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What Makes a Church a Church: Worship

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Last Sunday we began a 4 part sermon series on “What Makes a Church a Church?”  Last Sunday we emphasized the role of ministry in the church.  All of us are called by Christ into serving Him in a way that we are capable of and that we would enjoy.  This morning I want to talk about the role of “Worship” in the life of the church.

Trying to figure out what worship is can be challenging.  One Sunday school teacher asked children why it was necessary to be quiet in church.  One bright child answered, “Because people are sleeping!”  Worship is a broad term.  Some have said that it defies explanation.  Merriam-Webster defines worship as, “to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power” or “to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion” following up with “to perform or take part in worship or an act of worship.” 

Three thesaurus entries for worship include: revere, adore and love.  Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life says, “Anything you do that brings pleasure to God is an act of worship.”  Ralph Martin states, “Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his worthiness becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.”  William Temples says, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose --- and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.”

Look at our passage one more time, esp. vss. 23f:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” [1]

The bible says a lot of things about worship but this last phrase of Jesus speaks volumes.  Before we consider what worship is I want to spend a few minutes talking about what worship is not.


About what we know!  What we know can get us a long way in life, but not in worship.  Just because you know all the rules of basketball doesn’t mean that you can play like Larry Bird or Kareem Abdul Jabar.

Our idea!  We didn’t think up the need for worship.  Someone wasn’t sitting around one day and said, “Hey, I think we should worship God.”  Worship is not a human innovation.

Some of what we do in worship is born out of our creativity.  People, using their God-given creativity, wrote the songs we sing.  Our love of God, our reverence for Him, all of these feelings moves us to worship but God designed us with that in mind.

Spectator event!  If you go to a ball game or watch it on TV, if you go to see the latest Star Wars movie, or if you go to a play somewhere … you will be the audience.  Most folks think of worship the same way.  That’s not the way it is.

Merely physical!  We may attend a worship service and go through the motions.  We sing, raise our hands, and say “Amen,” and other things without ever engaging anything else in the event.  Our minds are going 100 different directions.

Just singing!  If you say, “I enjoyed the worship portion of the service.” & you mean that you just enjoyed the singing … you’ve only experienced a portion of worship.  Worship is more than just singing.

Done only in this building!  You don’t have to be in a church building, or any building for that matter, to worship God.

Insincere!  Half-hearted worship is not worship at all.  You can’t fake worship.  Rick Warren said, “We can worship God imperfectly, but we cannot worship him insincerely.”

Okay, John, if that’s what worship is not … what is worship?  Good question!


About who we know!  The Samaritan woman knew ABOUT God but she didn’t know God Himself!  She knew all about what the Samaritans believed about worship & she even knew what the Israelites believed about worship but she had never worshipped the living God!  Think about it.  If other words for worship are love, revere, and adore what does that mean?  You can be infatuated w/ someone across a crowded room … but you have to know them to love them, to adore them, to revere them.  How can worship be less.  You are not going to worship God if you haven’t taken the time to get to know Him!

God’s idea!  Worship is for God’s benefit, not ours.  It’s not about what we can get out of it!  How many of you came here this morning expecting to get something out of the offering plate?  Worship is all about what we give to God!  You can give without loving but you cannot love without giving!  Likewise you can give without worshipping … but you cannot worship if your attitude is, “What am I going to get out of this?”!

A participation event!  None of us are in any condition to participate in the Super Bowl.  No coach would want us … but … God does expect us to get involved in the act of worship!  Soren Kierkegaard said, “In worship God is the audience.”  The people up front are merely the prompters, … & the congregation … that’s you … you are the performers.  The question must never be, “What did I get out of worship this morning?” but, “What did God get out of worship this morning?”

Spiritual!  See it there in the passage: “God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit…”  Worship is our spirit engaging God’s spirit.

A friend of mine once said, “The really cool thing about Heaven is going to be that we won’t need words to communicate our deepest feelings to each other.  Our spirits will join together & we’ll just know how the other one really feels.”  That’s what worship is!  Singing songs, listening to Nancy play the piano, giving our money, hearing the Scripture & the message, praying … all of these are our fumbling attempts to allow our spirit to connect with the spirit of God!

A Lifestyle!  Every part of the worship service is worship! 

Done Everywhere!  Every part of our life is an act of worship.  Romans 12:1 says,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual  act of worship.[2]

We were designed to worship God!

Sincere!  We have to be sincere.  We have to really mean what we are doing.  It must be true as well.  We can be sincerely wrong.

Consider those who worshipped Jesus:

·        Wisemen

·        Synagogue official in anticipation of Jesus healing his daughter

·        Disciples just after Jesus rescues Peter when he was walking on the water

·        Syrophoenician woman who wanted her daughter healed of demon possession

·        Mother of the sons of Zebedee who wanted prestige for her sons

·        Evil spirits (to them he said, “Shut up!”)

·        Palm Sunday crowd

·        Man on the cross

·        Blind man who was healed by Jesus

·        Stephen while he was being stoned

·        Angels

Our worship must be about God, spiritual, real, and a lifestyle.  We worship God because he has offered us salvation, because we have been healed & because he can heal us, because he deserves our worship --- not because we want to gain something for ourselves.

Worship is the joyful celebration of God’s acts of love that He pours out on us every day!

In the words of the Psalmist

Hallelujah! Praise God in his holy house of worship,

praise him under the open skies;

Praise him for his acts of power,

praise him for his magnificent greatness;

Praise with a blast on the trumpet,

praise by strumming soft strings;

Praise him with castanets and dance,

praise him with banjo and flute;

Praise him with cymbals and a big bass drum,

praise him with fiddles and mandolin.

Let every living, breathing creature praise God!



[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Jn 4:23). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ro 12:1). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]Peterson, E. H. (2003). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language (Ps 150:1-6). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

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