What does the word worship mean?

I always get the same basic answer:  it’s a lifestyle.  Anything can be an act of worship–serving in various capacities in and out of church, working at your job with integrity, serving your family selflessly, giving money, etc.

And we call our Sunday morning meetings ‘worship services’.  So does that mean we’re worshipping the entire time?  Is putting money in the offering plate an act of worship?  Listening to the sermon?  Singing songs about God, and to God?

Are these all acts of worship?

Then why don’t we call the ushers the ‘worship team’?  Or at least, the ‘worship ushers’?

I’ll tell you why:  we’ve fallen into the habit of referring to music as worship, and then we get in trouble.

We get in trouble because words have meaning, and my suspicion, the more I interact with churches, is that there are two definitions of worship floating around, one very broad, one very narrow, and the confusion is causing…confusion.  Hard feelings.  Budget trouble.

At Board meetings, at Staff meetings, at budget meetings, at congregational meetings, there’s one group of people at the table operating on the first definition, and one group operating on the second.

The first definition is what I described above:

Anything can be an act of worship, and as we meet on Sunday morning, the entire thing is ‘worship’.

The second definition goes something like this:

Connecting with God in an emotional way, feeling very close to God, feeling deep emotions, and expressing those very visibly and outwardly.

So the pastor or the elders say, “We want the congregation to lead a more worshipful life”.  The Worship Director hears this, and thinks, “Really?  Then how come we can’t have money for new stage monitors?  I’m the one with the word ‘worship’ in my title.

Here’s what I think has happened:  The Contemporary Worship Movement has, over the last 60 years or so, hijacked both the meaning of the word worship, and the music departments themselves.  It’s…well, it’s hip to refer to music as worship.  There are buzzwords.  There are famous worship bands and worship writers and worship players and worship theologians.  And so the word worship has become synonymous with the word music.  But worship is worship, and music is music.  They aren’t the same thing.

The people in the congregation are told that they’re worshipping by giving their money, but then encouraged to ‘really worship’ when the band starts up.

The pastor says to the congregation, “Wasn’t it a wonderful worship service this morning?  Aren’t we all glad we came and worshipped?”  And then in the lobby the pastor says to the Worship Director, “The worship wasn’t as good this morning as it was last week.” He’s used two different definitions inside 5 minutes.

We can argue about the meaning of the word worship, but let’s at least acknowledge that we’re shooting past each other much of the time.

Words mean something.  From my vantage point, this is what I see:  the vast majority of people sitting in the pews see the whole thing as worship, in a mild, broad sense, and think of the singing time as…singing time.

 

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