Reshaping Worship

Philip Percival
George Whitefield once infamously stated:

"I am no great Friend to long Sermons, long Prayers, or long Hymns. - They are generally weary instead of edifying, and therefore I think should be avoided by those who preside in the public Worshipping Assembly."*

Sadly, we can all, at times, find the church gathering more of a drain than a time of refreshment - and, of course, this can have just as much do to with our own expectations of church as it has with the quality of the sermon, prayers and singing.

If you feel weary at the thought of church (and this applies equally to those who preach, lead services, and lead music), then here are three ideas to help reshape our thinking about worship.

1. Worship of God is about God more than it is about us
2. The church is God’s work, not ours
3. Christian service is all of life (including, but not just church)

1. Worship of God is about God more than it is about us

It is all too easy, in our consumerist world, to view our Christian faith in terms of what I can get out of it. There is no doubt that the immeasurable blessings that flow from our union with Christ are the greatest and most important thing any human should long and grasp for.

But how much do we find ourselves expecting more - in our relationships, career, family, and experiences of church?

It is completely right that we ask God to bless these and other parts of life important to us. But when we look at Scripture and observe the praise and adoration of the saints, it is never because God has provided them with successful careers, obedient children or stress-free ministry.

No, God is always praised for who he is and what he has done to bring about our salvation. When we ponder the blessings we have in Christ, we want to echo Paul in Ephesians 1 who cannot help repeating, "to the praise of his glorious grace."

2. The church is God’s work, not ours

In the same way, how often do we come to church wanting to be entertained more than looking to serve others?

1 Corinthians 12-14 reminds us that God gives his church gifts to be exercised in love, in order to build up (or edify) the church. These might be word gifts, hospitality gifts, administrative gifts - but they belong to God before they belong to us, for him to grow his people in the love and likeness of Christ.

We too quickly think that Church is the things we do - the buildings we build, the rosters we organise, the committees we serve on, or the songs sing.

Again, let’s remember that the task of growing the church upwards and outwards is firstly God’s, which he graciously employs us to help with.

3. Christian service is all of life (including, but not just church)

Many of us will have heard the idea that worship is an all-of-life activity, not just for church. We see this in passages like Romans 12:1 or Colossians 3:17 which remind us that as a people saved by grace we have the privilege of serving God in every aspect of our lives - not because it earns us any merit with him, but because as a redeemed people it is a joy to serve Christ.

Yes, public worship is critical in this, as we gather to be refreshed in Christ and equipped to go out and serve in the world. But displaying the fruits of the Spirit in every part of our lives - in our families, workplaces, schools, and sports teams etc, is equally sacred service.

Reshaping our thinking about worship is a daily task, because as long as we live in this world, the world will keep trying to influence the way we engage with God and his people. Take some time to pray about these three areas, that God would renew our minds and hearts to serve him with joy and praise - in every part of our lives.

*Introduction to ‘A Collection of Hymns for Social Worship,’ 1760.

Join guest speakers, Alanna Glover and Philip Percival with EMU Music, for our first webinar in 2023 as they encourage you in cultivating a heart of worship.

Date: January 31st or February 1st (Depending on Global Location)

Philip Percival

Philip is author of Then Sings My Soul, a book on biblical music ministry, and composes songs for churches. Having served as the Music Minister at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK for 15 years, he is now the Ministry Director for Emu Music in Australia and the UK.

Philip loves helping musicians apply the Bible to ministry in the local church, and teaches theology and practical skills at conferences and seminars around the world. Philip studied music at Sydney University, theology at Moore Theological College and Oxford University, and has completed a PhD in the biblical theology of worship. He is married to Kate and has three adult children.