Who Is the Audience for Worship?
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
If you were to eavesdrop on the conversations of churchgoers after a typical worship service, you’d hear comments like, “I loved the band this morning” or “The choir was a little off” or “The sermon was great” or “Pastor Mark missed it this morning.” If you didn’t know anything about Christian worship, other than what you heard from worshipers on their way home from church, you’d figure that worship is some kind of performance. The churchgoers are the audience (or maybe even the critics). The band, choir, preacher, and other leaders are the performers.
For most of my early life, I thought of worship this way. But in young adulthood, I began to experience worship differently. It was not for me and the other worshipers but for God. We gathered each week, not primarily to receive, but mainly to give to the Lord. Though I didn’t talk about worship in terms of an audience, my heart sensed that God was the audience, and in some way, I was a performer.
This new vision of worship became crystalized for me through the preaching of Ben Patterson, a pastor in Orange County, California. Though I did not attend his church, I heard him speak at conferences and listened to tapes of his preaching. Ben frequently used an image he had picked up from Søren Kierkegaard. According to this Danish philosopher, God was the audience for worship. Congregation members were the performers. Worship leaders were the prompters. The notion of God as the real audience for worship continued to transform my experience, encouraging me to think of worship more in terms of what I could offer to the Lord than what I could get from the service. Ironically, I found that the more I focused on giving to God, the more I actually did get out of worship.
In the providence of God, I ended up following Ben Patterson as the pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, where he had been the founding pastor. I built on the foundation Ben had laid, encouraging the worshiping community of that church to “sing and make music from their hearts to the Lord.” Though it was right and proper for us to receive in the context of worship—the God we worship is, after all, the ultimate gift giver—our focus should be on him, his nature, his grace, his glory.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: As you think about your own experience of worship, who is the audience? Do you ever think of God in this way? Why or why not? If you were to approach each worship experience with the conviction that God is the true audience of worship, how might this make a difference in your own worship?
PRAYER: Gracious God, you are worthy of all worship, all praise, all glory, all honor. You deserve everything I can offer you and so much more. Help me, I pray, to think of you as the audience for my worship. Remind me that you aren’t impressed by what’s on the outside, but by the offering of my heart to you. Be glorified, Lord, in my worship. And may what I do in the gathering each week be reflected in the way I live the rest of the time. Help me to offer myself to you in worship, not just when I sing and pray, but when I work and play. Amen.
Find New Life
Feeling lost? God invites you to inhabit new life. Wherever you find yourself on the journey, God is always calling us to something even more. The Bible reassures us that God is doing a new thing (Isa. 43:19), and yet we sometimes pass over the new thing in search of the next thing. But what if what God has for you is in the letting go of what you know and what you've already done? To find life, we must first lose it (Matt. 10:39). But what does that mean, really? Join us for this series, Find New Life. Together, let's find our footing. Let's embrace the new thing God has for each of us.