Worship Mythbusters: the myth of believer-centered worship

Worship Mythbusters is a series on my blog that is designed to dispel myths we Christians have about our worship expression in our churches each weekend.  The conversation sometimes is a bit controversial, but it would not be worthy if it wasn’t.

MYTH: “Our worship expression is not about unbelievers”

It seems very clear that the purpose of a worship service is the gathering of believers and the scripture warns us about not regularly gathering as believers. Hebrews 10:24-25 exhort us that meeting together is what stirs us to live how we should as Christians. But, what about the unbeliever?

I think the unbeliever is included in some very important ways in scripture in public worship both in the Old Testament and New Testament. We miss the heart of God when we come to a worship gathering and do not think outward as well as upward. Here are three examples:

BUILDINGS: Worship services should provide, plan and invite a space for those on the “outside” of our faith.

Even with God’s chosen people, the idea of following after God to those not even born into being a Jew was that you could join. The Old Testament temple had a Gentile court where “foreigners” (1 Kings 8:41-43 OT)  “God-fearers” (Acts 13:26 NT) could be near the worship of God.

PROGRAMMING: Worship services need to recognize that there is a process to following Jesus–not all are at the same point on their journey.

Jesus had people following Him as He taught that were at all levels of engagement–from the very committed twelve to the entertained masses. The Sermon on The Mount included a wide-spread audience. So, our church services to some degree are “public” and speak to both the believers and those on their way just like Jesus did in his public ministry.

LANGUAGE: Worship services planned for the believer need to be intelligible to the unbeliever.

Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:23 mentions clearly the fact that “unbelievers” are present or may be in worship gatherings. So, the word there instructs us to order or plan worship with the unbeliever in mind. At my church we often mention the use of “insider language” being a bad thing. Nothing is watered down, we simply packaged things to be “intelligible” to the person new to Christianity or the unbeliever investigating Christianity.

Ultimately, we are evangelizing by inviting people to worship or follow Jesus. So, it makes sense that in our public expressions, we would not just allow them to come but design buildings, programs and language with the unchurched and unbeliever in mind.

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Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by Newsmax.com, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

32 comments

  1. I whole heartedly agree that we need to keep the unbeliever or the unchurched in mind when putting together and planning for our worship services, especially in bigger churches. In the bigger church setting it is often hard for the new/non believer to penetrate the gathering and enter in, and they end up just standing on the sidelines observing, not fully understanding, and ultimately walking away.
    It’s our job as lead worshippers and pastors to be sure that everyone feels welcome in our gathering places and that the spirit of God is easily seen and understood. It is also our job to make sure that we don’t water things down so much that the mature believer is feeling dissatisfied. There is a healthy balance and I think you nailed it in referring to the “insider language” – we need to speak on terms that everyone can understand.

    I am definitely challenged by this to be sure to do my part!

      1. No problem buddy.
        In re-reading this I was reminded of how an unbeliever would think of the day of pentecost if they happened to be just strolling through? All of a sudden people just start preaching the gospel in different languages and no doubt things may have seemed a little crazy. Now I know that God is not the author of confusion so it must have been somewhat orderly since it was brought on by the Holy Spirit, but no doubt weird and unexpected.

        I think the point is, we need to be sure we are not excluding the unbeliever nor are we so focussed on the unbeliever that the believer feels left wanting. How that looks? Not sure? But it’s our job so we better figure it out!

        1. Not to get too technical, but the tongues in Acts at Pentecost were ordered since people heard their language. The type in 1 Corinthians need interpreting to be understood. So, Pentecost was NOT confusing at all and the result was that unbelievers became believers–thousands in one day it says! So, perhaps our public gatherings in some ways might be more about the unbeliever than satisfying the believer. At least in this analogy.

          1. yeah yeah, for sure. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that it wasn’t ordered. I knew that it was. I think I meant to just say that it could have seemed confusing.
            Now that I think about it though, it’s amazing how God will meet people wherever they are at in their relationship with Him whether near or far, God will draw people to himself and God is able to meet people on a level that they can understand.

            We just need to be faithful and try to not leave anyone behind and let God take care of the rest and let him clean up all of our messes.. hehe

  2. I whole heartedly agree that we need to keep the unbeliever or the unchurched in mind when putting together and planning for our worship services, especially in bigger churches. In the bigger church setting it is often hard for the new/non believer to penetrate the gathering and enter in, and they end up just standing on the sidelines observing, not fully understanding, and ultimately walking away.
    It’s our job as lead worshippers and pastors to be sure that everyone feels welcome in our gathering places and that the spirit of God is easily seen and understood. It is also our job to make sure that we don’t water things down so much that the mature believer is feeling dissatisfied. There is a healthy balance and I think you nailed it in referring to the “insider language” – we need to speak on terms that everyone can understand.

