Did Inattention to Discipleship Start the Worship Wars?


When Jesus initiated the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, he began by talking to her about her spiritual condition (John 4:10).  In an effort to divert his attention from her personal life and character, the woman brought up the ongoing worship argument between the Jews and Samaritans about which temple was in fact God’s dwelling place (John 4:20).  Does that argument sound familiar?  Instead of joining her where and how worship argument; Jesus stretched her thinking by addressing the spiritual nature of the worshiper.  He said, “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” (John 4:23).  Those who worship in spirit and truth are not those who know about worship but those who know of worship. 

Did our intense focus on how we worship instead of why we worship start and perpetuate the worship wars in our congregations?  Our response to what is occurring on the inside (discipleship) should be manifested in our actions on the outside (worship).  Have we so minimized our focus on discipleship that we have it backward?  Have we misplaced so much of our energy and effort that we are depending on our outward worship actions to determine what occurs on the inside?  Has this singular focus caused our worship to become our discipleship and the sole measurement of what it means to be a Christ follower?  If worship was an intrinsic response to our having been with Jesus instead of our sole effort at being with Jesus, would we continue to fight these battles?  Agreeing this has occurred is much easier than trying to determine what can be done to rectify it.


6 Responses to “Did Inattention to Discipleship Start the Worship Wars?”

  • Jim Altizer Says:

    Great thinking David; thanks!

  • Alden Says:

    How and Why are excellent questions. I’d like to offer a third… Who? The woman at the well, at least in the record of scripture did not present a subject with in her question about worship. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus in his answer did. “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father…” In our rhetoric regarding worship how often to we say to people “I liked that song” “I was blessed by worship today” “Come to worship and be blessed!”

    Where is the Father within the rhetoric of our conversations about the Worship gathering. We can hear people say “That song really moved me today” Why do we give the music all the credit? Is it not the Holy Spirit who moves people? We are guilty too. Do we choose songs because our congregations will like them? Or because we or our worship team like them? Or do we choose them based on a scriptural model of worship?

    Within the framework of a thematic service plan where songs, scripture selection, drama and other elements fit with and reinforce our pastors message plans, I seek to make sure that our worship includes a balance of at least these 3 elements. 1. Songs about God and to God. 2. Songs proclaiming who He is and Songs declaring a statement of commitment from us, His followers. 3. Always at least one song that speaks of the cross or salvation message.

  • Kelly Randolph Says:

    Worship wars are primarly over style. We have defined worship by stylistic labels – traditional, contemporary, classic, blended, etc. We have largely neglected the substance of worship. In John 4, Jesus was dealing with the substance of worship – spirit and truth. These are truly discipleship issues.

    I have actually heard people say things like, “I can’t worship with that music.” Such statements reveal a deep misunderstanding of what worship is all about. I fear that these kinds of statements reveal that we worship our styles instead of engaging with the Father through the Son in spirit and truth. It is almost as if we have begun to worship worship.

    I often wonder how surprised we are all going to be when we stand with that great company of worshipers before the throne of the Lamb. I think that we will finally see that all our arguments over style were not nearly as important as we thought. After all, how will we decide what style will be appropriate at that moment when every tribe, tongue, nation, and people will be represented there?

  • Georges Boujakly Says:

    Thanks for posting on this. You hit the nail on the head, I believe.

    As I see it, worship is what the gathered church does. It is celebrating what God has done. Worship is also how the dispersed church lives its living experience with God-Alive. Many in the church have prized the first and neglected the second.

    It matters very little, if any, what Sunday worship looks like when the church gathers, if when the church is not gathered worship is minimized or shunned. Teaching, training, and modeling how to live the worshipful life matters more than whether our Sunday singing is contemporary or traditional, whether the violin trumps the guitar, or the drum the organ. Sunday worship is a culmination of Monday to Saturday worship, a worship that drips a discipleship to Jesus.

    When the worship of Monday to Saturday is compromised, unintentionally lived, and poorly understood, the confusion about Sunday worship is the inevitable outcome. Draw an x symbolizing confusion because we, the church, are here. Our confusion is predictable because our discipleship to Jesus as a way of life is negligible. Today, one may be a Christian without having to be a disciple! We have what has been taught and the battles over “worship” (mostly taken as the kind of music we like) the churches fight prove it. The confusion over worship on Sunday might be dealt with effectively by a heavy dose of engaging in the process of spiritual transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ Monday to Saturday.

    When we learn to live Monday to Saturday in the lap of worship by meeting needs all around us, by living the truth compassionately in every life situation, by standing up for the weak and disenfranchised at some risk or cost to us, Sunday worship, of whatever persuasion, is bound to bring to God all the glory for the things he has done Monday to Saturday.

    The piercing cry of the church member today is: “teach me to live a worshipful life in front of my family, before the glaring eyes of my co-workers, at the station where I pump my gas, and toward the one who bags my groceries, and to anyone who takes advantage of me, and I’ll worship anyhow on Sunday.”

    Could it be that because there is a gaping hole in our discipleship of God’s people that we are where we are in our understanding of worship? Could it be that our minimal accent on making disciples and growing in the likeness of Jesus Christ has taken us into the arena to fight over the trivial aspects of the forms of worship while neglecting the “dailyness” and “ordinariness” of living in the presence of God?

  • Tom Wideman Says:

    Our tendency is to turn everything into a program. We need to measure our success. How do we measure effective worship? Too often we measure by butts in the pews. Are we growing? How we attracting newcomers? Are people being moved to respond? So as church leaders we have been guilty of providing programs that could be measured instead of doing the arduous work of discipling one another. Even in our attempt to disciple through Sunday School we ended up making it more about evangelism instead. It’s more measurable. As music ministers we even feel the pressure of producing measurable results. For example, the size of the choir or the number of different ensembles we have. And don’t even get me started with the SBC associational letter where we are to report or average enrollments. I’m afraid it has turned our attention to numbers instead of investing in people. Discipleship is what grows passionate worshipers, not bigger choirs or more contemporary music.

  • Mike Murray Says:

    The woman at the well focused on the form rather than the object. We think worship is contemporary or traditional. We think worship is about music and order of worship. The reality is that worship is about God and giving him praise and honor and declaring His worth and then living our lives not conformed to the pattern of this world but having our minds transformed to reflect Him in all we do. Worship is not about me. I bring nothing but filthy rags and selfishness and arrogance and pride. The church house is not the object of our worship and neither is technology. The song leader nor the preacher nor the choir nor our electronic drumset is the object. God is the object and Him alone. True worship is exactly what Jesus said it would be”spirit and truth”. Our worship must flow from and out of our relationship, our growing relationship with Christ (discipleship). It is when we know Him more that we worship Him aright. True worship is not confined to an hour on Sunday. True worship will be evident in and through our lives.

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