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#32 The Problem with Worship Experiences

Have you noticed the emphasis many churches give to your experience in worship?

I have and I think it’s dangerous!

In this episode of Now is the Time I talk about why turning worship into an experience is a bigger problem then you may have thought.

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The experience trend

The trend in churches across America in the last few years is to create worship experiences. Many churches will tell you on their website about the different worship experiences they offer for each service. Some churches like this one, go so far as to make their entire church about your experience! You can even find a worship leaders conference that is called Experience Conference.

Selfish worship

The problem with making worship about your experience is that it turns worship into a subjective, consumer oriented activity. Worship leaders become performers whose task is to create an emotionally pleasant experience for the audience. Church attenders become spectators who judge the quality of worship by the style of music, the design of the stage and their own emotional response.

Logically, seeking a worship experience is in direct opposition to true worship. Why? Because an experience is something you receive but worship is something you must give! If you judge your worship but what you get out of it then you’re judging the wrong thing!

In short focusing on the experience of worship creates what I call “selfish” worshipers!

True worship

In Biblical worship experience is neither the goal nor the reason nor the motivation of why we worship, who we worship or where we worship!

Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:23 that God is seeking people who worship him in spirit and truth. He didn’t say that God is seeking people who have a great experience when they worship God. The reality is that sometimes our worship experience may be less than entertaining. Just read about the prophet Isaiah’s experience in Isaiah 6:1-5, it was more terrifying than entertaining!

The real experience

Is there a worship experience? Yes! But it’s not the goal nor the standard by which we judge the quality of worship. The worship experience is a result of honoring God with our hearts and our lives. The worship experience is a daily experience of applying the truth of God’s Word to the regular stuff of life. Sometimes the worship experience will be painful and sometimes it will be pleasant but ultimately it is joy!

Make the change

Churches and worship leaders need to stop promising that they will give people amazing worship experiences and start calling the people in truth to give their all to God!

Pastors and teachers in the church must stop trying to entertain their congregates and instead focus on making sure that their people understand the truth of God’s Word and that worship isn’t about getting but about giving!

Church members need to stop searching for a better experience or a certain music style and start thinking about how they can give of their lives and hearts to God daily and not just on Sunday morning!

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Books

Checkout John MacArthur’s book Worship, the Ultimate Priority

Question: What other dangers do you see in the worship experience? How can churches avoid this danger?

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I am a pastor, missionary, and preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Ukraine since 2007. God blessed me with a wonderful wife and 5 amazing children! My greatest passion is to teach, encourage, and exhort others to turn to Jesus, who is Savior, Lord, and God!

  • I’m with you, Caleb. Worship is about seeking and drawing nigh unto our Father in humility. To draw nigh takes discipline on our behalf, that is worship, the same as our offerings and tithes, and that discipline or assent of our will is rewarded by our Father overflowing His spirit inside of us. If we try to feel His spirit on the outside to change the inside, we’re worshipping our emotions, not our Father.

    • Floyd I think it’s rare when anyone puts the word discipline and worship in the same sentence like you’ve done. We need to start thinking that way though because there is a discipline in worship!

  • My pastor encourages us to “make a deposit” during worship. In other words, give of yourself to God. He’s referring to traditional worship in our services when he says this, but he also talks about living lives of worship as well. I learned a hard lesson about not being emotion-driven, and it applies to my worship for sure. While emotion does come in worship, I don’t want it to be what drives me or my goal either.

    • “Deposits” that’s a good way to describe it! I agree, emotions are part of worship but they are just not the main point of it. Sounds like you have a great pastor Kari!

  • As part of “the worship team” and, therefore, a “worship leader”, I know that the truth is I’m a musician who is offering the gifts he gave me back to him when I “serve” on Sundays. I’ve walked away from congregations where I’ve felt that the only difference between the church experience and a sports bar was the lack of alcohol and no peanut shells on the floor – not from the people, but from serving and supporting that model of “ministry”.

    The quotation marks were not accidental. My spiritual act of worship is to offer all of myself to Him – not just my talents, or skills, but my entire life, successes as well as failures, and allow Him to put me to work in the fields of His choosing to draw people into relationship with Him, and not to “oooh!” and “aahhhh!” over what we do up front. It isn’t about me.

    • This can be very difficult for worship leaders to balance. I mean you’re right about the fact that your musical ability and skill is what you give to the Lord in worship. However, sometimes it’s tempting to then judge how well you did by how amazing the response of the people was. This happens to me when I preach too! I could easily begin to judge my sermon purely on how many people said “amen” or told me they enjoyed my sermon after the service. Those things aren’t bad but they just really aren’t how we should judge worship or preaching.

      Ultimately we need to ask ourselves some deep heart questions and make sure that our hearts are on the right track. It sounds like yours is Rick!

  • A powerful post. Most of what churches do in worship services doesn’t prick the ears of God. We spend a 15 – 30 min. in worship service performing and participating in what I can church theatrics. You said it best, ‘The worship experience is a result of honoring God with our hearts and our lives. The worship experience is a daily experience of applying the truth of God’s of Word to the regular stuff of life’.

    • “Church theatrics” is sadly appropriate for many churches! We need to do music and worship with excellence but we must have in mind who we’re doing it for, God first!

  • Not only do we dishonor God when when we seek a self-satisfying feeling of worship, but what happens when those feelings become uncomfortable? God asks us for things like obedience, self-sacrifice, forgiving others, and things that aren’t always desired, but we do them because we love Him. We want to please Him at all times, especially during worship. Thanks for the great post!

    • Exactly Heather! If all we do is seek the worship “experience” then when things get uncomfortable we are going to run from God and from true worship!