    I am definitely challenged by this to be sure to do my part!

      1. No problem buddy.
        In re-reading this I was reminded of how an unbeliever would think of the day of pentecost if they happened to be just strolling through? All of a sudden people just start preaching the gospel in different languages and no doubt things may have seemed a little crazy. Now I know that God is not the author of confusion so it must have been somewhat orderly since it was brought on by the Holy Spirit, but no doubt weird and unexpected.

        I think the point is, we need to be sure we are not excluding the unbeliever nor are we so focussed on the unbeliever that the believer feels left wanting. How that looks? Not sure? But it’s our job so we better figure it out!

        1. Not to get too technical, but the tongues in Acts at Pentecost were ordered since people heard their language. The type in 1 Corinthians need interpreting to be understood. So, Pentecost was NOT confusing at all and the result was that unbelievers became believers–thousands in one day it says! So, perhaps our public gatherings in some ways might be more about the unbeliever than satisfying the believer. At least in this analogy.

          1. yeah yeah, for sure. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that it wasn’t ordered. I knew that it was. I think I meant to just say that it could have seemed confusing.
            Now that I think about it though, it’s amazing how God will meet people wherever they are at in their relationship with Him whether near or far, God will draw people to himself and God is able to meet people on a level that they can understand.

            We just need to be faithful and try to not leave anyone behind and let God take care of the rest and let him clean up all of our messes.. hehe

  3. I whole heartedly agree that we need to keep the unbeliever or the unchurched in mind when putting together and planning for our worship services, especially in bigger churches. In the bigger church setting it is often hard for the new/non believer to penetrate the gathering and enter in, and they end up just standing on the sidelines observing, not fully understanding, and ultimately walking away.
    It’s our job as lead worshippers and pastors to be sure that everyone feels welcome in our gathering places and that the spirit of God is easily seen and understood. It is also our job to make sure that we don’t water things down so much that the mature believer is feeling dissatisfied. There is a healthy balance and I think you nailed it in referring to the “insider language” – we need to speak on terms that everyone can understand.

    I am definitely challenged by this to be sure to do my part!

      1. No problem buddy.
        In re-reading this I was reminded of how an unbeliever would think of the day of pentecost if they happened to be just strolling through? All of a sudden people just start preaching the gospel in different languages and no doubt things may have seemed a little crazy. Now I know that God is not the author of confusion so it must have been somewhat orderly since it was brought on by the Holy Spirit, but no doubt weird and unexpected.

        I think the point is, we need to be sure we are not excluding the unbeliever nor are we so focussed on the unbeliever that the believer feels left wanting. How that looks? Not sure? But it’s our job so we better figure it out!

        1. Not to get too technical, but the tongues in Acts at Pentecost were ordered since people heard their language. The type in 1 Corinthians need interpreting to be understood. So, Pentecost was NOT confusing at all and the result was that unbelievers became believers–thousands in one day it says! So, perhaps our public gatherings in some ways might be more about the unbeliever than satisfying the believer. At least in this analogy.

          1. yeah yeah, for sure. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that it wasn’t ordered. I knew that it was. I think I meant to just say that it could have seemed confusing.
            Now that I think about it though, it’s amazing how God will meet people wherever they are at in their relationship with Him whether near or far, God will draw people to himself and God is able to meet people on a level that they can understand.

            We just need to be faithful and try to not leave anyone behind and let God take care of the rest and let him clean up all of our messes.. hehe

  4. I whole heartedly agree that we need to keep the unbeliever or the unchurched in mind when putting together and planning for our worship services, especially in bigger churches. In the bigger church setting it is often hard for the new/non believer to penetrate the gathering and enter in, and they end up just standing on the sidelines observing, not fully understanding, and ultimately walking away.
    It’s our job as lead worshippers and pastors to be sure that everyone feels welcome in our gathering places and that the spirit of God is easily seen and understood. It is also our job to make sure that we don’t water things down so much that the mature believer is feeling dissatisfied. There is a healthy balance and I think you nailed it in referring to the “insider language” – we need to speak on terms that everyone can understand.

    I am definitely challenged by this to be sure to do my part!

      1. No problem buddy.
        In re-reading this I was reminded of how an unbeliever would think of the day of pentecost if they happened to be just strolling through? All of a sudden people just start preaching the gospel in different languages and no doubt things may have seemed a little crazy. Now I know that God is not the author of confusion so it must have been somewhat orderly since it was brought on by the Holy Spirit, but no doubt weird and unexpected.

        I think the point is, we need to be sure we are not excluding the unbeliever nor are we so focussed on the unbeliever that the believer feels left wanting. How that looks? Not sure? But it’s our job so we better figure it out!

