Worship Is Meant to Teach

I don’t want to kick up a fight, but I gotta severely disagree with my buddy Jeremy. He asked for responses to his post, Worship Is Not Meant to Teach. This is something I’m hugely passionate about so check the response below.

Worship has a dual function. It is meant to both celebrate and describe God. It is good to worship by singing songs to him. It is also good to worship God by singing songs about him. To do one and neglect the other is simply wrong. You need a good mix of both to get the full effect.

Jeremy says,

worship is not about teaching or learning anything.


…the Psalms were not designed to teach us about God.  They were designed to praise, celebrate, and worship God.

Let’s look at the psalms.

Psalm 86:1, a psalm of worship, asks God to teach us,

Teach me your way, O LORD,
and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart,
that I may fear your name.

In Psalm 32 having “understanding” is a desirable quality,

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

Psalm 11 is a worship song that used “about God” language rather than “to God” language. It teaches theology like “The LORD is righteous, he loves justice.” If the psalmists wrote songs about God and not simply to him then I’m down with following their example.

The Greatest Commandment

When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is he quotes Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It’s important to note that loving God (and I would argue worshiping him) involves not only our heart and soul, but also our mind. If we want to really worship God we should be bleeding out emotion from the very innards of our soul. It also doesn’t hurt us if we learn a thing or two in the process.

Should the focus of our worship be theology? No. Worshiping God = good. Worshiping theology = idolatry. Don’t put the cart before the horse. Theology is a means to worship God. Don’t make theology an end in and of itself.  Kept in the proper context theology is a rockin’ way to worship God and worship songs should most definitely teach.

I’m passionate about the importance of deep theological worship. I’m equally passionate about soulful/heartful worship. Check out this post where I spar with another guy. I pretty much say the same things and quote the same verses, but argue the other side of the equation.

What do you think – should worship teach?

Comment here or there.

14 Responses to “Worship Is Meant to Teach”

  1. 1 Bridget June 24, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with you 100%. The more we learn about God the more we want to love and adore and worship Him.

    Also, most people remember and learn their theology from songs (hymn-theology) and this was the purpose of many hymns.

    I specifically choose the songs for my sets in a specific order in order to tell a story or to teach them (or lead them) on how to worship (if that’s the minimum requirement) and on who He is so that they are, in turn, inspired to turn their hearts to Him.

    To say that worship is not meant to teach is so strange, I can’t begin to put my words together to defend my point.

    You did a great job.

  2. 2 Jeremy Killian June 24, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Put up your dukes, Billy! j/k. Some valid points here. Again, I’m not saying worship can’t teach, but I am saying that is not what it is created to do. Worship is to be centered on God, not on my lack of understanding about Him.

  3. 3 Chris Martin June 24, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Billy, I agree man. Worship is meant to teach, but I wouldn’t say that’s its primary purpose. The main purpose of worship is to bring glory and honor to God. So I agree with both of you.

    And by the way, don’t get back into Star Wars novels. They’re like crack man…

  4. 4 Russ June 25, 2008 at 5:53 am

    Worship does teach.

    Worship is worship, nothing more, nothing less.

    Worship is not worship unless there is an object to be worshiped.

    In the case of the Christ follower, the object of worship is not inanimate, but alive and powerful. We worship The Living God.

    In it’s simplest form worship is responding to God. In it’s most complicated form worship is responding to God.

    Because worship is not an overly complex “action” or formula, we shouldn’t over analyze it.

    We worship because of God.

    When we study the Scripture (worship) we are only able to do that because He gave us the Scripture.

    When we pray (worship) we are only able to commune with God because He has initiated the conversation.

    When we sing, play or dance musically (worship) we are only able express and experience because He created creativity.

    When we gather together to fellowship and to study, pray, and sing corporately (worship) we are only able to because He poured out His Spirit and birthed the Church.

    Our worship is worship because God is God.

    All that being said, we probably learn more about God in worship (all types) than we do when we’re not worshiping. Worship wasn’t created to “teach” us. It facilitates moments of teaching. The worship itself doesn’t teach us, but the Spirit of God reveals more about God to us during and through times of worship.

    Worship is just worship. Moments of teaching and learning just happen during worship because the LIVING object of our worship is the greatest, most unfathomable being in existence, and each time we respond to Him, be it through study, prayer, song, or fellowship we can’t help but to learn if we are open.

    OK, ok, that was long and could be considered a ramble.

    I only have one thing to add…

    I’m currently reading the Legacy of the Force series. It rocks.

  5. 5 Bobby Gilles June 25, 2008 at 6:08 am

    Worship is our response to God’s revelation of Himself to us, our celebration of Him (in the way He wants us to celebrate Him) of who He is and what He has done.

    Teaching is a part of this. Think of it this way: if you love someone, you tell others about them — you compliment them in front of your friends.

    Now think if that someone were the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Lord of All, who has directed us to teach and admonish one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Pretty clearly, we should do so.

