Worship: What’s Missing?
By Karl Overbeek
I’ve been through a lot of paradigm shifts—especially in worship.
I’ve endured the preference battles over music. I happen to love both traditional hymns and contemporary music, so I’ve worked hard at being sensitive to generational differences regarding worship music.
In recent years I found myself dissatisfied with some worship experiences and wondered what was wrong—what’s missing? I discovered that my discontent wasn’t about music. It was more about liturgy, the order of worship. No matter how worship looks in your church, it has a typical sequence. The question is, is that sequence meaningful? Does it make theological sense? I believe everything in worship needs to make sense—beginning with praise and leading to an encounter with God through his Word.
This is not about style, it’s about substance.
I was trained in the Reformed tradition, which takes its liturgical framework from Isaiah 6, a vision of the throne room of God. This powerful passage provides a framework for the order of worship: our approach to God (praise and confession), the Word of God (the preached Word and sacraments), and our response to God (the offering and prayers of the people).
My experience these days, mostly in the contemporary worship setting, is that we are heavy on the music, healthy on the Word, and very light on meaningful prayer. It’s a long set of music and a message, and we go home. Neither praise nor the Word is neglected—it’s other key elements that are missing. There’s no meaningful prayer time for people or country or world, and seldom, if ever, is there an opportunity to face and confess our sin.
This absence of confession of our sin seems like a glaring omission. Think about it: the message of the gospel centers on the incredible actions of Jesus in forgiving our sin. And once redeemed, we seek to grow up in our sanctification by distancing ourselves from the sins that hinder our growth. This is no small thing. Why, then, is the practice of confession of our sin so scarce in our worship experiences? Is this another instance of catering to the consumer mindset, of being afraid we might offend someone?
Every worshiper comes with some level of burden resulting from sin and needs a place to go with it. In a worship service, everyone should have the opportunity to unburden their sin and to hear the affirmation of forgiveness promised when we confess our sin: “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
How can we properly hear the Word if we are dealing with the burden of our sin? How can we go back into the world and serve our Lord when the single biggest issue is the unresolved matter of our sin?
Another area that seems to be lacking in worship is the prayers of the people. By the prayers of the people, I mean a carefully thought out, crafted time when we come before the Lord seeking his healing grace and sovereign intervention in our world. I don’t necessarily mean that this prayer must be written ahead of time and read during the service, although it seems to me God deserves our best thinking and preparation in this area as well. I simply think that we ought to spend more time in dedicated prayer during worship.
In all liturgical elements, confession and otherwise, it’s not so much how you do it, it’s that you do it. (Though I’d argue that it needs to make good theological sense, too.)
Worship is a rich and powerful experience and deserves careful thought. Each step in the liturgy needs to make perfect sense. As Christians, we need to experience the movement from praise to confession, from the preached Word to our response to that Word. As in Isaiah 6, worship should culminate in God asking, “Whom shall I send?” and end with our enthusiastic response: “Here am I; send me!”
Karl Overbeek is classis minister of Central California Classis. This article was originally published on the Far West Region’s blog. You can read it in its entirety at www.rcawestupdate.org.