Editor's Note: Dan Kimball originally wrote this piece for his blogVintage Faith. He allowed us to publish an edited version here as a guest post:
I have become very aware of the power of words—and the power of defining words. In the Christian culture we have created, I don't believe we can ever assume we mean the same thing anymore when we say terms like "gospel," "Jesus," "salvation," "inspired," "evangelical," "evangelism," "missional," and so on. I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that you need to ask someone their definitions of terms with specific meanings to understand how theirs may differ from yours.
One of these terms is "worship."
I question how we have overwhelmingly defined "worship" to primarily mean music and singing, often to the detriment of other acts of worship, such as giving.
If you were to ask most teenagers and young adults what comes to their minds when they hear the word "worship," it's likely singing. We have pretty much defined worship this way to them over the past 20 years. Now, it's true that we worship when we sing. But that is only one aspect of worship. We have subtly taught a reductionist view of worship, limiting it primarily to music and singing as what defines the word and practice.
It's easy to understand why. What do we call the person in a church who leads the band or singing? It is normally the "worship pastor" or "worship leader." When our music leaders say, "Let's now worship," that is when the singing begins. Christian albums are called Best of Worship or Worship Greatest Hits, reinforcing the idea that music is the primary—or even only—form of worship. I just read on a Facebook post how a group was bringing in a guest to "lead worship" and, of course, this person was a musician. We constantly reinforce this notion of worship as singing by our constant and casual association of the term with music and singing.
When we think of Sunday gatherings of the church and when worship happens, we generally do not think of the teaching or the sacrifice of people who are worshiping by volunteering time in places like the children's ministry. When a sermon begins or when the offering is received, we rarely say, "Let's now worship," like we do when the singing starts.
I recently attended a college-age gathering, and after the time of musical worship ended (I personally try to always say "musical worship" ), a person stood at the front to announce it was time for the offering. The person referenced it as a time of sacrifice by giving finances as an act of worship. The word sacrifice really stood out to me as being defined with worship.
There are times when "worship" occurs without any actual physical sacrifice, but when you study the whole of the Bible, you will see that worship often involves the sacrifice of something. After the first 11 chapters of Romans teach on the act of Jesus and His sacrifice for us, Romans 12:1-2 tells us to "offer our bodies as living sacrifices."
This kind of sacrifice includes all areas of our lives, and it is costly. For instance, we may want something, but because it may be sinful, we choose to refrain from it, aligning our ways to God's ways instead.
The Old Testament was filled with times of coming to worship and sacrificing something. Generally, it involved something costly to the worshiper (such as animals or grains) to show a valuable sacrifice offered back to God, who owns everything anyway. We read in 2 Samuel 24:24 "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing."
Here's what is intriguing: We often primarily define worship as singing, but singing doesn't cost us too much in terms of sacrifice. We mentally and emotionally bring ascent to our thoughts as we sing and focus on God. But are we really sacrificing something? I may be wrong, but it seems pretty easy to come into a room, sit, and then "worship" by singing.
I am glad we have times of worship in church involving singing. We can worship in major ways as we sing. But it is probably one of the least sacrificial–or costly–ways we do worship.
When we begin to think of worship in a sacrificial sense, what does that look like in today's world? Two of the most sacrificial things seem to be our time and, most of all, our finances.
At the college-age gathering I attended, I watched the bags passed around for the offering. Maybe one out of every twenty people put anything at all in the offering bags. I fully understand that people give online, and people may give bi-weekly or monthly, so this isn't an accurate representation of how much actually was given that morning. Still, it's interesting to watch these differing dynamics play out: It is easy for us to worship God when all that is required is singing a few songs. It is difficult for us to worship God by giving financially or giving up some of our precious time.
This leads me back to why we use the title of "worship pastor" or "worship leader" to designate the person who leads an area of worship that doesn't cost us too much.
Why don't we switch the title to the person who leads or oversees an area that people generally sacrifice the most–finances? That's usually the church treasurer. Isn't that person the one who truly oversees the most sacrificial worship of the people of the church?
I raise the question somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I am curious—does anyone else think we've unintentionally reduced the power and true meaning of the word "worship" by generally assigning the title to the person who leads the music?
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