What is Worship?

I find myself asking this question a lot lately, as I ponder the purpose of churches and worship services. So many churches seem driven to put on a good show, as if daring the congregation, saying, "Are you not entertained?"

This sort of model is off-putting to me, to say the least. When I think of worship, I imagine that I'm actively engaging in an activity that brings honor and glory to God. And worship can be done alone. I can sing, or pray, or meditate, or write, or read scripture on my own, but worship can also be done, and should also be done, in community with others. Not others who are "better" at worship than me, or who can worship while I watch, but others that I can sing with, pray with, listen with, talk with, eat with, live with.

I thought about this question a couple of weeks ago. It was the final night of the Fellowship of American Baptist Musicians Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, and I was helping out as a youth counselor and worship leader. This last night was scheduled as a lock-in, and everyone kept winking at me all week and asking how much sleep I'd been getting and if I was ready. I'd been going to to bed earlier than everyone else, so I was fine. I also figured I might duck out early if things went crazy late, but I found out that my presence was going to be required pretty much all night. Admittedly, I wasn't too crazy about that... I need a lot of sleep. I've never actually pulled an all-nighter.

With a certain amount of trepidation, I rode down the hill about 11:30 PM for the youth talent show. It was a good time, particularly when a couple of girls sang "Let It Go," and much of the audience was moved to interpretive dancing.

I knew the next stop on our tour was a communion service at The Point, a spot right out on the lake. The youth were asked to be silent as we walked, and to maintain silence until I started playing guitar once we were all gathered outside. I had a few songs ready but wasn't sure right up until we got out there how things would go. All week, we'd been using Crowder's "Come As You Are," as a sort of theme song for youth worship. So, I started playing. And they started singing.

And we sang the whole song, with no lyric sheets, no projection, just with our voices and a guitar that refused to stay in tune. They knew all the words.

And I thought, "This is worship."

We were bringing what we had to God, and God met us there, on that dark shore, with a million stars above. 

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal, 
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal.
So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame.
All who are broken, lift up your face.
O, wanderer, come home, you're not too far.
So lay down your hurt, lay down your heart, 
Come as you are.

If I could sing those words a thousand times over with those kids, I would.

God is my shepherd,
I won't be wanting, I won't be wanting.
He makes me rest in fields of green with quiet streams.
Even though I walk through the valley of death and dying,
I will not fear, 'cause you are with me, you are with me.
Your shepherd's staff comforts me,
You are my feast in the presence of enemies.

Surely goodness will follow me, follow me
In the house of God forever.
(Jon Foreman)

We took communion together, as a family, and we watched the stars and the waves in silence, and God was there.

Around 2:15 in the morning, we headed to Judson Tower, a Green Lake landmark visible through the trees above the lake. I was really tired by this time, but I'd been told that the kids always sang together in the top of the tower, and so I should sing with them. We made our way up the spiral staircase, and I tried not to think about spiders or claustrophobia.

Everyone was quiet as we gathered at the top of the stairs. We sang, and they still knew all the words. We sang about God's unfailing love, and I could hear them singing and crying, and God was there.

I didn't have anything else memorized, but we needed to keep singing, to keep worshiping, so I started looking up chords on my phone, and we sang All Creatures of Our God and King, after which a spider ran right by me. I almost stepped on it, but I stopped.

"All creatures, right guys?"

The spider turned back and ran towards me. And still, God was there.

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.
Lights will guide you home, 
And ignite your bones,
And I will try to fix you.

We finished with that mash-up of Beautiful Things and Fix You, and I can't tell you what it means to me that these kids have memorized that arrangement. Then people started just singing out different songs, familiar songs from camp, and choir pieces they've learned from years past. Some of it was beautiful, and some of it was discordant, but all of it was worship, and God was there.

It is true that we learn theology through music, and those things stick in our heads. The songs we sing matter.

Yes, I was tired the next day. But I'm so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in those times of worship. We worship in the ordinary, the mundane, and we worship in unique times and spaces.

God is always there.

Post by Rebecca Farlow