from 25,000 to 20,000,000 despite huge persecution under the Roman Empire.

When Chairman Moa's took charge in China from mid 1900s Christians in China were estimated at 2 million. He systematically persecuted the Christian church banishing Missionaries & Minsters, executing all senior level leaders, imprisoning/torturing 2nd & 3rd level leaders, nationalising church buildings and making all Christian meetings illegal under punishment of death. By his death Christians in China were estimated at 60million.

Dare I suggest the marketing teams weren’t involved here? I’m sure these Church Leaders intentions are good, but as we’ve heard, that road potentially has an unpleasant destination.

8:15 AM EDT  
Blogger dan said...

I like it, I like it!

would you say that agendas can include:
1.) we need to make this more like the ancient worship? or we need to return to the roots of worship
2.) we need to make worship relevant?

8:20 AM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

Thanks NAJS. Kudos

And Dan-- good to hear from you. I think anytime we begin with that as a target-- "ancient-future" or "relevance" we get in trouble.

For my money, the right question is this:

How can we bring everything we've got-- our bodies as a living sacrifice, Scripture, 2000 years of treasured worship resources, bread, water, wine, oil, human talent, grace gifts, every conceivable instrument (not all at the same time), insert your thought here-- you get the point--

How can we bring everything we can get our hands on and weave that together over time in a tapestry that stretches from the beginning to the end in such a way that Jesus Christ is lifted up in our midst?

From there we can begin to talk about ancient forms of worship, cultural relevance and so forth. These are second order questions at best. We must start with first things.

8:34 AM EDT  
Blogger ziondreamer said...

I just think "Church is cool (and air-conditioned)" is clever. I would go there just because of the sign.

In America... I think good marketing (best marketing is word of mouth) gets people in the door - not worship.
And most of the time, community is what gets people to stay - not understanding God's saving deeds of the past and future.

While I am all about it's biblical purposes, worship does not need to present the whole gospel. That puts way too much pressure on the pastors/leaders.
If each week we sit in our design team meeting and ask, "how can we make sure to present the whole gospel this week?" - well, that sounds like attaching an agenda to worship.
PS, I'd love to hear from someone out there that does not attach an agenda of some kind to worship (I am referring to worship here as a weekly gathering in a church).

1:16 PM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

ok ZionDreamer. (a.k.a. Veronica) ;0)

dialogue with me on this.

you are down with the biblical purposes of worship but you seem to say that presenting the whole gospel does not square with your notion of the biblical purposes for worship. right?

so what would you say are the biblical purposes of worship?

you also indicate that it puts too much pressure on pastors and leaders to present the whole Gospel. right?

But I would ask you-- what is their primary public job?

Perhaps our dialogue needs to center around the meaning of "the whole Gospel." One thing I don't think is meant here by "the whole gospel" is some kind of modern evangelical presentation of the four spiritual propositions. Nor do I think Webber refers to some kind of patent evangelistic presentation.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't disagree with the content of these affirmations, but neither am I convinced this is the biblical way to present the whole Gospel.

What do you think is meant or implied by "presenting the whole gospel?" (as relates to a worship context).

I would say that one cannot possibly "attach" the Gospel to worship as an agenda because the Gospel is intrinsically worship itself. Now-- if by the Gospel, we actually mean "evangelism" then you are right-- it becomes an attached agenda. I would say this is what church has been reduced to in north america-- a means to the end of making the church grow.

sally Morganthaller went in this direction (i.e. Worship Evangelism) and subsequently recanted the whole thing.

I think the bigger issue is the worship conversation. We have switched from the categories of theology and doxology to sociology and even retail.

I really like your assessment of "word of mouth" marketing-- though I would say that is more in the category of evangelism than marketing.

Finally, I want to better understand your statement that community is what gets people to stay in church rather than the Gospel. say more about that.

and thanks for engaging the conversation.

3:42 PM EDT  
Blogger ziondreamer said...

I'm down with the Biblical purpose of worship as stated in Webber's quote. "Worship brings glory to God because it remembers God's saving deeds of past and anticipates God's culmination of his saving deeds in the new heavens and new earth."

If I remember the book Ancient-Future worship correctly, Webber was taking on various models of worship and contending that worship is God's story acted out through us. Right?

I'm down with that.

It just rubbed me wrong that Webber said that Seeker-oriented contemporary churches argue that worship does not need to present the whole gospel. Who is he talking about (we'll never know I suppose -GRHS)?
I probably misunderstood but I thought he was suggesting that the whole gospel needs to be presented to the worshipper week in and week out. I contend that we illuminate pieces of it week in and week out.

As pastors/leaders, of course we are charged with presenting the whole gospel - that is our primary public job.
My point was that to sit in design team meeting each week and attempt to present the whole gospel every week - - that is the pressure I was talking about.

Revelation of the whole gospel is a journey (or a stumbling forward in my case) on a vast yet narrow road that is both ancient and eternal. Our task is to cast light on the path so that the worshipper can take one more step.

And we don't just do that in large gathering corporate worship. We do it in community, in relationships. Yes, the Holy Spirit witnesses to people through our worship (corporate gathering), but how much more does the Holy Spirit witness the revelation of Christ through our life together?

