More than a song: Fostering a culture of worship in your church

By Kenny Klinglesmith

The past few months, I have been reading through the Old Testament minor prophets. As a worship leader, the book of Amos jumped out at me.

Check out Amos 5:21-24:

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps, I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

God isn’t sugarcoating His opinion on what type of worship pleases Him. Church planters, although singing is tremendously important and even though music certainly does matter in our congregations, I want to discuss why cultivating a healthy worship culture matters and why it means more than having a great band or excellent music.

Historical context
In this passage in Amos, the Israelite people were “worshiping” God through religious feasts, religious gatherings, offerings, singing songs and playing instruments.

Yet the culture was guilty of gaining wealth at the exploitation of the poor, rampant sexual immorality, blatant idolatry and their “worship” of God was an attempt to manipulate His favor. Unfortunately, the religious culture continued as if nothing was wrong.

The main idea of these verses is that worshiping God through song or church attendance or morality alone does not please Him.

Worship as a response
Although worship certainly includes singing, limiting worship exclusively to singing is incomplete and incorrect by definition. I believe Romans 12:1 is one of the best definitions the Bible gives of what worship really is, comprehensively. Consider this:

“I appeal to you, therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

I believe that throughout the Bible, worship is depicted as a natural response of admiration and action when God reveals Himself.

Consider Isaiah’s famous encounter with the Lord when he declares “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). What is the action paired with the admiration? The Lord commissions Isaiah as a prophet a few verses later, and he spends his life taking the Word of God to the people around him.

Or take Peter, who responds after Jesus fills his nets with fish by declaring “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Although Peter admires Jesus’s perfect nature, he doesn’t stay there—his admiration for Jesus is coupled by action as he leaves everything he owns to follow Christ.

Worship may start with singing, but if it stays at singing, it likely is not the kind of worship that God delights in. Worship includes action.

A call to action
Those four verses in Amos terrify me in the best way. I have been convicted not only on a personal level but for the American church in general.

I am coming to realize that worship isn’t only Sunday morning singing—it is a lifestyle in submission to the will of God. As leaders in our churches, we are to be major advocates for social justice in our communities. How tragic would it be for us to lead people in singing about how merciful God is, but neglect to care for the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the forgotten.

I am reminded of the Savior and his warning on this topic:

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me'” (Matthew 25:40).

Church leaders, may our words, our hands, our hearts, our entire lives be worship to God. May we feed the hungry on our streets. May we protect the marginalized of society from oppression. May we give to those who do not have.

Although the context may differ depending on your community and church, the heart of worship remains the same—But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. May our churches have worship cultures that produce the kind of worship that pleases our King—admiration coupled with action.

Published May 25, 2017

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Kenny Klinglesmith

Kenny is a worship resident, under the supervision of Brett Land, with Austin Stone Worship. He currently lives in Austin, Texas, and leads students in worship at Austin Stone's Downtown campus. He is an avid supporter of Young Life, Kentucky Basketball and Selena Quintanilla.