By Buddy Owens
I remember only two things about my college biology class: the broken clock that hung on the wall behind my professor’s desk and this definition of culture: “A colony of microorganisms or cells grown in a specially prepared nourishing environment.” Sounds like the church, doesn’t it? Each congregation is a colony — an outpost of the Kingdom (to mix metaphors) — that is grown in a specially prepared, nourishing environment.
Here’s another definition of culture. This one is from my sociology class, which, by the way, also had a broken clock hanging behind the professor’s desk: “The values, beliefs, ideas, customs, skills, arts, and traditions of a people that are passed along to succeeding generations.” That sounds like the church, too.
The church is a culture, in the sense that it is a living organism, and the church has a culture that is a reflection of its values and beliefs.
With those definitions in mind, let’s think about this: How can we as pastors and leaders create a culture of worship in our churches? How can we prepare a “nourishing environment”? How can we transfer our values, customs, and skills for worship to the succeeding generation?
A worshiping church won’t just happen by itself. It must start with a leader who places high value on his or her own personal worship life, and then infuses that value into the culture he or she is creating. When it comes to spiritual leadership, there is no substitute for a healthy, personal worship life. How often do you talk to God, not because you need something, but simply out of friendship? How often do you spend time in the Word, not for the sake of public ministry, but for the sake of personal renewal? We cannot lead people where we are not going ourselves. There is a big difference between a travel agent who merely points the way and a tour guide who leads the way.
Let me give you some ideas so you as a leader can infuse your value of worship into the culture of your church.
- Preach sermons that help your congregation understand the role of worship in their lives.
- Start with Romans 12:1-2 and teach what it means to live all of life in an attitude of worship to God. Teach biblical principles for offering our bodies as living sacrifices. Why does God want our bodies in the first place (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and what are the implications of Spirit-filled worship?
- Teach from John 4:23-24 about what it means to worship the Father in spirit and truth. What was Jesus telling the woman at the well about the difference between form and function in worship?
- Teach about the relationship of worship to the throne of God, as described in Psalm 22:3 and Isaiah 6:1. What happens when we align ourselves with God’s throne through worship?
- Teach from Psalm 105:1-5 about what it means to summon forth, send forth, and sing forth the name of the Lord. God’s names represent his character, and his character is manifest through his actions. His name is Savior because he saves. His name is Healer because he heals. His name is Comforter and Counselor because he strengthens us and gives us wisdom. By what names do your people need to call on the Lord in worship today?
- Teach from Hebrews 13:15 about the importance of Christ-centered worship.
- Teach a biblical study of physical postures of worship: kneeling, lying prostrate, lifting our hands, standing before God.
- Teach about the spiritual dynamics of singing praise to the Lord: prison doors are opened and captives are set free (Acts 16); battles are won and our enemies self-destruct (2 Chronicles 20).
In other words, teach your congregation what the Bible says about the principles, the practices, and the power of worship.
A friend of mine once told me, “I would rather hear my pastor sing than eat — ‘cause I’ve heard him eat!” Even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you can still be a worship leader. You can lead through example.
Let them see that you are a worshiper through your life and behavior. Don’t hide in the green room until the music is over. Sit where people can see you openly participating in corporate worship. This doesn’t mean to be ostentatious or showy. But when people, especially men, see that you are worshiping, it gives them permission to worship, too. Your example tells them that worship is important.
Before I was a pastor, I was an event producer. On the opening night of a worship conference, I asked the evening speaker if he would like to join the audience during our worship time. He replied, “That’s not necessary. I’m on TV time. I know when to come out.” So the preacher didn’t show up until the worship ended. But God doesn’t show up until the worship starts. The people experienced a powerful, palpable sense of God’s presence during worship; the preacher opened his message with a joke. The preacher missed the God-encounter moment because he was disconnected from his audience. Instead of pastoring the moment, he wasted the moment.
I often change the introduction to my message to reflect something that was said or sung during the worship time. It lets people know not only that I was paying attention, but also that I was sharing the moment of worship with them. It validates their experience and demonstrates the importance of worship in my life.
We allocate money, time, and staff to things that are important to us. How does your investment in worship reflect your value of worship? If you are going to create a “specially prepared nourishing environment” to grow the culture, then you have to provide — or at least point the way — to sources of nourishment in order for the colony to thrive and flourish.
Budget for worship in dollars and time. Is your worship team adequately funded? Do they have time to be creative? Creative people must have time and resources to think and dream without pencil pushers looking over their shoulders. At the same time, creative people need administrative support and loving discipline to help keep them focused, on schedule, and on budget.
- Provide products and services that will help develop the personal worship lives of your congregation.
- Sponsor worship concerts and conferences at your church.
- Recommend books, music, and small group studies that will help people understand and experience worship in a deeper way.
Culture is built on historic and memorable moments. Find songs that will capture the memory of those moments for your congregation. Theme songs for sermon series can serve this purpose. Songs that coincide with special seasons of ministry or times when the Spirit of God is moving in a unique way can become part of the fabric of who you are as a church.
Let’s go back to my sociology class for a minute. Remember, a culture is defined as “the values, beliefs, ideas, customs, skills, arts, and traditions of a people that are passed along to succeeding generations.” Do you want to know what the future of worship leading looks like today? It looks like a 9-year-old girl singing into her hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror. It’s a 10-year-old boy who just picked up a guitar for the first time and is stretching his fingers into a G-chord. The future of worship leading just might be sleeping in the bedroom at the end of your hallway. Are you raising a new generation of worshipers? The only way to do it is to invest in the next generation of musicians in your church.
My favorite ministry at our church is run by a tough, talented, loving, and crazy young guy named Taffy. Think “School of Rock” meets Jesus and youth ministry. Taffy trains young teens to become worship leaders. He auditions them, puts them in worship bands, rehearses them, mentors them, and then gives them a platform to lead worship in our student ministries. Many of them migrate from there to lead worship in our adult weekend services. Two of my kids have been through Taffy’s training. One of them is now a songwriter and worship leader with Youth with a Mission. The other leads worship for 600 women who come to our Thursday morning women’s Bible study. Had it not been for Taffy, they might just as easily have found their musical outlet in a garage band playing music that is anything but worshipful. The future of worship is in your hands. Find your Taffy!
Whatever your leadership position might be, you have a role to play in creating a culture of worship in your church. The people of God are looking for leaders who will teach them, show them, empower them, and release them to be worshipers. God has called you to lead them. The future of your church depends on it.
Buddy Owens is a teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Ca., focusing on spiritual formation and the role of worship in a believer’s life. He is the author of “The Way of a Worshiper: Discover the Secret to Friendship with God” and “Finding God in the Desert of the Soul” and the general editor of the NIV Worship Bible.