Worship Experiences and the Presence of God

Last November I was in Seattle at the Acts 29 Resurgence conference and had the opportunity to spend some time with the Mars Hill Worship Pastor, Tim Smith. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Tim and talking to him about topics including the Psalms, Jonathan Edwards, physical expressiveness in worship, and how to organize music teams in the church. I found Tim to be thoughtful, humble, and committed to searching the Scriptures to better understand what it means to worship God.

While I was there, Tim took the opportunity to interview me on video for about two hours. Acts 29 posted a video on their site, but it’s over an hour long. I plan to post clips of the interview here because if you’re like me, you don’t have over an hour to watch an interview.

In this six minute section I’m responding to Tim’s question about something we had talked about in an earlier conversation. I said that if worship leaders simply lead people into a desire to repeat what we just did, or the “worship experience,” we haven’t done what we’re called to do. I make the point that for worship leaders in the church, our job isn’t to lead a worship experience, but to build a worshiping community. I also touch on the purpose of the spiritual gifts on Sunday mornings and why we often feel like God is “more present” when we gather.

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8 Responses to Worship Experiences and the Presence of God

  1. Bobby Gilles June 13, 2008 at 8:03 AM #

    Thanks for posting a short excerpt. I’ve played the interview on the Mars Hill site a few times but I’ve always been called away or had to attend to something before being able to watch it all.

    Hopefully someday I’ll get to watch the whole thing, but knowing I can view shorter clips is very helpful.

  2. Marshall June 13, 2008 at 9:53 AM #

    You said, “I think we can idolize the [worship] experience.” That’s an excellent point. There seems to be a trend with the explosion of the popularity of worship music for the experience to become all-important. In other words, if it doesn’t feel good, it must not be spiritual or Godly or holy. It’s incredible how we can take something that God has given us as a tool and build an idol out of it, making the tool more important than the Craftsman.

  3. Kyle June 13, 2008 at 2:20 PM #

    A funny aside: you seem to have some plugin that posts a link to all scripture references that you mention. It’s having a bit of a problem producing the text for “Acts 29”

    I don’t see it on your site, but it’s there in my RSS reader.

  4. Tim Wat June 13, 2008 at 3:12 PM #


    Interesting insights in your short excerpt. It has seemed to me that at one level the goal is Christocentricity -by which I mean one goal is to lead worship in such a way that when folks leave, they’re amazed all over again at “How great my Lord Jesus Christ is!” rather than, for instance, “How great that worship experience made me feel”. Although even stating things that way (as two polar extremes) falsely set up a straw man as if they were mutually exclusive. But while as an overarching principle I want to lead the people of God there, in practice I’ve found it’s a difficult and humbling thing, that I am found more often inadequate and weak for the task.

    This brings up for me a sort of related question – Carson (in his chapter of Worship by the Book) as well as Peterson (in Engaging w/ God) both warn of the dangers of falling exclusively on the “worship is all of life” end or the “worship only happens at the corporate meeting” end of the spectrum, practically speaking.

    But other than that general acknowledgment in these works, can you refer me to any more specific theological explorations of the unique distinctions of the corporate meeting, as you began to note in the excerpt above? Clearly I’ve had the sense that God is “more present” or “present in unique ways” in the assembly, and I’ve wondered for some time about the hows, whys and the ways He works for His pleasure in the assembly.



  5. Bob Kauflin June 13, 2008 at 3:33 PM #


    Here are a few resources that I’ve found helpful:

    Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Don Whitney, chap. 4
    Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Don Whitney
    Recalling the Hope of Glory by Allen Ross – great study of the significance of the corporate meeting from an OT scholar
    Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, chapters 30, 48, and 51
    Engaging with God by David Peterson, Chap. 7

  6. Logan Merkle June 28, 2008 at 10:02 PM #

    Hmm. When you say, “the worship expirience,” what exactly do you mean? Because, it’s times when you feel either the need to stand and shout the words of the songs to the Lord, or sit and cry and think truly about the Lord, when worship truly comes…I think. My perspective on your phrase “The worship expirience” could be all wrong. And after those kind of moments, I usually feel pretty good, becuase I feel that God has moved, and has told me something. I dunno…these are just thoughts.

  7. Bob Kauflin June 28, 2008 at 10:58 PM #


    Thanks for stopping by. By “worship experience,” I mean the time that we spend together giving praise to God with our songs and words. God often speaks to us in specific and powerful ways during those times. But the entire meeting is the “worship experience,” not just the times I’m affected.

    We gather to remember, proclaim, and celebrate what God has done for us in Christ. When we do that, it’s natural that we’ll be affected. The point of what I shared with Tim is that our corporate times of worship should prepare, equip, and encourage us to life for the glory of Jesus Christ in our daily lives, not simply create a desire to have more of those experiences. Otherwise our understanding and practice of “worship” falls far short of the biblical example and command. Is that helpful?

  8. Giovanni July 6, 2008 at 9:56 AM #

    But you can’t totally discount the experience part, its hard to build a commmnunity of worshipers if they don’t have an experience.

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