What Exactly is a “Culture of Worship”?

One of the primary responsibilities in my job description as the Worship Director at SSCC is this:

“to create a culture of worship”.

I’ve been in this job for 3-1/2 years.  I believe that I’ve witnessed a growth in the overall dynamic of worship in our church.  However, as I joined my Pastor last week to continue discussing this we both realized that we can’t really define what that culture is supposed to look like.

Our initial response would typically want to jump right into the discussion about how “worship” isn’t just the songs we sing, but a way of life.  I agree.

However, for the purpose of this question, I believe it refers to how people are involved in praise and worship at SCCC – in our corporate settings and in our private settings.

So, what is a “culture of worship”, and how do you define it and measure it?

Is it measured by how many people raise their hands on Sunday morning during a song?
Is it measured by how many people are singing?
Is it measured by whether or not people are clapping?

Clearly, I can’t see what God is doing in the hearts of people … at least, not always …

I’d like to sit on this one for a day or so … and I’d like to ask EVERYONE to leave their comments (I’m using this IntenseDebate comment system again, trying it out, so hope it works!).  I’d love for you to “Tweet” or “ReTweet” this entry.

You are invited to the discussion.  Go for it.

(image from Collide Magazine)

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33 comments on What Exactly is a “Culture of Worship”?

  1. In as much as I think the phrase “worship leader” misuses the definition of Worship, I think giving the lead musician the responsibility of “creating a culture of worship” limits what that culture will look like, based on his abilities and interests. Granted, I know you agree that worship is WAY more than singing, or lifting hands, or whatever.

    In short: I’d ask my boss to change the phrasing of my job description to “create a culture of engagement and participation”…

    1. Mandy,
      Good feedback – I’m sure the “culture” they (we) are talking about goes beyond participation, though … at least, participation we can see on Sundays. Possibly, it goes into training, mentoring, arts, writing, etc. And yes – the lead musician is limited by what they can do, but hopefully, would surround themselves w/ people who can do other things well ….. still digging …

      1. In that case, I’d say maybe “culture of expression.”

        And, to be honest, it sounds like the work of more than one person. At the least, get a raise! 😉

  2. Melanie says:

    Fred, I’ve wrestled with this for the past year. I’m learning that man cannot create a culture of worship. Although God created mankind to worship, man cannot create a culture. Culture just happens. I firmly believe if we want to change a culture or see a new culture grow, we must seek the Holy Spirit to lead it. Cultures are born from the ground up. Rarely have I seen an authentic culture grow from a top-down movement. I consider culture like a seed. It must be buried and watered for a bit before it grows enough to penetrate the ground. Once it penetrates the ground, it is exposed to the sunlight receiving more nutrients for growth. In a short time, that seed becomes an oak (for example).

    To me, creating a “culture of worship” is a Holy Spirit thing. However, we can form an environment that welcomes the Holy Spirit to create the culture. By teaching and encouraging others to let things go and allow the Spirit to move, the environment welcomes a Holy Spirit moment thus leading to culture. When hearts are open, the Spirit will move.

    One more thing, I consider “culture” a community-wide thing. It may begin in a worship service (like a seed), but the “culture” impacts the community.

    Just my thoughts. I’m still wrestling with it, too. So, take what you will from my comments. Thanks for posting, Fred. I love your ministry!

    1. Melanie,
      Thanks for your thoughts – I had to copy your comment from the IntenseDebate system, ’cause I ditched it (again) …

      You are so right about one thing … if it’s not Spirit-led, and it’s a movement of man, it’s not worth much. Your comment inspires me to dig deeper, pray harder, and listen even more carefully …

      1. Melanie says:

        Amen, Fred! We all need to dig deep since none of us want to do anything in our own strength. The Holy Spirit gives us ability above and beyond ourselves. All he asks us to do is obey.

        A topic like this has a lot packed in it. I’m praying for you and with you in this. It’s not an issue to take lightly. Blessings to you!

  3. Russ Hutto says:

    I think another important thing to consider which might help shape the answers a little…maybe not. But it helps me:

    What is NOT a culture of worship?

    1. Russ.
      Intriguing … we’ll be bringing this up in Worship Synergy (our group of WL’s that meets monthly) … and wrestling with this … for a while!

  4. Craig Dunnagan says:

    The key to “real” worship is transformation. When we encounter God’s presence we should be changed to be more like Him. Sometimes that requires us doing something physically but not always. I think engagement regardless of physical signs is key, transformation of mind, emotions and soul by the Word of God that hopefully fills our songs is the only true sign that people have been immersed in a culture of worship.

    1. Craig,
      A big hearty AMEN. But how many “worship leaders” are evaluated based on the “life change” that is happening in their congregants? What does that “culture” look like that would enable people to encounter God’s Presence that way?

  5. Pastor Paul says:

    In our Lutheran context we speak of worship as the central thing. If worship is the central thing about who we are, if praising, thanking, and worshiping God are at the heart of who we are, then we have successfully created a culture of worship. Too often our churches become over-invested in programs or fellowship opportunities, and these are important, but they mean nothing if not rooted in worship, together. If not for worship at the center, we are no more than another social club or organization. Just my two cents.

