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Summarized from the Prologue to The Worship Sourcebook:*

1. Christian worship should be biblical.

  • worship includes prominent readings of Scripture
  • worship presents & depicts God’s being, character, & actions consistent with how Scripture does
  • worship obeys explicit biblical commands about worship
  • worship heeds scriptural warnings about false/improper worship
  • worship focuses primary attention where the Bible does-on Jesus

2. Christian worship should be dialogic.

  • God speaks through the Spirit, and we respond in a variety of ways
  • worship is initiated by God
  • worship balances attentive listening and honest speech

3. Christian worship should be covenantal.

  • worship renews, affirms, and seals the new covenant in Christ
  • worship rehearses God’s promises to us
  • worship allows us to recommit to our covenant relationship
  • worship enables us to speak to God as faithful/committed covenant partners

4. Christian worship should be trinitarian.

  • worship addresses each person of the Trinity
  • the Father invites us to worship and hears our response
  • the Son perfects and mediates our praise and petitions
  • the Spirit helps us comprehend what we hear and prompts our response
  • worship draws us into relationship with God (the Father) through God (the Son) and by God (the Holy Spirit)
  • worshiping Trinity keeps us from the temptation to worship worship itself

5. Christian worship should be communal.

  • worship demonstrates and deepens our unity, holiness, and witness
  • worship reveals how otherwise remarkably different people praise together, pray together, listen together, and make promises together

6. Christian worship should be hospitable, caring, and welcoming.

  • worship must never be self-centered
  • we pray for the world
  • we offer hospitality to those who live in fear, despair, and loneliness
  • worship sends us out into the world for service and witness
  • worship both comforts us in the gospel and disturbs us about the brokenness and need of the world
  • worship stokes the gratitude of our hearts, which leads into serving the world

7. Christian worship should be “in but not of” the world.

  • worship always reflects the culture out of which it is offered (patterns of speech, styles of dress, senses of time, rhythms and harmonies of music, visual styles & symbols)
  • (but) worship is never enslaved to culture, prophetically challenging what is at odds with the gospel of Christ

8. Christian worship should be a generous and excellent outpouring of ourselves before God.

  • worship should not be stingy
  • worship calls for our best offerings (music, words, money, time, etc.)
  • worship practices excellence worthy of God

The only thing I might add (to be fair, the Sourcebook mentions that this list is “more illustrative than exhaustive”…though it seems quite comprehensive to me), and perhaps it is embedded within the idea of it being “dialogic,” is that:

9. Christian worship should be expectant of an encounter with God.

John Jefferson Davis’ Worship & the Reality of God helped to pound that home for me, and I believe that this (expectancy of an encounter) has been one of the great gifts that Pentecostalism has given to evangelical worship.  Other religions worship simply to obey, to fulfill ritual obligations, or to placate the deity.  A hallmark of Christian worship is that the Divine chooses to condescend, reveal Himself, and minister His presence among us.  Christian worship, therefore, should be eager and expectant of this blessed Reality.

* “Prologue,” in The Worship Sourcebook (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 2004), 16-17.

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13 thoughts on “9 Things That Christian Worship Should Be”

  1. Eric Rubio says:

    Could I have some elaboration on the final bullet point under #4, “worshiping Trinity keeps us from the temptation to worship worship itself”? I agree, of course, that we must avoid worshipping worship, but I am unclear as to how Trinitarian worship helps avoid that.

    Otherwise, thanks for this great list! I hope my church can use it in service planning.

    1. Matt Boswell says:


      It seems to me the fourth point of this post is calling our attention to a robust view of the Trinity. The more we gaze upon the brilliance and beauty of the Godhead, our attention does not condescend to look at ourselves.

      Bruce Ware frames this by saying, “Trinitarian roles and worship: the taxis eternally present in the Trinity, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in this order, forms the framework for meaningful, biblical worship.

      So, if the focus of our worship is set on the Trinity, it protects our hearts and minds from worshipping lesser things. This includes forms of worship, and even ourselves as we worship.

      Hope this is helpful.

