A former Nashville studio musician spoke to a group of church leaders in our city recently. He told us a little about his time in "Music City" and how decisions are made about what music to produce and sell. He said other than Bill Gaither's Homecoming music, the industry is producing only the so-called "praise and worship" music now. This music focuses on the majesty of God and is normally addressed to God the father or another member of the holy trinity.
I say "so-called" praise and worship since the church has been praising God for 2000 years. Praise and worship is nothing new. What we have now is the praise of God in a modern package. Praise is important. Praise to God is a significant part of worship. The Bible is clear that "we enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise" (Psalm 100:4).
But it's true that we don't enter the gate and stay there! As we mature and grow we appropriate more of God's plan for our lives and seek to obey him in our world.
A pastor mentor told me years ago that a service of Christian worship should begin with a hymn of praise to God the father, and then move to other themes such as salvation, devotion, commitment and service. I've always held up this model as the best in my worship planning.
Jesus told a story about two brothers whose father asked them to work in the field. One brother agreed, but didn't go. The second brother said "no," but then relented and went to work. Jesus asked which of the two obeyed their father. We know it was the initially-reluctant worker who went to the field who was obedient (Matthew 21: 28-31). This son is the model for Christian conduct in a world of need. We enter God's presence through praise, but then he commands us to get to work! There's much to be done in God's kingdom.
Robert Schuller before his death explained one reason he built a glass cathedral for worship. He said he wanted worshippers to look outside and see the world and realize they had a mission. "The church has hidden behind stained glass for too long," he insisted.
Other churches underscore the same thought with signs posted in their parking lot: "You're entering the mission field." Church members see these signs when they drive away from the worship place and understand everyone has a personal summons to serve.
Praise and worship isn't a substitute for service. But praise goes hand-in-glove with service. In fact, we may praise God best while we serve others in our world, exalting the name of the one who sent us.