Conditional Worship

by Russ Hutto

Conditional Worship

“I just can’t worship with that kind of music.”

Have you ever said something like this?

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before. I’ve definitely thought it at times.

I was at a traditional church several years ago when God opened my eyes to this. I was sitting there during the music and thinking about how I would do the song differently. Then God basically slapped me in the face. I felt Him say to me, “Gary, worship me. If you can’t worship me with this kind of music, then your idea of worship is shallow.” I walked away from that a changed person and a changed worship leader. Over the years, I have seen and heard testimonies of people who have worshiped and connected with God for the first time, even though they didn’t prefer the music style that I was bringing. That is what it is all about. It’s not about the methods or styles in which we worship. It’s about bringing worship that the Father is seeking, which is in Spirit and in truth.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. (John 4:23 ESV)

That being said, I’m concerned that there is a danger we need to watch out for in our churches. The danger is CONDITIONAL WORSHIP. It’s when God’s people convince themselves of certain conditions that need to exist in order for corporate worship to happen. For some, it may call for a killer band and for others, it may call for a choir. For some, it may be lights and multimedia and for others, it may be stained glass and candles. These things are not bad ideas at all. When used properly, there are so many things that can enhance the experience and touch the senses, but we need BALANCE. We need to learn to worship God no matter what the circumstances. Paul said in Colossians 2:16 – “So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (The Message)

What is the substance of your worship? If it’s not Christ alone, then you are probably suffering from CONDITIONAL WORSHIP.

Here’s a few signs you can watch out for:

1. INCONSISTENCY

Is your worship experience inconsistent? If it is, you need to realize that it’s not the church’s fault. It’s not the worship leader’s fault. It’s not the pastor’s fault. The issue is found when you look in the mirror. If Christ is the substance of our worship, then we will experience consistency in corporate worship. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” When Christ becomes the substance of our worship more and more, we will experience more and more consistency in heart-tugging, life-changing corporate worship.

2. BOREDOM

Jesus is not boring. Following Jesus with surrender is a true adventure. When Christ is not the substance of our worship, then we require lesser things to keep our attention in corporate worship. We require certain styles, certain songs and certain sermons. Eventually, we tire of those things the same way a spoiled kid gets tired of unwrapped Christmas presents after a week of playing with them. If you are bored in corporate worship, maybe your attention is being arrested by lesser things. When you fix your eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3), you will never lose sight of true, exciting worship, no matter what the conditions.

3. HESITATION

Hesitation in corporate worship manifests itself in our inspection of everything, before we surrender everything. It’s when we look at who is on the stage or what is on the agenda, as we assess whether or not the order of worship will satisfy our wants and needs. Surrender and obedience are at the heart of worship. Delayed obedience is disobedience. When we delay or hesitate to bring an offering of praise to God, we’re not trusting that Christ is truly all we need. In Matthew 4, when Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, it says that they “immediately” left all they had and followed Him. May we not hesitate. May we follow and worship with trust and surrender.

Conditional worship is a sign that we have grown stale in our relationship with God or maybe we just have not grown at all. It reveals a heart that is not completely His.

When we completely, unconditionally surrender our heart to God, our worship will be complete.

God’s love for us is unconditional.

May our worship for Him have less and less conditions.

He loved us so much that He sent His only son to die for our sins. Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Christ is the substance of true worship and the only condition in worship we will ever need.


Russ Hutto works 9-5 in print design. He volunteers in music ministry at St. Simons Community Church and also travels to worship with congregations and help with Worship Ministry Development. He’s into reading Star Wars novels & working out at CrossFit. As the TWC editor, he’s always on the lookout for great content for The Worship Community.

Churches Should Stop Singing!

silence pictureOur worship actions can mute the distinct voice of God that is often only discernible in the silence. In the midst of our self-generated noise, we can miss His healing, comforting and encouraging words of hope such as “I am with you, well done, you are forgiven and I am weeping with you.”

Gary Furr and Milburn Price wrote, “In the drama of the Christian life, worship may be thought of as the script through which the Author of us all calls forth and responds to the deepest and most important longings in us.”[1] Until we occasionally stop to listen, how will we hear that call?

Worship is a conversation that requires not only speaking and singing but also hearing and listening. The noise of our sermons and songs as the only worship voice can create monological worship. Our offering of one-sided worship sound can monopolize the conversation, potentially causing us to miss the voice of God.

The foundation of a meaningful worship is instead dialogical. It is an interactive exchange of two or more participants. Healthy conversations include a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.

Since God began the conversation and graciously invited us to join Him in it, our worship could then be enhanced and renewed when we stop trying to monopolize the conversation with our responsive noise only.

We rely on the words of our sermons and songs to manage and control others. A frantic stream flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see and even sing things our way. We evaluate, judge, condemn and devour congregants with our words. Silence as one of the deepest spiritual disciplines puts a stop to that.[2]

So in order to again hear and listen to God’s side of the conversation, maybe it’s time to concur with Samuel in our services of worship, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:8).


