“Worship” is an English word that Evangelicals have grossly abused for years. Being the Pastor of Worship and the Arts at Parkview, I am in circles that are continually referring to the musical portion of the service as the “worship”. According to many, when does the teaching come? “After the worship.” When asked how was the worship today? Many reply, “Oh, we sang some of my favorite songs today in worship.” According to D.A. Carson “The notion of a “worship leader” who leads the “worship” part of the service before the sermon is so bizarre, from a New Testament perspective, as to be embarrassing.” (P.47 Worship by the Book) One reason this term is so often misapplied is because we truly don’t know what the word means.
The reality is, “worship” is a very difficult word to define. This is in part because numerous Hebrew and Greek terms in the Bible are all translated into our one word “worship”. This means words with entirely different applications and meanings are all lumped into our one word. On top of this, the Biblical contexts for how worship was applied and understood historically are numerous and diverse. Defining this term is indeed a difficult task.
One thing we know for sure is that worship under the new covenant is part of everything we do. The “cultus” (liturgies/practices) of the Old Testament were replaced under the new covenant. Levitical priests were replaced by the priesthood of believers (1 Peter) and Jesus the high priest (Hebrews). Jesus body (John 2:13-22) and the church became the new temple (1 Cor 3:16-17). In short, worship no longer happens in a place, but it happens in a person (Jesus) and a people (the church). Worship is everything we do and no longer depends upon any institutional structure or physical building!
What’s my point you may ask? My ultimate hope is to decentralize and deinstitutionalize our application of worship. Though I don’t expect this to happen, perhaps churches should start putting worship at the head of every staff persons job description (i.e. the Pastor of Worship and Preaching, Pastor of Worship and Youth, the Director of Worship and Children, etc…). We should also recognize that our grossly narrow application of the word worship (i.e. a time on Sunday, takes place in a building, is a musical style, requires special music, accompanied by Sunday school programs, etc…) is far more formalized and culturally restrictive than Biblical. Of course, I don’t expect my thoughts on this issue to radically transform the westernized use, application, and understanding of the word “worship” but I would love to see some measure of reform take place. A proper understanding of worship could transform our lifestyle and loosen our grip when it comes to forms that restrict the missional movement of the gospel within our churches and communities.