“True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” These are the words of our Lord Jesus recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 4 and verse 23.
The Father, God Almighty, is seeking people to worship Him! Isn’t that amazing? He is seeking people who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Is that you?
Our dream for the Sunday morning gathering at Journey Church is that the Father will find what He is seeking—a whole room full of people worshiping Him in spirit and truth. The way we design our worship services has that goal in mind.
I want to remind us, in this Thanksgiving season—and giving of thanks is a vital part of worship, where this design for worship came from, what it looks like, and why we follow it.
This vision for our Worship Journey has been percolating in my heart for many years. During seminary, the Lord opened my eyes to both personal and corporate worship. Regarding personal worship, I found my personal time in the Bible becoming very dry and homework-like about 2 to 3 years into seminary. Then God brought about a conversation with a missionary Sue Ann and I met during a six-week mission trip to Spain. What came out of that conversation was an entirely new approach: I focused my personal time in the Bible exclusively toward getting to know God. I looked for what God’s Word revealed about the Lord and then I would respond to that revelation (e.g. with a prayer or in song to the Lord or in some other way). Over the course of several years this transformed me from being a student of the Bible to being a worshiper of the Author of the Bible—the Lord God. This made a profound and lasting change in my life.
Regarding corporate worship, I had a professor at seminary who challenged me to think more deeply about worship, about what God’s people actually do when they meet for worship. One very significant event during that time was when I visited a church which practiced a very different approach to worship than I had ever experienced before. Sometimes that approach is called “high church” or “liturgical.” The tradition in which I was raised would have called their approach empty ritual. However, any approach to worship can be empty ritual if the worshiper is not responding to the Lord from his or her heart. What I experienced at that church was a Bible-based worship service. The prayers and readings in particular were remarkably rich, filled with strong theology. I was astounded, and moved.
Another very formative experience for me was when I planned the worship services for 10 years in a church Sue Ann and I served in Dallas. This gave me the opportunity to build upon what God had shown me in seminary about worship. I studied the Scriptures, read books on worship and thought deeply about it. I planned the worship services very intentionally, thinking carefully about how one part of the service related to the next—the importance of the order of worship.
These experiences ultimately gave rise to what we have now been practicing in our church since September 2018—worship as a journey through the Gospel. As you know, this weekly Sunday journey together has eight steps: call to worship, invocation, confession of sin, proclamation of the Gospel, response to the Gospel, listening to God’s Word, response to God’s Word, and benediction. Although we take these same steps each week in our worship journey, our services do not always look the same. Many of these steps can be expressed in different ways. For instance, the call to worship can be expressed through a prayer, through a song, through reading a passage of Scripture (e.g. Psalm 100:1-3), or through words the worship leader will say. This kind of variety will help keep our services fresh.
However, what is more important than variety in how we worship is the heart we bring to worship. We want to be the people, the worshipers Jesus talks about in John 4:23; people seeking Jesus from the heart. A people with hearts longing to know the Lord and to bring Him glory. A people who gathers on Sunday morning “to come to the Father through Jesus the Son and give Him the glory, great things He has done” (hymn, “To God Be the Glory”).
Why have we adopted this approach to worship? Because we want to worship the Lord more intentionally, to come into His presence with a purposefulness which is reflected in each step of our journey. I believe God is pleased with this approach and I believe God transforms us as we take this worship journey. Why transformed? Because “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
I also believe that this approach to worship is life-transformational because it is gospel-centered: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God. As we return to the Gospel each week and worship the Lord in a journey through the Gospel, there is no telling what God will do, powerfully, in us, among us, and through us.
This approach to worship is not new. God’s people have been taking these steps in worship for centuries. But be assured that this approach is not old in the sense of being outdated and irrelevant. One experience God used to rekindle this vision for worship in my heart took place during our 2014 mission trip to Booneville, Arkansas. On the way there, the team of youth and adults from our church worshiped at Mystery Church in Joplin, Missouri. The worship service took the very steps I outline above, but it was done in a very contemporary fashion. I was greatly encouraged, not only to experience this worship journey again, but also to see this “liturgical” approach done in a current style.
Worship Journey is at the heart of our Journey Vision. Yes, the entire Journey Vision sprang from my vision for worship. But more than that, worship is our highest priority—the Father seeks worshipers (John 4:23). Worship is our destiny (see Revelation 5, especially verses 11-14). John Piper opens his book on missions with these words: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” (Let the Nations Be Glad, p 11)