By Steven Norris

In the next days and weeks, as many churches in our area will be returning to in-person worship services, things may look a bit different from what we are accustomed to seeing. It got me to thinking, when you hear the word “worship,” what comes to mind?

To some degree or another, our answers will vary, based on the traditions in which we were raised or the churches we now attend. But is it really worship if, as some are suggesting, we cannot safely sing together? Is it really worship if we cannot shake hands or give hugs to our church family during the passing of the peace? Is it really worship if we cannot pass the offering the plate, use the hymnals, or observe the Lord’s Supper in the same ways as before?

A number of years ago, I remember hearing a story from British worship leader, Matt Redman, about one of his beloved worship songs. His church was experiencing a time of great growth. Their band was getting quite a lot of international attention and young people were showing up in droves for their services.

The pastor of that congregation came to Redman, concerned that the crowds were showing up as much for a concert than for the message of Christ. He was convinced that they were becoming consumers of religious entertainment rather than participants in worship. He expressed a deep conviction that the band was becoming an idol for their church.

Therefore, he told Redman that, for a season, he was “pulling the plug” on the band. He was literally pulling the plug on the sound system all together. He was seeking to smash the golden calf that had diverted their attention from the Savior.

In some ways, I wonder if we are not in the same place as a church. For too long, worshipers in the West have become more enamored with the forms of worship and seemingly less devoted to the substance of our worship. All you need to do is look at the so called “worship wars” of the past few decades to see examples of this.

In John 4, Jesus met with a Samaritan woman beside a well in the village of Sychar. She, too, had questions about worship: “Should we worship at the temple in Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim as the Samaritans say?” Jesus responded, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…[but] the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth…”

I cannot help but wonder if God is using this time to purge us of some of our worship idols. I cannot help but think that Jesus’ words are for us today. True worship isn’t about hymnals, offering plates, handshakes, or even about singing. True worship is about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

Yes, worship in these days may look different, but true worship is about substance over form. The same God who met us in our singing can meet us in our silence as well. May we continue to be faithful and to worship in spirit and in truth regardless of our temporary circumstances.