    1. Paul,
      I’m constantly intrigued by the Lutheran culture, and similarly, the Episcopal setting (not sure of the differences?)

      Quote:
      If worship is the central thing about who we are, if praising, thanking, and worshiping God are at the heart of who we are, then we have successfully created a culture of worship …

      ———-
      I totally agree. What does that look like in a practical sense?

  6. Donnie Nunn says:

    Fred, which definition of the word “culture” should be used here? Dictionary.com has 8 different definitions. Here are a few…

    1. the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.
    5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
    8. the act or practice of cultivating the soil; tillage.

    So, are we “tilling the spiritual soil”, looking at the behavior and actions of how people worship, or just focusing on excellence?

    To me as an individual, the “culture” of worship is me and Father, intimate and personal.
    To me as a worshiper leading others into His Presence, the “culture” of worship is bringing others into a corporate intimacy with Him. Kind of like when a teacher (Father God) is reading a really good book to a group of Kindergarteners (us, His children) and they are held by every word and inflection of tone coming from His voice. I love being spellbound (using that word lightly) by His Presence.

  7. Shawn Bender says:

    Hi Fred,

    I’m not exactly sure if this answers the question, but every week I strive to NOT hear comments such as “worship sounded great”, or “that song was awesome”, but more like “I was able to praise in the presence of the Lord”, or “during that set I could simply worship God”. I can really measure the maturity of the worship time by the comments received. If I can get the focus off of the team and onto God during that time, mission accomplished.

  8. I just want to learn from this post.

  9. Eric says:

    Personally I don’t always like the word “culture,” because it reminds me of yogurt or petri dishes. (However, I like yogurt.)

    That aside, I think the phrase could be taken two ways, one of which is a good way to go:

    (1) Getting everybody to express the emotive responses you want to see.

    That is problematic because it is ultimately (a) focused on externals and (b) man-centered. Worse, the man it’s centered on is the worship leader, which sets up terrific temptations to self-importance and pride. (Been there!)

    On the other hand, it can mean–

    (2) Through prayer and submission to the Lord, allowing the Holy Spirit to point people to Christ, which will naturally result in worship expressed in songs, attitude, and life; the “worship leader’s” responsibility is to exemplify this in his own life and to make exhortative music that likewise points to Christ.

    –which would work pretty well.

    In other words, if “culture of worship” means anything other than “a group of people who seriously love the Lord,” then our priorities may be out of whack. Also, a worship leader should not be expected to do the Holy Spirit’s job; at most we get to cooperate.

    Great discussion! I’ll tweet this.

    1. Eric,
      What an awesome response … reading that, and other comments, I ask myself (and perhaps, our leadership) … is it correct to have “creating a culture of worship” as a responsibility for the Worship Leader? This would ultimately be something that the entire staff would want to do …

      1. Danielle says:

        This was my exact thought as I read through the responses and thought about what a “culture of worship” would actually look like. I don’t think it should be placed entirely on the worship leader/pastors shoulders, but on the church leadership as a whole.

        If worship is the overflow of a heart that is in love with Jesus than it has to go deeper than our response during Sunday morning worship. A culture of worship would imply a church body that has a living relationship with their creator. I think that kind of discipleship needs to be a part of the DNA of the entire church, not just the worship ministry. Leading Sunday morning worship is a prime opportunity to lead people closer to God, but I think ultimately a worship culture would have to stem from individuals with a real, personal relationship with a God that they love.

        Great discussion!–Never thought much about this concept before.

        1. Danielle,
          Exactly, which is what prompted my blog TODAY (see today’s post) about how we can help people with that throughout the week.

  10. Heather B says:

    Hey Fred,
    Good post. When I hear the phrase culture of worship I immediately picture a community of believers who have fallen in love with God and thus worship oozes from them in all arenas of life. I agree it is not just singing, clapping, dancing etc…just for the sake of actions. Those should be the by products of a soul who has been captured by a loving creator. (Not the only byproducts, there should also be loving others, social justice etc…) Just making the point that I believe a culture of worship happens supernaturally when people begin to see, hear and EXPERIENCE who God is.
    There’s a few thoughts off the cuff! 🙂

    1. Heather,
      A big amen … so, in regards to “creating that culture”, what can a Worship Leader do … or is creating that culture even the WL’s role?

  11. Good stuff my friend. Here are my thoughts on this very phrase…

    * Crafts a biblical and indigenous language about expressing worship.
    * Models characteristics of a worshiper
    * Reaches inter-generationally
    * Expresses originality
    * Values worship Monday through Saturday as much as Sunday

    for the FULL explanation, here is the article this comes from…

    http://rkweblog.com/2010/10/worship-mythbusters-worship-culture-a-new-buzzword-full-of-myths.html

  12. @matreames says:

    I think a culture of worship is more than any of the things you have listed here. I recently spent time in Israel, and while In Jerusalem I had a revelation. The Muslim’s have cultivated a culture of Prayer. Their sirens go off 5 times a day, and everything in the muslim regions stops. They all buswt out their prayer mats and go into prayer mode. Its not something that they think about, its become a natural reaction, much like pavlov and his dogs. They hear the sound and they go to it.