[1] Gary A. Furr and Milburn Price, The Dialogue of Worship: Creating Space for Revelation and Response (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 1998), 90.

[2] Richard J. Foster, Freedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World (New York: HarperOne, 2005), 68.


Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for twenty years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University; a Master of Church Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.

Which Comes First: Praise or Worship?

by Sheri Tesar

praise-worshipThe words “Praise and Worship” are linked together so often that I wonder if many people really pay any attention to difference between the two words. “Praise and Worship” has become as common a phrase as “salt and pepper,” “peanut butter and jelly” or, if you’re Forrest Gump, “peas and carrots.” We use the phrase “Praise and Worship” to describe a specific musical genre or the musical portion of the Sunday morning gathering. It is helpful when leading others in praise and in worship to remember that “Praise and Worship” is not a genre of music but two different, but related concepts.

Praise is a part of worship, and worship is much larger than singing songs of praise. Have you ever thought much about the relationship between the two distinct words “praise” and “worship” and why they are usually linked together in that particular order? (I have seen these words linked together as “Worship and Praise” on occasion, but very seldom.)  The customary order is “Praise and Worship,” and I believe they are linked in this order for a reason. It is not because they fall this way alphabetically, but because this is the order in which these two events occur.

Praise always precedes worship. Until we praise God –that is, until we recognize and acknowledge how infinitely great and awesome He is, and until our hearts are filled with gratitude for all He has done for us, we will not worship Him –-that is, we will not bow down before Him as our Lord and offer our lives in service to Him. The acts of both praise and worship appear in Psalm 95, and they appear in that order.

The psalmist begins Psalm 95 with an invitation to praise God. “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation!” (Ps 95:1 NIV) We are invited to sing joyfully to the Lord, to shout triumphantly to the One who gives us victory. The psalmist goes on to invite us to “come before [the Lord] with thanksgiving; and extol Him with music and song” (vs 2). We are invited to continue our praise of God by offering Him thanks for all that He has done for us.

In verses 3-5, the psalmist offers us reasons as to why we are to praise the Lord. “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods” (vs 3). He is greater than anyone or anything else. He is God. He is the King of all the earth. All of creation was crafted by Him and belongs to Him.

Once we acknowledge the unsurpassed greatness of our God and praise Him for who He is and what He has done for us, the psalmist invites us in verses 6-7 to worship the Lord. “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (vs 6). We are to bow down in worship before the King and Creator. As part of His creation, we are to kneel in reverence and obedience before Him because we belong to Him, and He is the One who tenderly cares for us and leads us as He sees best.

I have often struggled with how the final four verses fit with the first part of Psalm 95. It has always seemed to me to be a rather abrupt change, but in reflecting on this psalm recently, I now see that it fits very well.

The first seven verses are comprised of invitations and instructions from the psalmist. He invites us to praise God (vs 1-2), instructs us on the reasons why we should praise Him (vs 3-5), and then he invites us to worship (bow before) Him and instructs on the reasons why (vs 6-7).

The voice changes in the final three verses to a message from God. He warns us as to what will happen if we refuse to accept the invitations and instructions given to us in the first 7 verses. God lets us know what will happen if we refuse to worship Him or bow down before Him. He warns us not to “harden [our] hearts” or to test Him (vs 8-9). God advises us to remain firmly in His care and not to be prideful, stubborn, and insistent on doing things our own way. This is not a threat from an egotistical leader who wants all to bow before Him. This is a warning from a loving Father who wants His children to obey Him because He knows best. It is in our best interest to follow the psalmist’s instructions in the beginning of this psalm.

“Praise and Worship” is not a musical genre or just another inseparable pair of words. Praise is words that honor the Lord for who He is and what He has done, and worship is the ensuing attitude of humility, obedience, and willingness to submit to the King and Creator of the universe, the One who is infinitely greater than we are and loves us more than we can comprehend.

Engage in praising our God. Recognize and audibly acknowledge to everyone how great He is. Sing, shout, and praise His holy name. Then make the conscience decision to worship Him, to bow before Him and submit to Him in reverence, humility, and obedience.


Sheri Tesar has an M.A. in Worship Studies from Lincoln Christian Seminary and a B.S. in Worship Arts from Dallas Christian College. She has served as a Worship Minister and as an Adjunct Professor of Worship. She and her family currently live in Littleton, Colorado.

Healthy Worshipers Bunt

by Dr. David W. Manner

buntIn his search for the roots of violence, Mahatma Gandhi drafted a list to give to his grandson titled the “Seven Blunders of the World.” Number seven wasWorship without Sacrifice.

Paul focused on the divisions that segregate us. In the twelfth chapter of Romans he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship.”

Paul used this image of the body to represent the whole person, including ideologies and preferences. Living sacrifice signifies an ongoing, constant, all-inclusive submission. To sacrifice is to surrender for the sake of something or someone else. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. The antonym of sacrifice is to hold on to.

A bunt in baseball is designated as a sacrifice for the purpose of advancing another runner. Executing this sacrifice is called laying down a bunt. What a challenging word picture for the church as it gathers together in communal worship.

