Repentance Is the Goal of Worship

By Nelson Searcy, Jason Hatley, and Jennifer Dykes Henson

Repentance is the ultimate goal of worship, which makes it the number one priority of our worship planning system (see Isaiah 6 for additional study on how repentance follows true worship). Everything we do is designed to call people to repentance.

That said, I rarely use the word repentance in a message. Metanoia is the Greek word commonly translated as “repentance,” but it literally means “changed thinking.” So I talk about truth that leads to change; I talk about selecting a different option; I talk about taking a divergent path—all with the goal of leading people to repentance, which is a change of thinking and/or a turning from sin.

Many church leaders have the impression that weepy people falling on their faces at the altar is the only real evidence of repentance. While repentance does often take the form of a strong emotional response, it can also be seen in much smaller moments of realization.

Repentance is any recognition of sin that leads to an alignment with God’s plan and purposes. Here’s my favorite working definition of repentance: repentance is a willful, personal response to the continuing call to follow Christ that leads to a change in outlook, action, and obedience.

Teaching pastors must remember that intellectual knowledge is just the beginning of transformation. There must also be a clear call to repentance and, most importantly, the congealing inspiration of God. I don’t ever want people to walk out of church and simply think, “Huh. I learned something today.”

Instead, I want them to think, “I want to live out what I just learned.” Information plus inspiration plus action leads to transformation. God provides the inspiration; we provide the information and the call to action.

None of us is in the business of creating transformation in people. God is the only one who can do that. Our job is to create an environment where the transformation can happen and intentionally invite our listeners into God’s truth. If people aren’t seeing their lives transformed by the reality of Jesus Christ, we may not be doing our part to make sure the worship service is having the effect God wants it to have.

People should be more like Jesus when they walk out of our churches than when they walked in, and every aspect of our services should be created with that goal in mind. Repentance is the deepest kind of worship.

This article is excerpted from Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services by Nelson Searcy, Jason Hatley, and Jennifer Dykes Henson. The book is published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group (copyright 2011). Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.

Nelson Searcy, Jason Hatley, and Jennifer Dykes Henson

Nelson Searcy served as the director of The Purpose Driven Community at Saddleback Church before starting The Journey Church of the City in New York City in 2002. He and his 2,000-member church appear routinely on lists such as The 50 Most Influential Churches and The 25 Most Innovative Leaders. The Journey is a multi-site church with locations across New York City and Boca Raton, Florida. His newsletter for pastors and church leaders, Church Leader Insights, now reaches more than 80,000 subscribers and continues to grow by hundreds each month. Searcy lives in New York City. Jason Hatley is the pastor of worship arts at The Journey Church and has been a worship leader since 1996. Founder of www.WorshipLeader, Jason has spoken at the Willow Creek Arts Conference and The Purpose Driven Worship Conference, as well as seminars around the country. Currently, Jason serves at The Journey's newest location in Boca Raton, Florida. Jennifer Dykes Henson is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has served as a writer/producer and ministry consultant to organizations across the East Coast. Jennifer also worked with Dr. Charles Stanley as the manager of marketing communications for In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.