    I believe this is relevant to the current question on creating a culture of Worship. You as the worship leader need to live a life of worship. It needs to be an essential portion of your DNA. When people see you, worship should be a defining factor of your life in their eyes. This is not just songs, but everything. When you are working they should see you worshiping the lord, in thanksgiving, in song, in prayer, in anyway you can fit it in.

    I think to create the culture of worship within the local church community, the people need;

    a. To see the leadership living a life of Worship.

    b. Solid biblical teaching on what worship is, how to do it, why, and when. they need to be taught the way of the culture.

    I think I will develop this thought more Fred, and when I do I will post it on my blog and TWC. This is something that is very much on my heart. Luckily In my current church there is what I would consider a culture of worship.

    1. Matt,
      Sounds awesome. I love the analogy of the muslims and prayer times … and how can you have that disipline, but it not become a religious exercise!

  13. @matreames says:

    Great question Fred,
    I think that there is a fine line between religious exercise and a true spiritual discipline.
    For us as Christians, it should be a combination of two things.
    a. Crazy, Passionate, Love
    because we as Christians are failing if we aren’t in crazy, passionate, love with the Creator of the Universe and the Lover of Our soul. If our worship is Love based, its not an not religious work, but a romantic encounter. Does a husband tell his wife he loves her simply for fear of sleeping on the couch? I doubt it.

    b. Holy Spirit.
    If Holy Spirit is truly living and active in our lives, then the only recourse we have is worship. He loves to shine light on Jesus and Abba Daddy. He delights in seeing God Magnified, if he is in us, he will encourage us to do it.

    This is a wonderful discussion fred, you always keep me thinking. Thank you for that.
    -Mat

  14. Heather B says:

    Well, it took a little while to get back! I think that creating that culture is some the WL’s place but should be collective effort of the church staff.
    I agree with today’s post, it’s got to be a lifestyle of the WL to seek the face of God, to find his way into that secret place on his own. To go a step further, the whole ‘praise team’ should. If we expect to lead people into that place, I think we should know the way there ourselves.
    I was talking recently to someone who was genuinely asking what made a particular worship service they had recently attended so different that any they’d been to before. The words they used were “I felt like God was right next to me, all around me. I did not feel like I was just singing some words, or listening to a good band like usual.”

    I’m not sure of the answers, but I feel that prayer should be a huge priority for a staff. Not just praying for 15 minutes before church but genuinely intercededing for a spiritual break through.
    Also Creating time, space and education on what true worship is.

    That’s all I got for just waking up. Hope it makes sense without getting too “preachy” as I tend to do. 🙂

  15. Melanie says:

    Fred,
    Just a thought. If we are talking job descriptions here, could the verbiage simply change from “create a culture of worship” to “disciple worshipers who in turn will disciple other worshipers”? If we agree that the Holy Spirit should create/form/maintain a culture of worship (evidenced by the love and spiritual posture of the church), then would I be too far off the mark to suggest that worship pastors must lead in a manner as to inspire others to lead?

    Looking at the parable of the talents, I believe this to be true. What are your thoughts?

  16. Jeff says:

    I am so glad I found this discussion. My pastor and I have been talking about this for some time now. Our church is in Northern Wisconsin (a new culture for both of us). During my first month leading worship at this church, I noticed a 20-something standing in the back with his arms crossed and a bored expression on his face. I was pretty discouraged because to me he represented someone that I thought would connect fairly well to the “culture of worship” we were establishing. The next morning I received an email from this guy thanking me for “my worship” and telling me how excited he was to be part of this church.

    My faith is being stretched as I am having a harder time defining the “culture of worship”. In this part of the country people are not typically outwardly expressive in a church setting (I have had to admit that outward expression makes me feel better about the culture of worship). We are very committed to not just singing songs but teaching people to find truth in the lyrics. The people’s response to this is much harder to see the process, but stories are coming out that clearly describe life transformation.

    For us that is the “behavior” we are seeking in our culture of worship…life transformation. If that is missing, the raising of hands is the least of our worries.

    Great topic! thanks for the canvas
    Jeff

  17. Jared B. says:

    Our church is finishing up the “40 Days in the Word” study that Rick Warren wrote and it seems like a culture of worship is being developed. Some tangible things that I’m noticing are: conversations amongst the congregation are less focused on the color of the carpet or the temperature of the room and more focused on the presence of God and the life change we are experiencing. I hear people comment more about their connection with God than how good (or bad) the music was. It’s becoming less about us and our preferences and more about God and His presence.

    This has all come out of a singular focus on loving, learning, and living the Word of God. I don’t know

    1. fmckinnon says:

      Wow, Jared – that’s amazing! Pray it continues to grow.
      Fred McKinnon
      —————-
      email: fred@fredmckinnon.com
      twitter: @fmckinnon
      facebook: http://www.facebook.com/fredmckinnon

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