10 Biblical Principles of Worship

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Recently I read an article by Jon Nicol from Worship Team Coach website. Jon made the point that “In too many churches, the worship team is the most spiritually immature ministry.”[1] It is not a secret that many problems in local churches originate in worship teams. I have been a pastor and a worship leader, and I have been able to witness some of these challenges. In today’s post I want to focus on Biblical Principles of Worship. As always, I tried my best to stay away from opinions and search the Scripture on these matters. 

First, let’s define worship. In John 4:24 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (ESV) The word Worship here the Greek word proskunéō; meaning “To kiss, adore. To show respect, fall or prostrate before. Literally, to kiss toward someone, to throw a kiss in token of respect or homage. To do reverence usually by kneeling or prostrating oneself before him. To bow down, to prostrate oneself in reverence.”[2]

In the Old Testament, the word Worship appears for the first time in Genesis 22:5 as Abraham is getting ready to sacrifice his own son Isaac, “Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.” (ESV) The word Worship is the Hebrew Word, shāchāh “The primary meaning of the word is to bow down.”[3]

So now that we have the Old and New Testament definition lets looks at some Biblical Principles of Worship. John 4:19-24 tells us,

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”[4]

  1. Worship is not a building, a place, a time or a denomination: Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “…believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” (v. 21) Worship is a lifestyle. If the only time you worship is when you get to the building, you are not a worshiper. If you do not have a lifestyle of worship, do not expect the worship team to make you feel anything. If you have a lifestyle of worship, you will automatically participate in worship. In the discipleship process, is imperative, that we teach people to worship.
  2. To worship God, you MUST know God; You Must be saved. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (v. 22) Many times what we see in churches is a form of Godliness, but folks do not actually know God. 
  3. Worship is spiritual, never carnal: (v. 23) As humans we are spirit, soul, and body; worship MUST flow out of the innermost part of us; our spirit. 
  4. Worship MUST be honest: (v. 23) No room for hypocrisy in worship. I think that the Book of Psalms expresses an unmatched sincerity and transparency. The psalmist made no bones about how they felt and, many times, as they continue on singing, they found the breakthrough.  
  5. God is seeking worshippers: God does not ignore worship; he seeks and expect his people to worship Him. God must find us in our corporate and in our private worship. (V. 23)
  6. Worship is NEVER a One-Man Show: This is a big one for me personally. If we claim to be biblical, let’s be biblical. David did not write all the Psalms. Also, let me point out that even as in the New Testament there is mention of music; there is no mention of a Worship Leader. Not everybody is called for the music ministry, but everybody is called to sing. Psalm 100:1-2 tells us, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (ESV) Furthermore in First Corinthians 14:26-31 Paul tells the church, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent.31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn, and all be encouraged.” (ESV) Notice the participation that is required when we gathered? When we come together, each one has 1) a hymn, 2) a lesson, 3) a revelation, 4) a tongue and 5) an interpretation of tongue. So, if we are not witnessing such participation, we have a duty to disciple people. At the end of the day, the purpose for this collective participation is that ALL MAY LEARN AND, ALL BE ENCOURAGE.”
  7. Style’s preferences flow out of cultural preferences. Styles do not carry a higher level of holiness than the next: A church that focus and demands one particular style of ministry is, without realizing it, focusing on reaching out to only one group of people; people who look like them. You are, without realizing it, rejecting folks who are different than you. A portion of the white church has been historically guilty of this arrogance. Paul settle this issue by stating, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” First Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV) Stop putting God in a box and stop putting people in a box; celebrate diversity; intentionally work at it as Paul did. Maybe you can’t sing in a different style; know that somebody else can, share the mic. Let others express themselves! 
  8. You don’t practice, you don’t play: Worship requires skill, therefor worship requires dedication. Psalm 33:3 tells us, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (NIV) Come together and fellowship, eat together, pray together and practice together. If you are committed to do so, the worship team will get better and, most importantly, the anointing of God will flow. If the worship team is off that day; if things are not all that great… it happens! Then folks need to understand that they need to stop looking to the stage, look up themselves and worship God themselves. In First Samuel 30:6 the Bible tells us “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.” (ESV) David was not waiting for the worship leader, David “…strengthened himself in the LORD.” Stop spoon-feeding God’s people and disciple them. 
  9. Be careful that your music does not become disgusting before the Lord: Character is always before talent; Amos 5:23-24 tells us, “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (ESV) We must go after justice and righteousness.  
  10. Stay in your lane: Let the preacher preach and let the teacher teach: As worship leaders your job is to sing and as musician your job is to play. Some worship leaders talk too much; by the time the preacher comes to preach folks have heard a million words. Our job as worship leaders is to prepare the atmosphere for the man of God to minister a message from God. Our lives are depended on that word. The Bible tells us that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 (ESV) In the Old Testament we see something very powerful regarding this point. Second Kings 3:14-15 tells us, “Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you. But now bring me a harpist.” While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came on Elisha.”  (ESV) We recognize the prophet, but the musician who ushered God’s presence and prepare the atmosphere for the prophetic word to come forward is unknown. That should make all of us musicians and singers very, very humble. I said it and I say it again… Worship Leaders are overrated! If a church visitor can’t recognize the worship leader I say, that’s a good thing. 

[1] https://www.worshipteamcoach.com/leadership-development/worship-team-immature-ministry/

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 1119.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 4:19–24.

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