Post 4: The Human Role in Worship
In this blog series we’ve been having a conversation on worship. We started with a brief definition: Worship is giving honor, service, and respect to God. Based on this definition it could seem like worship is only something we do for God. So recently we explored God’s role in worship. We saw that God is not a passive recipient, but is active in our worship.
Worship begins with God’s call. We worship through Jesus, who leads us in worship. The Spirit empowers and directs our worship. What then should we think about worship leaders in our church services? If Jesus is our worship leader, do we really need people to lead worship? Perhaps you’ve never thought to ask about this, but I think it’s important to consider our role in worship.
As we said before, the priests in the Old Testament were the worship leaders: they acted as mediators for God’s people in worship, they facilitated the worship rituals, offering to God the sacrifices brought by the worshipers. They also taught God’s people from God’s Law. As our great high priest, Jesus fulfills the role of the priests; we have access to God through him. But God still calls men and women to serve as worship leaders. In our church the pastors, the choir, and the wardens help to facilitate the worship of the congregation.
Deuteronomy 26:1-11 gives us a picture of what is means to lead worship. God’s people were instructed to bring an offering to God in the Temple. In v. 4 it says the priest is to take the offering and put it before the alter, but in v. 10 the worshiper is to put the offering before the Lord. These verses seem like a contradiction, until we realize that the priest was only facilitating the act of offering. He wasn’t worshiping in place of the one bringing the offering, he wasn’t standing in place of God either. The priest as a worship leader helped the worshiper bring the offering to the Lord. In the same way worship leaders today help God’s people respond to God in worship, by facilitating the worship service.
Some of us are called to lead worship, but worship is something we all do together.
This first observation leads to a second, all believers are called to lead worship.
Although Jesus is our High Priest, and some people are called to a priestly ministry, it is also true that God’s people are called to a priesthood. In Exodus 19:5-6 God told the people of Israel that by being in a covenant relationship with him they would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God’s dream for his people was that they would all have access in worship, and that they would lead the nations to worship the Lord.
Sadly, Israel often failed to be a light to the nations, and they worshiped idols instead of the Lord. But the Apostle Peter picks up God’s dream from Exodus and applies it to the Church. Peter writes to the church, saying, you are “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He also says, “you are… a royal priesthood, a holy nation, …that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5.9).
Peter wasn’t talking to the pastors or worship leaders only, and he wasn’t even talking to a rich or powerful church. Peter wrote these words to a group of believers under persecution. In spite of their circumstances God’s dream for them was that they would together offer worship to the Lord, and lead others to worship Him.
This same idea reappears in Revelation. At the beginning of this blog series we looked at worship in Revelation 4-5, to which we return now at the end of our series. In Revelation 5 the praise offered to the Lamb, Jesus, includes, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (vv. 9-10). In Jesus we become the kingdom of priests that God always wanted his people to be. In Jesus true worship is restored.
The Church is called to be a “priesthood of all believers,” as the classic Protestant teaching says. We are all called to worship and to be a light to the people around us so that we might lead them to worship the Lord. Part of the way we do this is in our work. As we are sent out from Sunday worship into our daily lives, our work becomes an offering to the Lord and the way we witness to the world around us.