What is "good worship"?

  • Posted on: 6 June 2017
  • By: doug

(For the purposes of the rambling thoughts that follow, I'm going to use "worship" to refer to the portion of a worship service that is given to corporate singing. I think we can agree that the corporate worship service involves much more than music, including corporate prayer and the ministry of the word and the sacraments, etc., and that worship doesn't end with what we do corporately, but involves the posture of our lives as we serve the Lord day by day. But my intention is to discuss music in this post.)

It is difficult for a worship leader to evaluate whether a worship set (the portion of the worship service that involves congregational singing) was effective or not. The experience of individuals in the congregation can vary so widely, and it can be such a subjective experience that, apart from conducting a post-service interview with each worshiper, it is virtually impossible to gauge whether the worship set "worked" or not.

Don't misunderstand: it is not difficult to determine whether the musicians played and sang with skill and beauty--believe me, we are aware of every wrong note, every fumbled lyric, every missed beat or cue. But it is difficult to determine whether any given individual in the worship center experienced worship in the sense that is our weekly goal--drawing near to God to offer him praise and love and adoration. At one level, only God can truly determine this, and I, as a worship leader, can easily be wrong.  I recall one worship service in which there was a certain person who appeared throughout the service to be wishing that he was anywhere but there in the pew. With each song, it seemed as though he became increasingly bored, perhaps even annoyed. I remember feeling after the worship set that we had failed utterly to lead him into God's presence in any meanginful way. For those reasons I was stunned when he came to me after the worship service to tell me that he had truly appreciated our worship time, and that it had been extremely meaningful to him. You never know.

It is tempting to consider a worship set "successful" if there are lots of people weeping, or clapping their hands, or worshiping with their hands in the air, but these are false measures. (Although in our church, if there were lots of people worshiping with raised hands, I would have to wonder what was happening--our congregations are generally more subdued in their expressiveness than that.) Outward appearances can be deceiving. While it is true that in some cases, the outward expression can reflect what is happening in a person's heart, you really can't know. Weeping can be a somewhat better indicator--sometimes a lyric, or even a melody, can touch a tender place in a person's heart, resulting in tears, but it still doesn't necessarily mean that that person has been in God's presence. No one can know the heart but God.

But we can self-assess in this area. We can prepare our hearts for corporate worship, with prayer, with confession, with meditation on Scripture, and by focusing our attention on God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--by reminding ourselves that our worship is not for us, nor is it about us, but rather it is about God and for God. He is the audience, the recipient of our praise, the One to whom or about whom we sing. A wrong note or a missed beat may distract us momentarily, and that's why a worship team rehearses and works hard to play skillfully, so as not to distract, but to the one who is immersed in worship of the God of the universe, such things are barely noticed. 

Yes, it is true that worship leaders and worship teams can be caught up in ego trips that have to do with their own skills and such, and we know better than that; though we may succumb to ego at times, we understand that this is not what worship is about. We pray as a team each Sunday morning (and throughout the week) that the Lord will help us to choose music that the Holy Spirit can use, and that our playing and singing will be skillful enough to not cause a distraction for those who are there to worship, and that God's people will be drawn into his presence, if only for a few moments on Sunday.

What's your measuring stick for "good worship"?