Before I was saved I’d attended many concerts and comedy shows. Before the main act appeared, there was always an opening act or as it is known, a “warm-up act”. The intent is to whip up the audience into an excitement. Wikipedia explains,
An opening act, warm-up act, or supporting act is an entertainment act (musical, comedic, or otherwise), that performs at a concert before the featured act, or “headliner”. … The opening act’s performance serves to “warm up” the audience, making it appropriately excited and enthusiastic for the headliner.
When we were at a taping of the Johnny Carson Show (Jay Leno had taken over when we were there) someone came out before the taping began and warmed up the audience. Wikipedia explains the comedy warm-up:
A warm-up comedian or crowd warmer is a stand-up comedian who performs at a comedy club or before the filming of a television comedy in front of studio audience to get the crowd into the mood ready for the show or main act. Their role is to make the audience feel integral to the show and encourage reactions during the show. They usually work alone and perform a comedy routine while also possibly explaining aspects of the show. They will also perform during commercial breaks.
This was the case with us. I don’t remember who the warm-up comedian was, but by the time Jay Leno came out through the curtains with the intro music blaring and asked, “Are you excited?” we could enthusiastically applaud and yell “YES!” The crowd went wild.
There are many praise bands whose intent is to do the same. By the time the main act arrives on stage (pastor climbing the pulpit) he often asks, “Are you
warmed up excited?” Or if the congregation looks a little serious he might say “You all look so serious. We’re in church! Smile! Isn’t it exciting!?”
Is church exciting? Is that the only proper emotion one should express in church? Excitement? What is church worship and how should we express it?
John MacArthur’s series “True Worship” has a definition:
What is worship? Let me give you a definition: Worship is “honor paid to a superior being.” It means “to give homage, honor, reverence, respect, adoration, praise, or glory to a superior being.” In Scripture, the word is used indiscriminately to refer to the homage given to idols, material things, or to the true God. So the word in itself is not a holy word, it only describes honor given to a superior being.
The common New Testament word for worship is proskuneo, which means “to kiss toward, to kiss the hand, to bow down, to prostrate oneself.” The idea of worship is that one prostrates himself before a superior being with a sense of respect, awe, reverence, honor, and homage. In a Christian context, we simply apply this to God and prostrate ourselves before Him in respect and honor, paying Him the glory due His superior character.
Essentially, then, worship is giving – giving honor and respect to God. That is why we, as Christians, gather together on Sunday. We don’t gather to give respect to the preacher or those in the choir, we gather to give honor to God.
When some people attend church and they look serious it’s for a reason. We are there to pay homage to the supreme Being of the Universe, Yahweh. Did the Temple priests go dancing and prancing into the Temple hooting and hollering? Shouting “Come on, ya’all, bring on the sacrifices, it’s a great day to be in the Temple today!!!” Can’t picture it? That’s for a reason.
Here is Worship Matters on How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?
Getting the Goal Right
But our lives aren’t an unending string of exclamation points. Our meetings shouldn’t be either. (Neither should our emails, but that’s another topic).
Strictly speaking, God never says the goal of the church gathering is excitement. It’s edification for God’s glory. We meet to stir up one another to love and good works, not simply to have an emotionally electrifying time. We meet to behold God’s glory in Christ through his Word, responding in ways appropriate to his self-revelation (Heb. 10:24; 2 Cor. 3:18).
That doesn’t mean gathering as the church isn’t meant to be a soul stirring event. We have every reason when we’re together to be excited about what God has done for us in Christ. But that’s not the same as aiming for adrenaline-pumping, professionally produced, high energy, exciting gatherings alone. That approach leaves little room to engage in expressions normal for elect exiles on our way to a new home (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Expressions like disorientation (Ps. 42:1-5). Sorrow for sin (Ps. 38:1-8). Grief (Rom. 12:15). A humble awareness of our creatureliness before our Creator (Ps. 95:6-7). Not to mention reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).
Our greatest need when we gather is not simply to feel excited, but to encounter God: to engage with the certainty of his sovereignty, the reality of his authority, the comfort of his mercy in Christ, and the promise of his grace. We need to be strengthened for the battles against the world, our flesh, and the devil that will confront us the moment we wake up Monday morning, if not before. Mere emotional excitement, however it might be produced, won’t be sufficient.
We need God’s Word clearly expounded, God’s gospel clearly presented, and God’s presence clearly experienced. We need well crafted, intentional liturgies that cultivate God-honoring, Christ-exalting thoughts and desires (See Rhythms of Grace and Christ-Centered Worship for more on that). Our efforts to make our meetings exciting can actually end up obscuring what our congregations need the most.
Some people when they go to church are excited in a way that’s more soberly mindful of the gravitas of the situation than the outward hyperactive excitement some churches seem to want or enjoy. Church is profound. We come before our Holy God to repent of sins, to call others to repent, and to praise and worship our eternal Savior. It is awe-inspiring, and yes, exciting, but not in the foot-stomping, hand waving, fervent excitement that some plea for and yes, even demand. Insistence on demonstrating our “excitement” at being present before God and the Assembly in one particular way is not at all liberating, in fact, it’s inhibiting.
The Bible on worship:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:19–25:)
We should aim for a more profound excitement. Here is Worship Matters again:
Towards a More Profound Excitement
The alternative to making our meetings more “exciting” isn’t trying to bore people. But Sunday mornings aren’t New Year’s Eve celebrations. They aren’t rock concerts. They aren’t pep rallies. They aren’t World Cup finals. They’re something much more mundane, and at the same time something much more eternally and cosmically significant. Our plans, lights, smooth transitions, technology, videos, sound systems, visual effects, and creativity don’t make it so. Christ dwelling in the midst of his people through his Holy Spirit makes it so. That’s why if we understand what’s going on, sharing the bread and cup during communion can be one of the highlights of our week, transcending the greatest of world championship sports rivalries in its effect on us.
What a great word. Transcendent. Our worship emanates from a sinful but justified heart, upward through three heavens to arrive at the throne of God.
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57:15).
This is the most exciting thing in the universe, our Holy Spirit in us, dwelling in our very body that is a Temple. I am hugely “excited” over this. Church leaders that insist on a enthusiasm exhibited a certain way, OR produce stage-effects designed to manipulate the congregation into exhibiting the desired enthusiastic exhibitions, should take heed of the 2 articles above.
Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. (Psalm 95:6-7)
Dude, Where’s your Gravitas?