November 5, 2013
By Phil Maynard
“We are a small church with a traditional worship service, not a passionate worship service,” said a pastor apologetically. The pastor seemed to assume that a traditional worship service couldn’t possibly be a passionate worship service. And that a small membership congregation couldn’t worship passionately. I don’t think either assumption is true!
Passionate worship is about neither style nor size. It is about disciples of Jesus Christ gathering for a fresh encounter with our Risen Lord. That can happen with expectancy, obedience and passion whether the music is led by an organ or guitars & drums. And that can happen whether there are few or many worshipers. I’ve been to some pretty large contemporary worship services that were neither inspired nor inspiring, just fast paced and loud. I’ve also been to some small, traditional worship services that touched me deeply and impacted my discipleship for days. So, what is passionate worship?
Because passionate worship is an encounter with our Heavenly Father, we must tread reverently on this holy ground. The wind of the Spirit blows where and when It chooses. There is no formula that can deliver God to our sanctuary. Mystery abounds as we approach the Living Lord is worship. Acknowledging this, what is passionate worship and how can we prepare for it from the human side? Two thoughts:
First, the planners, leaders and participants of passionate worship focus primarily not on going through certain “proper” acts of worship (for example, singing certain songs, saying the Lord’s Prayer or raising our hands), but on approaching, encountering and walking obediently with God. Acts of worship are vehicles assisting us in opening up to and experiencing God afresh. There is a sense of anticipation in passionate worship – believers expect to encounter God anew. Our story get’s taken up once again into God’s story. Like Abraham leaving his home town to journey with God by faith, passionate worshipers set out each week on a journey with God, not knowing exactly where they will end up, but trusting that it will be a blessing to them and to others. Without this willingness to meet and go with God in a worship service, the likelihood that it will authentically be either worship or passionate is low. The planners of passionate worship prayerfully think through and craft how they hope will happen as people experience God. Passionate worshipers choose to enter into God’s presence and go with Him wherever he leads them.
Secondly, the planners, leaders and participants of passionate worship realize that worship is not primarily about comfort, but about discipleship. I’m not saying that God doesn’t comfort His people. Certainly people of faith receive great comfort from times of worship. But, as Henry Blackaby put it in Experiencing God, “You can’t go with God and stay where you are.” Or, as I once heard a retired preacher put it, “God loves us just the way we are, and loves us so much that He doesn’t want us to stay just the way we are.” Passionate worship involves the convicting of the Spirit, confronting us with our sin. Passionate worship involves the challenge of the Spirit, to let go the past and move into a new future. Passionate worship involves the call of the Spirit, to step out of our comfort zones and make a Kingdom difference in the world through ministries of mercy, justice and earth-care. In short, passionate worship engages people in the discipling process of maturing in faith, of growing up in Christ.
Whether a congregation is large or small . . . whether a congregation’s style is highly liturgical, laid-back traditional, jazzy contemporary or country western, their worship can still be passionate. It can be worship that invites persons to encounter the living God with open trust. It can be worship that engages people in the journey of becoming a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ in today’s world. Based on those two criteria, would you say that your congregation worships passionately? Would you say you do?