Multiple summers, while living in Miami, massive spots in my lawn were completely parched. I am not referring to small spots that can be corrected with a few patches of grass; I mean embarrassingly ruined sections of my lawn that caused my neighbors to cast looks of sympathy my way because my house had potentially lost value. Dissatisfaction with my lawn in those moments was very high. The grass was not fruitful, not as vibrant as it should be.
One summer evening, after staring at dead patches in my yard, I searched online for a solution and discovered many products that would “paint my lawn green.” The lawn paint does not cause new growth, restore life to the roots, or foster a healthy yard. It is merely a covering for the sickness, a facade to give the impression of life when there is nothing but death. My lawn did not need paint. My lawn needed life. My lawn needed nurture in the forms of water and fertilizer. It would be ludicrous to remedy the external look of my lawn and declare it healthy.
In the same way, it is ludicrous for a church to teach for behavior rather than teach for the heart. We must be careful that our frustration with a parched spiritual field and a desire for spiritual fruit does not lead us to teach for false fruitfulness apart from transformation. We must not burden our people with virtues apart from the Vine.
In particular, as church leaders evaluate the “worship culture” of their church, they must be careful not to push for behavior or posture apart from awe and appreciation for who Christ is and what He has done.
For example, a church leader attends a worship gathering at a conference or another church and perceives the people are more passionate than the people in his church. So he takes mental notes of the hungry expressiveness and the postures of reverence. He comes back to his ministry with a conclusion that worship “looks this way,” and he teaches and challenges people to act a certain way in a worship gathering. Instead of reminding people of the greatness of God and His goodness expressed to them in Jesus, he paints a picture of what worship should “look like.” Instead of trusting that as God refreshes hearts with what Christ has done, authentic worship will flow, he gives specifics on what people should do in the worship gathering. Instead of teaching for heart transformation, he teaches for behavior. It is easier to measure, and the immediate result is tempting.
Months later, many in the congregation have learned how to physically emulate the response the leaders are teaching. Yet the leaders painfully wonder if hearts have truly been transformed. The grass looks greener, but it is not truly green.
Many long for their worship gatherings to be spectacular. But if you plan for the spectacular, you may miss the supernatural. True worship is not always spectacular, but it is always supernatural. Worship is supernatural as God inhabits the praise of His people and transforms hearts as His people focus solely on Him.
As you audit your worship gatherings, more helpful questions might be:
- If our people could only learn our theology through the lyrics we sing, what are we teaching them about God?
- Are our worship gatherings continually reminding people of what Christ has done for us?
- Are the encouragements to worship (the imperatives found in Scripture to express worship) clearly connected to the reality of the gospel (the indicative of what Christ has done)?
- Do we as leaders leave our worship gatherings with a greater appreciation for Jesus?
Posture is important. The Bible is filled with encouragements to express love for God with hands lifted, instruments played loudly, and hands clapped together. There are snapshots of worship in the Scripture where people dance joyfully and bow humbly. An inward sense of awe results in expressive worship. At the same time, and here is the caution, it is possible to teach for the posture apart from an inward sense of adoration for Jesus.
Be concerned if there is a lack of expectancy and expressiveness in a worship gathering (if the yard is parched), but don’t paint the grass.
Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and I are posting questions each month for church leaders to discuss with their teams. The content and questions are based on our book Creature of the Word. You can get the book here and access the monthly audit here.