  2. I like this list. It gives a lot to think about, and makes some great and very, I think, biblical points.

    But I do enjoy a good discussion and find that I learn a lot from talking to other people, challenging their views and having my views challenged… so here we go. :)

    I do wonder at some of the statements though, and would appreciate examples of biblical support? Specifically, these ones:

    — worship renews, affirms, and seals the new covenant in Christ
    Renews and seals? Affirms, most definitely… but I’m not sure abou tthe renew (unless this is just a renewal on our part, so to speak… not that we are re-saved but that we renew our thinking/confidence/dedication/etc). “Seal” makes me think of the Holy Spirit being the seal, but that’s not something that happens every time we worship.

    — worship allows us to recommit to our covenant relationship
    While this may be true … shouldn’t we rather say that commital allows us to truly worship?

    — worship addresses each person of the Trinity
    Addressing the Father and Son … I see biblical examples of that, though it seems we primarily worship Jesus. But I’m not sure about addressing the Spirit, is there a biblical precedent for that? Unless you are referring more to the Trinitarian function rather than our conscious “direction” of worship.

    — worship sends us out into the world for service and witness
    I’m not sure about this one in that being in the world for service and witness *is* worship. Unless “worship” here is being used as a synonym for “corporate gatherings” (i.e., church meetings)… even then, though, while that does function as preparation, encouragement, teaching, edification, etc., the wording here still strikes me as a bit odd. Worship doesn’t send us out; a desire to worship and glorify God should “drive” us out into the world to serve Christ through serving others and being a witness to the power of God’s grace through Christ.

    — worship practices excellence worthy of God
    In our “performance” type cultures, which have been around for a while, it seems that “excellence” is a loaded term. I’ve heard it used simply to mean “do your best, whatever you are doing” to “we need to only allow the best of our congregations to do ” … e.g., if there are two drummers, one mediocre and one very good, the mediocre one is not “allowed” to play because we need to keep our music as excellent as we can. I’m not sure this is actually biblically defensible. Perhaps exemplifiable in Old Covenant temple worship, but it seems that things have changed in the New Covenant, and I hesitate to cherry pick what we want to carry over from the OC into the NC.

    All this to say – I’m not sure what is in mind with “excellence.” :)

    1. Sara says:

      While I thought there were many, many great insights in this list, I found myself having a bit of trouble with many of the points you just mentioned. I’m curious how others who disagree with you might respond.

      I also had a side-note to add on this point: “worship draws us into relationship with God (the Father) through God (the Son) and by God (the Holy Spirit).” I think this is definitely scripturally supported, the most obvious example being when Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except by Me.” But if this is true, why is there so much talk and emphasis about a “relationship with Jesus” not the Father?

      1. Matt Boswell says:

        For an extended view on the relationships, role, and relevance of the Trinity, I would gladly commend “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” by Brice Ware, or “Delighting in the Trinity” by Michael Reeves. Also, The Doctrine of God by John Frame provides many helpful clarifications on the Trinity.

      2. Well, our relationship IS with Jesus… even in salvation (that with you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, etc.). It seems we have a relationship with both, but the only reason we have “access” to the Father, so to speak, is because of and through (and through our relationship with) the Son.

        We are certainly told to love, to follow, to live for, to submit to, to worship, etc., Jesus … perhaps as well as the Father? I can think of the latter (to live is Christ and to die is gain) pretty easily, but I’m having a harder time with thinking of references that talk about living for or loving the Father “directly.” I say “directly” because Jesus said things like “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father” … and certainly, if we obey the Son, we are obeying the Father, since the Son and the Father are “one.” But we’re also told to pray to the Father (in the example prayer that Jesus gave the disciples).

        This is an interesting side-note. :)

    2. Michelle says:

      Paul, I appreciate these comments about “excellence” whatever may be meant by that elusive quality. The question I always want to ask is “who gets to decide?” As a professional musician, I have had to check my musical self at the door of the church all my life. For me, excellence in corporate worship remains a hope deferred, even as I will go on asking the Lord for small tastes of it within his Body here and now.

      I attended a church as a visitor this weekend, and I was struck (again!) by the enormous disconnect between the church’s mission statement on the front of their bulletin, which boldly stated their intention to proclaim, embody, and enjoy the gospel, and the reality of being inflicted by several congregational songs (originals by the worship pastor) which clothed their quite decent texts in astonishingly banal clothing. The irony of it, particularly when surrounded by earnest sincerity emitting from every tenth person or so across the colorless generic sanctuary space, was overwhelming. To my way of thinking, this is neither embodied nor excellent. An amazing lyric is not embodied in a melody of three repetitive notes. Embodiment as such remains a virtual concept, to say nothing of excellence.

