Authentic Worship

A few weeks ago, Thom Rainer published an article called What Worship Style Attracts the Millennials.  Some of my younger family members and friends emailed me or posted about it on Facebook, all of them saying, in essence:  “He nailed it.”

Rainer stated his view that Millennials are not seeking a particular “style” of worship (e.g. Contemporary vs. Traditional), but desire to participate in worship that includes three major elements:

  • Music that is rich in biblical and theological content
  • Authenticity
  • Quality produced by adequate preparation.

My heart definitely resonates with these elements when they are present in a worship service.  I’d like to dig into the element of authenticity for a bit.  I suppose that means different things to different people, but here are some of my observations about it.

Ranier says, “The Millennials desire authenticity in a worship service.  They can sense when congregants and worship leaders are going through the motions.  And they will reject such perfunctory attitudes altogether.”  So in Rainer’s explanation, the opposite of authenticity is “going through the motions” and “perfunctory attitudes.”  Perfunctory, in case you’re struggling with that one, is used to describe something that is done without energy or enthusiasm because of habit or because it is expected according to Merriam-Webster Online.  Some synonyms include mechanical, routine, and superficial.  So authentic worship is a true reflection of what is in the hearts of the worshipers and leaders.  It represents their genuine thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.  It is real.  It is not a performance, nor a program presented to an audience. The people who plan and lead the worship are not just filling slots with song selections.  They are leading the people to thoughtfully and purposefully engage with truth about God and reflect it back to Him in musical praise and to one another for mutual edification.  And the people in the congregation are not merely singing what the leader announces, but expressing what they really believe about God, uniting their hearts and raising their voices to praise Him.

I desire for the worship in our Lord’s Day Gatherings at Calvary to be authentic, not just because it’s what a demographic category of people want, but because God is worthy of it.  Here are some ways to make or keep worship authentic.  Some of them we are endeavoring to do now and others we can grow in and develop.

  • Spend significant time praying together as pastors and leaders in preparation for upcoming services.
  • Allow plenty of time for planning and discussion of elements of worship services.
  • Be intentional and purposeful in planning what goes into a service.  Select music and Scripture reading and prepare comments and prayer so that all aspects of the service guide the congregation to reflect on and respond to specific truths.
  • Avoid showy music, whether vocal or instrumental.
  • Don’t do what’s expected just because it’s expected.  For example, avoid singing the same three songs every Father’s Day, or only Christmas songs in December.  Sure, it may be appropriate to include some selections that are traditionally used in certain seasons, but thoughtfully include some that relate to familiar truths in fresh ways.
  • Try to be thoughtful and original with the “patter” that we use as pastors during the worship service.  We tend to say the exact same things when welcoming the congregation, recognizing visitors, announcing the offering, etc.  It’s hard to be original when you’re going over the same subject week after week, but it’s good to make an effort to engage people’s minds rather than numb them with repetition.
  • Don’t overformalize.  Be personal, transparent when appropriate, and expressive in verbal comments.  Use music that is accessible, not so complicated that some can’t sing it or understand it.
  • Do a Scripture study of the elements of corporate gatherings.  Teach and talk through why we do what we do in worship.  Here are some references to get started:  Ecclesiastes 5:1-3; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 4:2; 1 Corinthians 14; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2.

Worship should be authentic regardless of whether it is attractive or not.  But if engaging the hearts of the next generation is a result too, that’s a good thing.

What do you think?  What makes worship authentic? What produces authentic worship?