    I do understand the point that Jeremy is making: we can’t go overboard here and let our songs become dry exercises in systematic theology. The best worship songs contain both objective truth about God with the subjective responses of hearts passionately turned towards God. Look at Watts: “were the whole realm of nature mine/ that were a present far too small!”

  6. 6 Chris June 25, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Since everyone is just cross-posting their responses, I’ll do the same 🙂 Canadians like to follow what everyone else is doing, anyway.

    Isn’t teaching going to be a natural by-product of whatever songs you ask your congregation to sing? If you ask them to sing songs that are written as teaching songs then they may learn more, deeper, insightful things about the character of God but even if you are inviting them to sing songs which are not “theology to music” you are STILL teaching them, no?

    There is a great amount of theology that is both directly and indirectly learned from congregational worship. Anytime church leadership puts words on a screen or a songsheet and asks the congregation to sing those words together, there is definitely the assumption that the leaders are approving the words and the sentiments of those words.

    Can the church not be expected to grow in their knowledge and understanding of who God is through the singing of songs AND through the preaching of the word?

    I’m not here to wave the flag of the Reformed songwriter-teachers but I think there’s a general assumption being missed – whatever songs we sing, those are the songs which will teach.

  7. 7 Billy Chia June 25, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Good sport man. The fisticuffs are flying 🙂

    Yeah, I wouldn’t go with a “teaching” being a primary focus either. My point is that worship has a dual nature (or more accurately a multifaceted nature) and that both teaching and celebration are vital elements of something bigger than the sum of its parts.

    Great response. My fav line:

    “Moments of teaching and learning just happen during worship because the LIVING object of our worship is the greatest, most unfathomable being in existence”

    My favorite response has been Chris’s

    “there’s a general assumption being missed – whatever songs we sing, those are the songs which will teach.”

    You can’t say “worship doesn’t teach” or that “worship is not meant to teach” it teaches whether we want it to or not. The key to to be intentional and aware about what we are teaching through our worship.

  8. 8 Bridget June 25, 2008 at 9:52 am

    I agree with you on this:

    My favorite response has been Chris’s

    “there’s a general assumption being missed – whatever songs we sing, those are the songs which will teach.”

    You can’t say “worship doesn’t teach” or that “worship is not meant to teach” it teaches whether we want it to or not. The key to to be intentional and aware about what we are teaching through our worship.

  9. 9 Jan Owen June 25, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    I agree with Bridget and have a couple of other things to add. As Bridget says, worship simply does teach. I don’t just think the lyrics teach although I think they do. I think worship teaches because it invites and enables us to see God more clearly as we gaze at Him in worship. The act of worship teaches us as well – it teaches us obedience and God’s presence teaches us about holiness. AS we look at God we not only see Him more clearly but we see ourselves more clearly as well. I think all of that qualifies as teaching. It shapes us spiritually by the sheer act of it all.

    As a worship leader I do disagree with those that say that worship leaders should not teach or speak, just sing. I think we have an opportunity to help people grow as worshipers but they may need some instruction. I am a worship PASTOR not just a singing head. 🙂 That’s not what Jeremy said, but it made me think of it.

  10. 10 mandythompson June 26, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    hey! i’m sticking my head in real quick. then pulling it back out again. but wanted to just say that i’m in line with jeremy & russ on this one. kinda. sorta.

    i agree that worship “can” teach, kind of like a side-effect. but i wouldn’t say that it is “meant” to teach. i think the true meaning of worship is for us to glorify God.

    if i am worshiping Him by singing songs in my apartment, by praying prayers of praise to Him silently as i get ready for work in the morning, if I am driving down the road by myself and get really excited about a beautiful sunset, – if no one else is around for these moments, am i not worshiping because my worship is not teaching anyone anything?

    i think some of my truest moments of worship have happened when i AM all alone. i think my heart is at its purest and least distracted state.

    thanks for mentioning this over here, billy

  11. 11 brunettekoala June 26, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I don’t think the question is whether worship is MEANT to teach. It just DOES.

    The fact is that now so many people learn about God through worship songs.

    It also brings this sense of community as we come together to encourage one another, to praise God for who He is, and meditate on the mystery and marvellous, awesome God He is…

  12. 12 Sarah Chia June 27, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    As a teacher, I think that a lot of the responses fail to acknowledge that teaching/learning occur in more than one form. One of the biggest failures of the standardized education system is that it essentially “teaches” us that learning and teaching are well-defined.

    They simply aren’t. In fact, the best teaching is teaching that happens outside the normal conventions.

    Because life isn’t a compartmentalized system. Tons of areas of life intertwine and melt together more than people often want to acknowledge (myself included).

    To try to draw a distinct line to say, “This is the purpose and definition of worship… All else is simply side effect,” is an oversimplified statement to say the least.

  1. 1 Teaching Moments in Worship at Russ Hutto Trackback on June 25, 2008 at 6:24 am
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