      Point #7, that worship always reflects culture, but is not enslaved by culture represents an enormous burden of education and discipleship that most churches seem to have no vision for actually taking on. The poverty of church cultures–and by that I mean the entire holistically conceived environment measured by the ever-maturing relational, proclamatory and creative output of the members of the local congregation–belies the wonder of worshipping the only true and living God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit… The weight of glory is felt most keenly for me in the lack of vision for cultural vibrancy, the manifold ways we excuse mediocrity, and the passivity by which we are simply pressed into the mold of our consumer culture, even as we issue statements like this about what worship should be. It’s not that I disagree with any point as made, but am so tired of the theorizing that doesn’t actually transform the practices.

      1. On one hand, I agree that we do not seem to spend much time on making our congregational songs’ music suitably good.

        On the other hand, I fully believe that the primary part of our worship through music is the words. Music is just a vehicle. But, with everything else, as we write it, we should write it to the best of our ability (in all things – e.g., if it’s for congregational singing, then it needs to be singable, too… lots of different ways a song can be “excellent”)

        “The irony of it, particularly when surrounded by earnest sincerity emitting from every tenth person or so across the colorless generic sanctuary space, was overwhelming. To my way of thinking, this is neither embodied nor excellent. An amazing lyric is not embodied in a melody of three repetitive notes.”
        I generally agree; I do wonder what you think of the [traditional] melody to When I Survey the Wondrous Cross? It’s exceedingly simple, spans a tritone, and mostly consists of F and A… but everyone loves it. :)

        “Embodiment as such remains a virtual concept, to say nothing of excellence.”
        I think it’s because it’s so very … well, variable.

        For example, what I consider “boring” may not be to the person next to me. what I consider “singable” may not be. So, to some extent, for a *congregational* song … while we should do the best we can when writing it, it will never be as creative as, say, art song. It’s meant to be congregational. It’s meant to be … well, for lack of a better term, simple. But simple can be excellent, too.

        I tend to be pretty picky and, probably to a fault, critique-y. I find many older songs to be musically interesting, and many of them to be rather boring. Same with modern songs … though, in general, I think a cultural shift did occur around the 19th century in classical music that made the music more expressive of the associated words such that now, we don’t change tunes around … so, I think more modern songs actually have music that matches the text better than older songs. IMO. All that to say, I find a lot of newer songs to be … more musically helpful.

        As far as the colorless room … it is, afterall, just a room to meet in. We can adorn it, sure… but it ought not to be necessary (just as accompanying music ought not to be necessary) for true worship. The early church met in houses and catacombs, so I shouldn’t complain too much about my warehouse building. :)

        “but am so tired of the theorizing that doesn’t actually transform the practices.”
        I have no idea what your position is … but change does happen! Our church is going through, I think, a significant change with regard to songs chosen. We hear a lot about modern songs and how we sing so many new songs that just really aren’t worth singing; the same is true with many traditional songs, except we sing them for different reasons (traditionalism, nostalgia) even though the songs are, and this is perhaps worse than “don’t say much” … flat out wrong, differ from what we actually believe theologically, etc. I have been changed in my own thinking in the last 5 or so years on this, and I think God is working in our church to … refine and strengthen the way we worship through song, as it has become more and more evident that we so often sing without thinking about what we sing – to the extent that we sing things that we don’t even believe and apparently don’t notice. :) (either that or we make these mental interpretations/edits as we sing that don’t match what the actual words say)

  3. Steve says:

    All this seems so artificial to me and geared toward a Sunday morning meeting. You have to deal with the issue that worship is fundamentally personal. Then IMHO you have to find a place in the NT where structure is given for corporate worship. There is no mention of corporate worship. There is quite a bit of discussion of meetings and why we meet, but nothing is specifically said about meeting to worship. All the things you list here are largely cultural. There is a difference between meeting for the reasons given in the NT and worship.

    1. AndrewF says:

      “. You have to deal with the issue that worship is fundamentally personal. ” < really? I think that's a modern cultural assumption.

  4. Leon Young says:

    #10 Fun. Christian worship should be fun. :)

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Zac Hicks is the worship pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He is an avid blogger and recording artist, having contributed to several retuned hymn compilation albums, and published Without Our Aid (2011) . He is a contributing author to the book Doxology & Theology (Nashville: Lifeway, 2013).