A Visit to Worship Woods — A Parable about Worship Styles

September 15, 2012 at 9:01 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Worship | Leave a comment

I created this illustration many years ago and have used it in numerous settings, but have never written it down.  I was reminded of this in my devotions this morning and decided it was time to write it.  It is the story of the churches in Worship Woods.

Imagine you are new to the small town of Worship Woods and are trying to find a church.  There are only three evangelical congregations in town, so you decide to visit them all.

The first church you come to is Praise Pentecostal.  It meets in an old remodeled warehouse on the outskirts of town.  When you enter the auditorium, you notice people milling around talking and laughing together with drinks from the coffee shop in the lobby.  Dress is very casual.  When it’s time to begin the praise band gets up and leads music, which is best described as exuberant, with guitars and drums.  It is upbeat, it is sometimes loud, and the people clap along, some even seem to dance in their places.  The music goes on for 45 minutes; in fact the music is the main focus of the service.

The next Sunday you decide to visit Liturgy Lutheran.  The building is a glorious old brick structure with gorgeous masonry and beautiful stained-glass windows.  The atmosphere inside is quiet.  There are a few people visiting softly in the foyer, but most are in the sanctuary praying as melodious organ music plays in the background.  The dress is obviously more formal.  The service follows a strict calendar with some well-selected hymns, numerous soft prayers and a proscribed reading from the scriptures.  There are kneeling pads available, and many of the participants are on their knees.  The word that best describes this service is awe.  The members at Praise Pentecostal think the worship here is boring, while the members of Liturgy Lutheran think the service at Praise is irreverent.

On the final Sunday you visit Biblical Baptist.  The building is again a traditional brick church building, but it is much simpler than the one you visited last week.  When you get inside you notice that the focus of the sanctuary is the pulpit.  In fact, everything at a Biblical Baptist service is centered on the message.  The music is a few songs selected to match the pastor’s theme, and when he gets up to speak, everyone pulls out their Bible and notes.  The pastor preaches for 45 minutes focusing on one passage of scripture, including detailed understanding and relevant applications to life today.  If the members here attend one of the other churches in town, they wonder why there is no focus on the Word.  The members at the other two churches readily admit that Biblical Baptist has the best preacher in town, but they wonder if those people ever worship.

So which church worships the right way?  There may be one of these styles you prefer; there may be one you’re really uncomfortable with, and, though all of these churches are out of balance, you can’t say that any of them are wrong.  Biblically, worship should be all three of the styles demonstrated by these churches.  Psalm 95 was used by the Jewish people as a call to worship during the Feast of Booths, and I believe it should serve as a pattern of worship for us today.  It begins with loud, upbeat, Praise Pentecostal kind of worship.  The first verse says, “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” (NIV)  But then the middle of the Psalm goes into a quiet, awesome, Liturgy Lutheran style of worship.  “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” (v6)  And, finally, the chapter adds the warning, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (v8), indicating that genuine worship involves hearing God’s voice and responding in faith – a Biblical Baptist kind of worship.

Corporate worship should, at times, be exuberant and noisy.  Yet, at other times, it should be quiet and awe inspiring.  And it should include opportunities for worshipers to hear God’s word and apply it to life.  Though most churches will emphasize one of these styles over the others, each of them should be a part of the worship experience.

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