Worship Bunters…

  • Lay down their preferences because they love those with whom they worship more than they love those preferences.
  • Acknowledge that worship did not begin and will not end with the worship preferences of their generation.
  • Admit it is arrogant to assume their favorite worship and God’s favorite worship are the same.

Charles Thomas Studd, an English missionary who served in China, India, and Africa had this statement as his motto:  “If Jesus Christ is God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.”


Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. He is the author of the Worship Evaluation Blog.

How Exciting Should Our Sunday Meetings Be?

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Not too long ago a friend who leads the music in his church mentioned to me that his pastor wanted their meetings to be more exciting.

Webster’s says exciting means “causing great enthusiasm and eagerness.” Certainly, nothing should cause greater enthusiasm and eagerness than meeting with the church to recount what God has done to save us from his wrath through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All our sins are forgiven! We have been adopted into God’s family! Jesus has triumphed over sin, death, and hell! We are new creations! We are part of God’s  unstoppable, unchangeable, unrelenting plan to have a people on earth who will display his glory, truth, righteousness, love, and compassion!

What can be more earth-shattering, soul-shaking, and EXCITING than rehearsing and reveling in those realities?

Boring or Exciting?

And yet, I didn’t sense that’s what my friend’s pastor was asking for. He saw that people were drifting and he wanted the worship leader to do something about it.

I understand the aversion to boring meetings. I’ve participated in them and led them. Awkward silences. Monotone speakers. No evident progression. Dull, disengaged repetition. People covertly checking their watches every five minutes. No sense of expectation. Or even interest.

In response, an increasing number of churches have sought to add elements to their gatherings that will make them more “exciting.” Meeting countdowns. Fast-paced videos. Engaging dramas. Creative humor. Breathless, energetic emcees. More upbeat songs. Smoke machines. Light shows. And a mindset that views dead space as the supreme excitement killer.

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.

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.

Every Sunday we get to gather with the saints Christ has redeemed and made one through his death on the cross. We join in with the hosts of heaven around the throne (Heb. 12:22-24). God speaks powerfully and personally to us through the preached word. The Triune God reveals himself and builds up the church through various gifts, acts of service, and activities (1 Cor. 12:4-6). What could be more thrilling?

Should our meetings be exciting? Absolutely. But let’s make sure they’re exciting for the right reasons. We’re remembering and celebrating the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, has clothed himself in our flesh, received God’s wrath in our place, risen from the dead, and is now reigning and interceding for his own until he returns to vanquish evil and spend eternity with his Bride, the Church.

And no matter how many times we’re reminded, that is exciting.

(You might also want to check out Should Worship Be Fun?)

The Worship Leader in the Pew: What to Do When Not on Stage

By Kristen Gilles

leader-in-the pewWorship leaders, is our worship genuine if we’re only modeling worshipful and thankful hearts when we’re on the stage? What about the weeks when you’re not scheduled to lead with the team? Have you considered how you can aid the worship culture of your church by “leading from the pew”?

Worship leaders (and for the sake of this article, I mean “everyone who makes music or leads liturgical readings from the stage”) must set a good example beyond their regularly scheduled service times.

  • We aren’t just worship leaders when we’re on a platform in front of our congregations.
  • Our role is not confined to an assigned instrument or microphone.

If we truly love our God and desire to worship Him, we will exhibit spiritual, truthful worship not only from the stage but when we’re standing in the gathered congregation.

If our attendance at our gathered worship services is limited to the times when we’re scheduled to serve, what kind of example are we setting for those we are called to lead? We’re likely sending them these messages:

  1. It’s not important to attend every time the congregation gathers to worship.
  2. We don’t need to participate in worship from the congregation since we’re only called to lead in front of the congregation.
  3. We’re so spiritual that we’re exempt from participating outside of our regularly scheduled service times.

If you do attend regularly even when you’re not scheduled to serve with the worship team, consider whether your worshipful participation in the gathered congregation continues to lead your people well.

  • Are you actively engaging in the worship service?
  • Do you sing out with all your heart?
  • Do you lift your hands to the Lord?
  • Do you sincerely participate in the liturgical prayers and Scripture readings?
  • Are you worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth (whatever that may look like for you) when you’re not in the leadership spotlight on stage?

Our goal should not be to actively engage in worship from the pews in order to draw attention to ourselves. Rather, we should seek to continue leading the congregation in worship by modeling a worshipful and thankful attitude as we worship alongside them.

We should be eager to gather with the church and to worship our Great God together, whether scheduled to serve and lead from the front, or whether we “have the week off.”

Kristen Gilles is a deacon at Louisville’s Sojourn Community Church. Her new CD Parker’s Mercy Brigade is a story of faith, lament, comfort, healing and worship following the stillbirth of her son. Kristen blogs about worship with her husband, Sojourn’s Bobby Gilles, at mysonginthenight.com.

http://worshipleader.com/leadership/the-worship-leader-in-the-pew-what-to-do-when-not-on-stage/