When was the last time you received an invitation to an event: a wedding, a lunch date, a birthday party, or a family reunion? The very nature of an invitation is the expressed desire another person has to be with you, to interact with you, to be known in greater ways by you, to have the opportunity to share life with you for a particular reason.
Invitations are powerful things. They make us feel wanted, included, important, even loved.
Invitations cause us to pause, consider our desire to participate in a certain event, or to engage with certain people. We check our schedules, block out time, make travel arrangements, and even prepare ourselves for whatever the event is for which we've received such an invitation.
So what if we come to realize that worship is actually an invitation? How could it change our understanding and participation in worship each week? For many, this idea is contrary to the performance/invention mentality so often surrounding our worship experiences and practices today. We tend to believe that worship is about what we do and create for God. But as Dr. Constance Cherry stated so astutely in her book, The Worship Architect, “worship is not an invention—it’s an invitation,”—an invitation by God to us, his people, to enter into a conversation with a loving and holy God.
As biblical evidence, look at the covenant God made with Israel. God initiated contact with Abram in Genesis 12, telling him to leave his country and go to a new place the Lord had prepared for him. He promised to bless him and make his descendants as numerous as the stars. God originated the relationship, and Abram responded to the invitation of God, loading up his belongings and his wife and going to the place that God directed.
God then continued this dialogue with Abraham’s descendants, Isaac and Jacob, who built altars at the sites where God revealed himself to them. This was part of their response to God’s holy revelations in their journeys.
One of the places we most clearly see God’s initiation of relationship with his people is in the Exodus. Remember that each time Moses stood before Pharaoh and spoke on God’s behalf, he said, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.” God’s very deliverance of Israel is part of his invitation to worship! God told Moses in Chapter 3, prior to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, that once they were free from their bondage, they would “worship God on this mountain” (Ex 3:12).
God prescribed a place where he would meet with his people—where he invited them to encounter him and to be in conversation and relationship with him. But make no mistake, Israel did not do something impressive or righteous enough to summon God into their presence. More often than not, they did just the opposite, disobeying and doing things that angered or saddened God (e.g., the golden calf). Clearly, their worship encounters with Yahweh were of his design and at his invitation. Israel’s responsibility was not to invent any interaction with God, but rather to respond appropriately to God’s invitation and his revelation.
Fifteen hundred years later, God offered the supreme invitation to Israel (and all of humankind) in Jesus Christ. No human could imagine, let alone orchestrate, such an encounter with God. The Word made flesh came to dwell amongst his people. Such an invitation certainly demanded, and continues to demand from us today, a response. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit and because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we can receive God’s invitation to worship and that our offering of response to God can be received as righteous and worthy.
So what if we come to realize that worship is actually an invitation?
Understanding worship in this new light, we should begin our times of worship by expressing gratitude for God’s invitation and by recognizing that he is present in our worship spaces, awaiting us—and awaiting our response to him. The role of a pastor or worship leader, then, becomes like that of a host or hostess at the worship event. It is their role to facilitate the conversation of worship to which we have been specially invited by God. Our responsibility as worshippers is to joyfully participate in the response to God’s revelation, celebrating who God is, what he has done through Jesus Christ, and all he continues to do today.
The truth of who initiates worship should be liberating. Without this perspective, we can so easily slip into the performance trap. Consider the error of viewing worship as something we do for God—something we started. Do we then hope that God will find us good enough or righteous enough for him to show up? If that is our perspective, there is enormous pressure on us to perform. We will plead with God to come and be in our midst. But there is a fundamental problem with this.
God is sovereign; he is God. And while we may know a lot of talented and godly preachers, pastors, musicians, artists, and shepherds in the church today, there are none who are talented or spiritual enough to call Almighty God into their midst. There is no one whose talents, abilities, or righteousness are sufficient to summon God to be present or to do something.
Would you ever accept an invitation to a party, then show up and expect to have to sing a song, dance a jig, or give a polished speech in order to see or interact with the one throwing the party? Of course not. The one who calls the party is the first person present—the one awaiting the arrival of his or her guests, welcoming them.
Our responsibility as worshipers is to joyfully participate in the response to God's revelation.
Can you imagine what the outcome would be if we came to worship each week with the understanding of God as the inviter to the event? Would we come with more expectant hearts? It is not primarily what we get out of worship, although an authentic encounter with God will certainly not leave us unchanged. But how might we respond to God in a new understanding of his love and his purpose for being in our midst? Would we come with the mindset, not of performers to be evaluated, not as consumers coming to be entertained, but rather as invited guests—participants called and desired by God to be in communion with him? Perhaps we’d even begin to come to church on time! After all, who wants to keep the Lord waiting?
There is power in understanding God as the initiator of worship. There is clarity in understanding that worship is not an invention or performance, but an invitation. It’s an invited opportunity for each of us to come into the Holy One. He has shown us by the very sacrifice of Christ that he desires above all else to be in loving conversations with us, his children.
Worship Arts Collective
Wesleyan Worship Arts Collective and Seedbed's Worship Design Collective partner to build a community of worship leaders bringing renewal into congregational worship.
Join voices with other worship designers and sow for a great awakening at: worshipdesigncollective.com.