As discussed in part one of this series, our error prone understanding and fixation on “worship music” and “worship leaders”, has led to some spiritual deficiencies in Christianity in the United States, England, Europe and Australia. Aside from what was discussed from an individual standpoint, we must consider how our faulty understanding of worship has affected the fellowship of the saints when we gather together Sunday to Sunday.
From the beginning, we must admit that the pattern of the New Testament church was not a once a week meeting, as the only time of fellowship, instruction in righteousness and prayer. In fact, we can acknowledge that two meetings a week was not the New Testament pattern, but rather consistent house to house meetings of vibrant Holy Spirit led fellowship.
It is very important that we realize the primary focus of early Christian fellowship was to encounter the Lord Jesus Christ through the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Let us consider his purpose as laid out in Acts of the Apostles.
Despite these early church realities, we can see a consistent pattern, of the least 1300 years where a weekly meeting on or around Sunday is THE common time of weekly fellowship. Without much explanation, this weekly meeting has been essential to countless saints for persevering in the faith, once delivered to the saints. Because of the importance of these meetings, they must be intentionally arranged to be Holy Spirit led, as the word of God outlines.
Acts 2:42-45 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Acts 4:32-33 32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
The phrases highlighted in bold print reveal God’s word being used to teach and call others to Christ. We also see the Spirit of God, as the leader of fellowship, praying, miracles, and the bold proclamation of the word of God. These pillars of early church fellowship are the intentional framework by which we must arrange our meeting times, most would agree.
Although singing was more than likely a staple of the early church fellowship, there is no emphasis placed upon it as a primary or even focused upon gifting or programmed portion. Yet in our Christian context, this is not the case. In fact the “worship team”, and the “worship service” are more than prominent, they are largely the focus. The “worship leader” has even been granted status as a pastoral position; often without openly declaring it, we elevate “worship leader” to a specific status of calling by God, although this is not expressed in the New Testament.
This ought to cause some concern. Scripture is clear that there are five ministry giftings to the body of Christ: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. Each gifting is necessary at differing times, for the building of the body into the image of Christ. Though none of the gifts is given with the idea of preeminence (none is of higher rank), we often get that wrong as well.
For instance, in what is referred to as the NEW APOSTOLIC REFORMATION, some charismatic believers teach that the apostle is the chief office in a top down structure, even though this is clearly not scriptural. This error is not new, but a regurgitation of the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession, where the pope is the chief apostle; again this thinking is clearly not scriptural.
We see this type of error when considering the role of pastor. It seems that in the American church we generally call anyone and everyone a pastor. Lead pastors, are the first place leaders–youth pastors lead youth–executive pastors lead other pastors–administrative pastors lead paperwork–and worship pastors lead singing people. To me this reeks of the over specialization that eventually can grind effective workers into ineptitude, in a union setting.
We ought to be careful of assigning leadership to those not called by the Lord to that gifting. With “worship leaders” we must be careful, for the New Testament does not reveal any such calling in the church. This is not to say that there are not people naturally gifted in music and inclined to be a model of praise. These godly souls are seeking to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit for aid in directing the fellowship toward God fixation. This ability is good, but our creation of a calling apart from God’s word, pulling away from God fixation, to people fixation.
Most agree that over the last 60 years churches have experienced division over money and music more than any other two issues. How to spend the money (on youth, seeker sensitive things, or rainy day type items) and on what causes much angst. Many times the need for prayerful consideration over funding real kingdom of God pursuits, is not on our radar.
Secondarily, the music issue brings much division. This division arises over traditional verses contemporary–length of time, how loud or soft and whether we use instruments or not–whether we use props… and the beat goes on. Since the enjoyment of music is such a personal preference to most people, the above issues can easily tear a loving fellowship apart. Focusing on meeting those preferences, in “culturally relevant ways”, can become full time diversion from what is the heart of our fellowship… PRAYER.
Truth be told, our services usually have more music than praying; yet we are supposed to be a house of prayer above all other things. In being a house of prayer, hearing from God is more important than speaking to Him. This reality is impossible in most churches, where even if a person is meditating on God’s glory, as described in a song, they’ll be chastised to raise their hands by some insecure “worship leader”.
There is a danger in our “worship teams” and their “ministry” being a bloated construct, imposed upon our true calling when we come to the house of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-5 Walk prudently when you go to the house of God; and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they do evil. 2 Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes through much activity, and a fool’s voice is known by his many words. 4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—5 Better not to vow than to vow and not pay.
Many servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, who minister in the word of God and prayer, lament how the messages they preach are received. It seems that people are insensitive to God’s direction and unable to experience real conviction from His Holy Spirit, in relation to the word of God. Far too often, in this circumstance, the preacher will seek a conference or course of study to be more relevant, which actually may make them less relevant to the souls of men. Often in frustration they lose faith that they can make a difference. What if the problem is not in them or their preaching?
Perhaps, the issue lies in how the saints approach the house of God, not coming with the intention of drawing near to hear Him (and receive His love through admonition, correction and instruction), but to have an exciting experience, where the environment is cool and inviting, where I feel God. In this environment, we have been taught that “worship leaders” lead us into the presence of God… Excuse me… they do what?
Where does this teaching come from? Where is it in the word of God? Remember saints, in the new covenant, Jesus ratified with His shed blood, and inaugurated with His resurrection, we don’t have to be ushered into the presence of God.
Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Let us also remember that the mystery hidden from ages past has now been revealed in us, the corporate body of Christ, when we gather together (as little as two or three gathering in Jesus’ Name). This mystery is Christ in us the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). Let’s remember we are seated with Him right now in heaven, meaning we are always in His presence (Ephesians 2:6). In forgetting these truths, we have lost our call to draw nearer His person to hear. Therefore we are in danger of giving the sacrifice of fools (See above Ecclesiastes 5:1-3).
In drawing near we sing, for sure, but we sing of His majesty, holiness, power, mercy and kindness, not about the almighty “I”, that is at the prominent in far too many songs today. A friend of mine spoke to this reality, as he was preaching to the congregation the Lord called me to shepherd. He said we ought to be careful in raising our hands, as a sign of surrender, in singing “I Surrender All”; because in his experience most Christians are only willing to live “I surrender some”.
Or how about “I Will Give You ALL My Worship”. Can we rightly sing that when there are things in our life, which direct our lives and emotions other than God? The point is we must allow praise, sung in fellowship, to stir our hearts to awe concerning Christ and His faithfulness; rather than making vows we will not pay to God, which is to give the sacrifice of fools (Ecclesiastes 3:4-5).
Ezekiel, the prophet, had to deal with the circumstance of people not hearing the word of God, because of their bent toward proclaiming their devotion to God, through religious professions and song singing (see Mark 7:6-8 as well).
Ezekiel 33:30-33 30 “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them.
How do we avoid the call of the sirens leading the church toward apostasy? In our daily life, let us seek to be led by the Holy Spirit and as we approach fellowship let us prepare our hearts to draw near to hear, from His Word. The hour is drawing near for Christ’s return. Let us live being those who proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light”. Remembering this is not done in a building on Sunday morning primarily, but in the community of those who are still in the dark.
Remember, all Christians are called to be “worship leaders” in this reality: We are called to show and call others to be living sacrifices for Christ, which is an all day everyday thing.