Why Define Worship?

Why spend time defining worship? Is it really that big a deal? Isn’t it more important that we simply do it?

It’s hard for us to know whether or not we’re doing something if we’re not sure what that “something” is. If I define “eating” as simply looking at food, you wouldn’t enjoy coming over to my house to “eat.” If “breathing” is something I only do when I get with a group of people on Sunday mornings, then how do I describe what I do the rest of the time?

I heard theologian David Peterson say that defining words is important because not only do we use words, but words use us. That’s true, even if we’re unaware of it. Once we assign meaning to a word, it both reflects and shapes our world view. That’s why conversations about evangelicalism, the emerging church, or even Christianity can be confusing. We have to agree on what those words actually MEAN.

“Worship” is anther one of those words. When someone refers to worship, they can be talking about any number of things: a time of singing, a meeting, a style of music, a certain type of religious liturgy, a mystical experience, something in contrast to “praise,” or a type of Christian band. Do any of these comments sound familiar?

“By the third song, I was really worshipping.” [Who or what were you worshipping before the third song?]
“Worship gets me to the place where I don’t have to think about anything.” [Worshipping God actually requires thinking very clearly about the Word, works, and worthiness of God.]
“Will there be worship at the meeting?” [Definitely. The question is of who or what.]
“With only 20 minutes, we really didn’t have time to worship.” [As though we “warm up” to worship God, rather than seek to honor him with our every thought and action.]
“Fred is doing the worship this morning.” [Hopefully, everyone else will join in.]
“I really love your worship.” [This is a comment I sometimes get after leading God’s praise in song. I usually respond by saying, “I hope you worshipped too!”]
“Susie’s a real worshipper!” [This probably means that Susie is physically expressive when she sings songs of praise to God. Whether that means she’s a worshipper of God or not requires a little more information.]

Please don’t misunderstand these comments. I’m not encouraging anyone to become the “word police.” There are few things more obnoxious than someone who misses your main point because they’re adjusting your use of a certain word (and my friends have told me more than once I’m that obnoxious person). However, thinking and speaking of worship more broadly and biblically will both clarify some of our discussions and, more importantly, contribute to consistently passionate and God-honoring actions in all of life.

Thanks for reading. May the glory and goodness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, fill your view and strengthen your heart today.

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13 Responses to Why Define Worship?

  1. Tim December 30, 2006 at 8:20 PM #

    I appreciate so much your comments about worship being ‘consistently passionate and God-honoring actions in all of life.’ I admit this is something I have always struggled with and am sure I am not alone. So many of us, including me, think of worship as being only about music and singing. It is so much more than that and it is so easy to forget. A good resource I found recently was Louie Giglio’s book “Wired: For a Life of Worship.” It articulates the heart issue of worship and how all of our life should be worshipful. Thanks again for your thoughts on this important issue.

  2. Brian Moss January 17, 2008 at 5:45 PM #

    Thanks for this series of posts on the definition of worship. I realize I’m reading this quite a while after the posts were written, but I still wanted to thank you for your efforts in getting these definitions down. Words certainly matter and as a result, definitions matter too. I stumbled across the blog searching for the William Temple quote. (great one!) Anyway, a belated thank you for getting your thoughts down electronically.


  3. Buddy Helms March 17, 2008 at 3:15 PM #


    I have been reviewing your posts on defining worship. What a help they have been to me personally. Our church leadership has been wrestling with the subject as it relates to leading people to worship corporately. I am going to recommend that all of our leadership, and especially our worship leader, take a contemplative look at your posts. We need definition badly, and from that starting point we can teach our poeple and we all can experience true worship together. Thank you.

  4. Robert May 15, 2008 at 12:35 AM #

    Thanks for this series I pastor a small rural church in central Texas while I am in college. The worship leadership is inexperienced and slightly apathetic. I hope this will inspire them to realize the importance of worship.

  5. Reniel M. Comajeg June 30, 2009 at 11:39 PM #



    I just want to thank you for sharing a very good definition on worship.I find this to be very helpful in my ministry.I am from the city of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines and I am reading your post and it is very good.
    Thanks again and may the Lord bless you and your ministry.


  6. Felipe Bonacic August 30, 2010 at 1:10 PM #

    That is so right!!!
    How many times we just minimize this powerful word!!

    To worship is something so deep and big as the universe!!

    Thank you for this post!!

    Is it anyways I could have it on spanish??

  7. Felipe Bonacic August 30, 2010 at 1:15 PM #

    sorry is it a way I could have this series on spanish or could I have your permission to translate it and use on our Church?

  8. Mark Djerf December 14, 2011 at 8:25 PM #

    great stuff!

    p.s. a creative title would be something like “exaltation expounded”, or heck go with something like “the third song theory”, and start there. to call “why define worship” creative is a stretch, especially for a music minister. however, I would never have googled “exaltation expounded”, so apparently your labeling is just fine. =)

  9. Mike December 31, 2012 at 1:10 PM #


    Even at 55, I am still so emotionally shattered by my childhood I can barely grasp the essence of worship. By applying a wider range of thinking, you help me believe the small kernel of love I feel for Him, that thing in me that connects me to Him tugs just enough to slowly lead me home without snapping off and leaving me to drift without Him.

    Worship is indeed God’s gift to any who hear His voice and in that hearing are many truths. Namely for me, a bruised reed shall He not break and a smoking flax shall He not quench. To worship, I must allow him to have all of me. In that surrender is the Truth He promised the Holy Spirit would lead me into… even if it’s only one word at a time.

    I’m glad for His patience. Thank you for sharing your experience on the subject. A thoughtful man is a treasure.


    • Bob Kauflin December 31, 2012 at 2:47 PM #

      Mike, so glad I could be an encouragement to you. May 2013 be a year in which you become more convinced that Jesus is a treasure like no other.

  10. Thapelo Monareng January 17, 2013 at 2:19 AM #

    I thank you Sir, for sharing with such passion, the truths on an INSPIRED LIFE-STYLE. I will certainly be quoting some of your thoughts on the Workshop I’m now planning… CHRIST’S RICHEST BLESSINGS…!

  11. Eric Tworek February 15, 2013 at 7:53 AM #

    Thanks Bob,
    I was looking for some definitions of worship to post in a blog. Now I’ll just send my readers to yours!

  12. Laurian Smith August 12, 2013 at 9:28 AM #

    Thank you for your 5 post blog on defining worship. I found it while looking for definitions for worship in regards to a Worship Leader Curriculum I am putting together for our church.

    We are an Urban church ministry (In Sydney, Australia) which uses more street styles of music as a medium with which to offer up praise to God but people get lost in what culture and practice we adopt as opposed to what worship actually is, and it is so much greater than a genre of music or a form that we apply to our services.

    Love the break down of the definitions and will definitely be directing our up and coming “worship leaders” to your blog.

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