"Community is what makes people keep coming back" - that comment comes from my experience in campus ministry where no matter how matter how educational our theological content; no matter how relevant and inspiring our presentation, students came because of community. I recall a student who said, "Man I love Wesley so much, Creighton's messages are always right on. Why do I go to CRU? That's where my friends go."
How many times have you heard people describe their experience at local church like this, "Well, it was nice but I have been 3 times and no one talks to me." They don't go back whether or not they heard something about God's saving deeds of the past and future.

5:47 PM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

thanks Zion Dreamer

I particularly loved this statement--

"Revelation of the whole gospel is a journey (or a stumbling forward in my case) on a vast yet narrow road that is both ancient and eternal. Our task is to cast light on the path so that the worshipper can take one more step."

i would tweak it a bit to say our task is to "lift up the God" so that the worshipper can behold what they are becoming. Here's why-- The local church world-- and particularly the really growing local church world-- has become very pragmatic about worship. They see it as their main opportunity to influence people to "do what they think they ought to do."

I've seen worship design scenarios where the planning begins with what they are wanting people to end up doing and everything is carefully constructed to point to that end. That sounds more like an infomercial than worship. Too often we see it as our task to get people to do something.

Don't get me wrong-- there's nothing wrong with "doing something." but I question the churches enterprise of getting people to do something.
the problem is how seductive that motive is. we can get some visible results-- accomplish our goal or mission-- grow our effort. we can measure our success. this is the problem with crusade evangelism. i saw a statistic that said there have been three times as many "decisions" for Christ in the United States as there are people.

The problem-- Over time, people become inoculated from the real virus.

ok-- so what am i saying. I'm trying to say (not to you, but in general) GIVE GOD A CHANCE. i'm trying to suggest that we have basically taken over the real agenda of worship with our own sub-agendas==(get people to take a step, make a decision or commitment, come back wednesday night, sign up for a bible study, get involved in a mission trip, go the water park with teenagers, etc. etc. etc. i forgot to mention tithing. ;0) ).== which we argue will eventually get us to the real agenda.

GIVING GOD A CHANCE means what you are saying in your comment, I think. You are right, God has opportunities virtually everywhere to reveal himself to people. Corporate Worship, however, creates a quite unique place and opportunity. This is the one place where the gathered people of God can become re-oriented with the World God made and is remaking. Worship, as Robert Jensen says, must become a place of "seeing." The task of worship design, (for my money), is creating/shaping a context bursting with revelation-- with "beatific" vision. Shaping a context using everything we've got to create a setting, an order, that is pregnant with epiphany. Worship Leadership is about pointing up the God here.

When people finally see God-- everything changes-- the thin motivation of our program-- becomes supplanted with the real virus-- the unstoppable Kingdom. Worship is about seeing God and offering one'self to the vision. This is the beholding that leads to becoming.

I think this is the real question for worship designers and leaders-- how do we do this kind of work.

thanks for this conversation-- love having it with you.

8:22 AM EDT  
Blogger ziondreamer said...

Ooh. I like "lift up their God" instead of "light up their path". That expands my definition. That's good. But "...so they can behold what they are becoming"? That's a square peg for me. What am I missing... worship as transformation?

I understand worship to be a corporate casting of adoration toward God, a celebration of God's rescue story, and a gathering for believers to learn of God's transforming love through Spirit-inspired instruction.

Say more about the worshipper beholding what they are becoming.

I totally agree we need to give God a chance. God is the stand-alone object of our affection.

So for you and your team, how do you steer clear of attaching an agenda to worship?

When you meet with your design team - what is your opening question or statement?

Do you have a structure for designing community worship- for creating/shaping a context bursting with revelation-- with "beatific" vision?

Funny. I'm not even in worship design anymore. It still is in my heart though.
I always learn from you brother. Thanks for your work.

5:06 PM EDT  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Dear John David,

I have always loved how you can take a topic - like witnessing - that is fraught with human error and lack of training, and draw distinctions that are at once complex and simple enough for me to understand.

Sorry I've been out of touch so long - please know that you, your ministry and your family are on my mind and in our prayers often.

7:42 PM EDT  
Anonymous John Palmer said...

While I am all about it's biblical purposes, worship does not need to present the whole gospel. That puts way too much pressure on the pastors/leaders.


I think every service of worship should present the "whole gospel" I don't think it is any pressure at all on pastors, leaders, members and constituents to present the "Whole Gospel". The life of faith that we live in is indeed a "journey". The Gospel though is a Message. It is the News of Worship and it is Good. It should be heard in our songs, in our prayers, in our sermons, in our liturgy, in our fellowship, in our Coming and in our Going.

12:05 PM EDT  
Blogger ziondreamer said...

Don't get me wrong, I believe we need to present the gospel.
I simply didn't jive with what I perceived to be a blanket statement that the whole gospel ought to be presented at every corporate worship gathering. I think a gradual unfolding of revelation is ok. Sometimes questions and dissonance are ok.
I'm aware I may be missing the original point - and don't mean to belabor it. I'm aware I may not have a very high view of corporate worship. JD stretches me in that. :)
HA - I'm probably one of the people Webber was dissing in the first place!

8:06 PM EDT  

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