by Scott Carter

We could be pedantic and say that worship is “worth ship” or the ascribing of worth to someone or something through focused devotion; but that has never been very helpful in the Christian context for it is clear from the New Testament, which never once proscribes ceremony or ritual or even the need for what we would consider formal worship.  Instead, I find it helpful to think of worship through the analogy of an old radio.  We set the dial to the station we want and we can hear the program, but over time things happen.  There is long term wear on the components. There are atmospheric phenomena that interferes in different ways at different times. Thus, to keep hearing the signal we have to retune to the station.  Sometimes we have to just touch the dial but sometimes we have to get out the tin foil, stick our tongue out, and stand on one leg just to get anything remotely comprehensible. 

Thus is worship. Our goal is to hear the signal better.  The signal is God. The will of God, the love of God, the presence of God.  Hearing the signal means we can live lives that actually demonstrate the worth of God, who needs no one to prove it. We do not worship to manipulate, coerce, or impress God. We worship to be more like God.  Nor do we worship for ourselves. To feel good or to express something or to be comforted.  All of that is secondary to the goal, to attune to God. When we have a different goal, we are tuning to the wrong signal. God might get some bleed over, but we are missing the clarity of the signal.

So how do we do it? To which we give the least helpful and most honest answer possible: it depends.  We can say that attunement happens on two levels, personal and corporate. Personal because our relationship with God is as individual to individual, corporate because we are only parts of the Body. Both must be in tune to work correctly. 

Personal worship is the most subjective, varying not only from person to person, but from day to day and hour to hour. The worst thing we can do is recommend a one size fits all for all time approach, it will be hit and miss at best.  What we recognize is that we are people of many parts, intellectual, emotional, physical, social, and more.  Intellectually we can attune by reading scripture or devotional material or in contemplation of certain ideas.  Emotionally we can either actively express, by creating art, or absorb, by consuming art.  Socially we can share our experiences or hear the experiences of others.  Physically we might find that certain postures make us more receptive to God, more able to tune out the other signals and tune in the signal from God.

Corporate worship is much the same, except those of us who plan it should be aware that not everyone will tune the same way and that we should have variety with in our plan but also consistency from one event to another.  A corporate worship experience should engage all those parts of the human life that might need tuning.  There should be intellectual content, emotional content, interaction, and most of all participation by those in attendance.  One person can give you tools to attune, but you have to do it yourself.   When we come together in community to do this tuning, we are more likely to all be able to hear the same signal, filling in gaps for one another, helping each other stay on signal.

Fidelity, in a technical sense, is the comparison between the signal and the message received.  It is from the same root word as Faith.  We seek in our worship, whether corporate or individual, the highest fidelity possible, the clearest signal.  This produces in us faithfulness to the signal. To the signal that says you are loved so you must also love. The goal of worship, indeed all of Christian living, is not what you experience. That sets the signal on you.  No, the goal of worship is what you become after.

Scott Carter

Scott Carter is over half a century old and currently lives in the PNW. He has a BA and MDiv and over 30 writing credits. He has been a pastor, a professor, and librarian. He is still figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up. He lives with his lovely and talented wife, two brilliant children, and a cat. All gingers. Pray for him.