        1. Not to get too technical, but the tongues in Acts at Pentecost were ordered since people heard their language. The type in 1 Corinthians need interpreting to be understood. So, Pentecost was NOT confusing at all and the result was that unbelievers became believers–thousands in one day it says! So, perhaps our public gatherings in some ways might be more about the unbeliever than satisfying the believer. At least in this analogy.

          1. yeah yeah, for sure. I hope I didn’t come across as saying that it wasn’t ordered. I knew that it was. I think I meant to just say that it could have seemed confusing.
            Now that I think about it though, it’s amazing how God will meet people wherever they are at in their relationship with Him whether near or far, God will draw people to himself and God is able to meet people on a level that they can understand.

            We just need to be faithful and try to not leave anyone behind and let God take care of the rest and let him clean up all of our messes.. hehe

  5. I think what is said here is true, that we are worship leaders and our job is simply to lead others in worship. We have to be careful though not toqke t too much shot the people. This part of the service is the only part that is geared solely for his delight and pleasure. He is glorified in the teaching times as well, but teaching time is for us…God doesn’t need to learn about himself, right? Guess what I’m saying is we have to be mindful of people, because we’re leading people, but let’s not do it at His expense. If we are real in our worship, all people will be drawn. There’s no need to water anything down, or puff anything up…just be real.
    Disclaimer: In no way am I saying Rich is saying make it about the people. Just adding my own $.02 😉

    1. Johnnie, teaching is for us? It ultimately is all about God, right? So, that includes teaching, I believe. We participate in offering worship during the sermon as much if not more than when singing.
      The point in my post is that in scripture, public worship was public–it was done with the idea that people who were not yet fully believing were present.

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

  6. I think what is said here is true, that we are worship leaders and our job is simply to lead others in worship. We have to be careful though not toqke t too much shot the people. This part of the service is the only part that is geared solely for his delight and pleasure. He is glorified in the teaching times as well, but teaching time is for us…God doesn’t need to learn about himself, right? Guess what I’m saying is we have to be mindful of people, because we’re leading people, but let’s not do it at His expense. If we are real in our worship, all people will be drawn. There’s no need to water anything down, or puff anything up…just be real.
    Disclaimer: In no way am I saying Rich is saying make it about the people. Just adding my own $.02 😉

    1. Johnnie, teaching is for us? It ultimately is all about God, right? So, that includes teaching, I believe. We participate in offering worship during the sermon as much if not more than when singing.
      The point in my post is that in scripture, public worship was public–it was done with the idea that people who were not yet fully believing were present.

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

  7. I think what is said here is true, that we are worship leaders and our job is simply to lead others in worship. We have to be careful though not toqke t too much shot the people. This part of the service is the only part that is geared solely for his delight and pleasure. He is glorified in the teaching times as well, but teaching time is for us…God doesn’t need to learn about himself, right? Guess what I’m saying is we have to be mindful of people, because we’re leading people, but let’s not do it at His expense. If we are real in our worship, all people will be drawn. There’s no need to water anything down, or puff anything up…just be real.
    Disclaimer: In no way am I saying Rich is saying make it about the people. Just adding my own $.02 😉

    1. Johnnie, teaching is for us? It ultimately is all about God, right? So, that includes teaching, I believe. We participate in offering worship during the sermon as much if not more than when singing.
      The point in my post is that in scripture, public worship was public–it was done with the idea that people who were not yet fully believing were present.

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

  8. I think what is said here is true, that we are worship leaders and our job is simply to lead others in worship. We have to be careful though not toqke t too much shot the people. This part of the service is the only part that is geared solely for his delight and pleasure. He is glorified in the teaching times as well, but teaching time is for us…God doesn’t need to learn about himself, right? Guess what I’m saying is we have to be mindful of people, because we’re leading people, but let’s not do it at His expense. If we are real in our worship, all people will be drawn. There’s no need to water anything down, or puff anything up…just be real.
    Disclaimer: In no way am I saying Rich is saying make it about the people. Just adding my own $.02 😉

    1. Johnnie, teaching is for us? It ultimately is all about God, right? So, that includes teaching, I believe. We participate in offering worship during the sermon as much if not more than when singing.
      The point in my post is that in scripture, public worship was public–it was done with the idea that people who were not yet fully believing were present.

      Thanks for participating in the conversation!

  9. ** correction: “we have to be careful not to make it too much about the people.”Man typing on an iPhone after midnight is risky. LOL

  10. ** correction: “we have to be careful not to make it too much about the people.”Man typing on an iPhone after midnight is risky. LOL

  11. ** correction: “we have to be careful not to make it too much about the people.”Man typing on an iPhone after midnight is risky. LOL

  12. ** correction: “we have to be careful not to make it too much about the people.”Man typing on an iPhone after midnight is risky. LOL

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