What drives Worship?
Indecisive about what to study at university at age 19, I made the decision to take a “gap year” and as part of this, I spent four incredible months in India. It was the first time I’d really travelled away from home, and I still vividly remember the complete assault on the senses I experienced when the air-conditioned airport doors slid back, and I stepped out into the colourful carnage of New Delhi. One of the things I noticed first was the traffic – it seemed that rather than driving on the left or the right, most drivers preferred to, quite literally, take the middle of the road option. I soon learned that the most efficient means of navigating the roads was in a rickshaw or also known as a “tuk-tuk.” These are agile three-wheeled vehicles, not much bigger than a motorcycle but with a seating area added to the back for daring passengers (and their luggage!) to pile into and navigate the busy roads, often with more thrill than a rollercoaster.
The thing with rickshaws is that at their best, they are efficient, speedy, and quite exciting. At the same time, those who have ridden in one will know that they are very finely balanced and susceptible to becoming derailed depending on the circumstances of the road.
For this, my final contribution to the Worship Theology series, I’ve been pondering a question that these three-wheeled buggies can help us answer: what drives worship? I think that, just like how the three wheels of the rickshaw set it efficiently and delicately balanced in motion, our worship is driven by three important elements: direction, competence, and character. Just like with rickshaws, issues with one of these elements can derail the whole thing.
The Direction of Worship: The Front Wheel
In a rickshaw, it’s the single wheel at the front that the driver controls with the handlebars which sets the direction and points the whole vehicle in the direction it’s going. For those responsible for leading worship, what is our front wheel? What is the direction our worship is heading in?
You may have sat in more than one worship meeting and wondered about the point of it all. This is an interesting thought to consider. In previous articles, we’ve thought about different things that the Bible shows that worship does: it creates community, it helps us to connect with God and express what He means to us, it tells others what God has done for us, it inspires and empowers us for mission and justice- seeking. None of these things, however, adequately captures the sole direction and point of worship.
The Westminster Catechism, written in the 1600s on the back of Protestant Reformation, perhaps points a bit more clearly to the point of worship when, the first thing it asks is, “What is the chief end of man (sic)?” The reply comes, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” This is our chief end – this is the main purpose, the ultimate driver of our worship, the thing it all points at – glorifying God. Anyone who’s been around the church for even a little while will know that it can be easy for the main thing not to be the main thing and yet, if our front wheels are pointing at a direction of travel that’s anything other than glorifying God, then we’re likely heading on a collision course with disaster.
The word which the Old Testament uses most frequently for glory is kabowd. It speaks of the honour and the splendour of God (such as in Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God”). Yet, this isn’t just about saying how great God is (as true as that is). The word kabowd implies a certain weightiness – it comes from the Hebrew word kabed which means heavy. Bringing God glory is about acknowledging His weightiness and that He deserves all the praise that could possibly ever be offered to Him and thus, when we point towards other things we are, in some ways, distracting and detracting from what God ultimately is due. When the front wheels of our worship seek to bring glory to other things other than God (to individuals, to organisations, to denominations, to politics), we’re driving in the wrong direction.
Questions to consider: How does the way I approach worship bring glory to God? In what ways might it point in other directions?
The Competence of the Worship Team
If the front wheel of the rickshaw sets the direction, the back wheels are what power the whole vehicle towards that end. I’m suggesting that the back wheels or the driving forces of worship are made up of two complementary wheels: competence and character.
The competence of the worship team can be an interesting and sometimes contentious discussion. I remember the first time I ever led congregational worship in public. The officer was desperate to include this lone 16-year-old who had recently learned to play guitar and was enthusiastically encouraging me to lead worship. I’d seen loads of YouTube videos of Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman and I had high expectations for the experience that Sunday morning. The problem was, in essence, I knew four chords and nothing about keys for congregational singing. I stood up, sweaty palmed, expecting a move of the Spirit, but was met by needing to restart the song four times to pitch it for the singing. I was nearly moved to tears myself! It was an experience intended to encourage and include me (highly important…) but I simply didn’t have the skills needed for the task and it became quite embarrassing for all involved that Sunday morning.
It’s a tension we often find ourselves in. If worship is ultimately about bringing glory to the God who welcomes and accepts and includes, how competent do the musicians need to be? I have a colleague who describes it as needing to find a solution somewhere between “anything for Jesus” and “my utmost for His highest.” We want the musical elements we use to enhance, rather than distract, from corporate worship whilst, at the same time, recognizing that worship is an inclusive activity which allows everyone to bring their gifts, skills, and passions to the glory of God.
There’s a theological case to be made for bringing the best to God in worship. There are loads of biblical examples of “the best available” being brought to God: sometimes that’s valuable and extravagant jewels and skilled artistry for building the temple (1 Chronicles 29). Other times, that’s five simple pieces of bread and a couple of fish for feeding five thousand. The point is that if our worship is about bringing God glory, then we need to bring the best we can offer of our time, talent, and treasure. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve our skills musically and doing so will help others to worship God. At the same time, having this wheel on the “back row” reminds us that the end goal of worship isn’t to produce a highly talented and musically professional group, but is, as we have seen, nothing less than bringing glory to God.
Questions to consider: What are we doing to improve the competence of the worship team?
The Character of the Worship Team
In my experience, however, the back wheel of competence is inextricably bound to the other back wheel of the rickshaw: character. These two things need to sit side-by-side to give worship its drive as we pay attention to not only ensuring that our competence is strong, but our character is too.
You don’t have to look too far or hard for examples of this principle in practice. One of my favourite TV Shows was Top Gear presented by Jeremy Clarkson. Clarkson was a super talented host: funny, witty, engaging. However, there was always a cloud of controversy that would surround his character and, eventually, a fight with a member of the production team meant that Jeremy was sacked from the show. Even the most talented of personalities can eventually be snared by flaws in their behaviour. It serves as an important lesson for us all: if your competence outweighs your character, there’s trouble ahead.
If the wheel of competence is bigger than the wheel of character, then your worship is going to spin around in circles and certainly won’t drive forward in bringing glory to God. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul lists some of the character attributes of those who seek to lead others: temperate, self-controlled, gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. It’s quite sobering that the attributes of leaders he lists doesn’t include things on their competence (great organisers, powerful public speakers, epic at vocal riffs) but rather focuses on the type of people they are. Worship leaders are, first and foremost, worshippers and disciples: those who are seeking to have their character transformed by and moulded into the character of Christ himself.
Next time you set off on a worship journey, think about the vehicle you’re jumping into. Where is its front wheel pointing to and what’s driving the rest of it?
Question to consider: Is my character and competency in step? What areas might I need to address?
 The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q1