Is there a wrong way to worship?

by Rachel Phua // November 29, 2018, 10:09 pm

worship approach

Photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash.


It essentially means to show “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem”, according to Merriam-Webster.

Today, among churchgoers, the word is synonymous with congregational singing. In particular songs that declare God’s sovereign and magnificent nature, as well as His faithfulness in lifting us out of the miry clay (Psalm 40:2). 

But musical worship doesn’t just happen in a corporate setting.

Churches and small groups hold intimate singalong sessions outside of Sunday services.

Spotify and Youtube have made it seamless for us to plug in to Christian music.

We spontaneously break into song in our car, inviting a current of supernatural peace to surge over us. 

Despite our ability to worship at any time, deeper theological questions about how believers should approach liturgy remain.

Which worship songs should we sing? Is it wrong to sing about how much the Father adores us, rather than songs that express our appreciation of God’s character? What should our posture be? 

To answer these questions, Salt&Light reached out to Andrew Yeo, worship pastor at Cornerstone Community Church who also leads the youth edition of Festival of Praise, and Annabel Ong, a worship leader at Pentecost Methodist Church.

Our posture

Andrew Yeo: To worship is to acknowledge that God is supreme, giving honour to the One who created us.

To worship is to acknowledge that God is supreme, giving honour to the One who created us.

Whether you are truly worshipping Him depends ultimately on your relationship with Him.

There is no right or wrong way to come before God, since each of us has a different way of relating to Him. Some like to dress formally before they enter the sanctuary. Others prefer to come as they are.

Either way, you can only express how you feel about the Father if you are talking to Him daily, reading the Word, and communicating with Him. Otherwise, your words are hollow because you don’t know the Father.

When we worship, we have to come with the attitude of revering God, knowing He is holy. So, we have to make sure that our lives are right. We should enter His temple with clean hands and a pure heart.

That means if you argued with your spouse or nagged at your children on Sunday morning, then repent and be made clean again.

We are all sinners, but God is there to forgive us once we confess our sins.

We should not skip worship because the Holy Spirit softens and opens our hearts to receive the Word as we sing to Him. It makes the preaching more effective. And sometimes, we have divine encounters during worship itself.

When we worship, we remember who God is and who we are as God’s people.

Annabel Ong: Worship is clearly an important part of our relationship with God. It’s mentioned throughout the Bible.

Cain and Abel presented offerings (Genesis 4:3-5) to God.

Noah and his family built an altar after the flood (Genesis 8:20-22).

The first Christians made worship an integral part of their community (Acts 2:42-47).

Heavenly worship is described extensively in Revelation 4 and 5.

When we worship, we remember who God is and who we are as God’s people.

We may have preferences over how we like our music, but how we encounter God in church should not be defined by how the congregation worships.

What is true worship?

Yeo: True worship is choosing to praise God in spite of what’s happening in our lives.

God is looking for true worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23). God is looking for worshippers, not good songs or music, not professional singers or musicians but those with a pure and genuine heart seeking and longing after Him.

Four years ago, I suddenly lost my vision. After my operation, the doctor told me I would only get it back in nine to 10 months.

During the first month of blindness, I just sat in my room. I absolutely did not feel like worshipping God. I asked Him: “I do all these good things for you. Why does this happen to me?”

True worship is choosing to praise God in spite of what’s happening in our lives.

One day, the Holy Spirit prompted me to answer this question: “Even if you don’t feel like worshipping me now, will you still worship me?”

I had to force myself to sing. No guitars, no bands, no crowds. Just me alone in my room.

During those moments, God was silent. But something inside of me changed. My love and trust in Him returned.

True worship began to arise in me.

After that, I told God that I was sick and tired of listening to the Bible app. I wanted to read the Bible with my own eyes. I was healed the next day, less than a month after my diagnosis.

It is also through worship that, like David and his Psalms, I’m able to reflect on the grace and mercy of the Saviour preserving my life.

Ong: When we talk about the worship, some things that come to our mind are whether we raise our hands, close our eyes, clap to the music and so on.

Sometimes, we presume that worship means music too.

But these are just outward expressions of worship, or a spiritual pathway to connect with God.

Authentic worship is when we are in communion with God.

Choosing songs

Yeo: Nowadays, there are songs that court controversy. The most recent case being Reckless Love. Some deem it theologically unsound because the word “reckless” makes God seem irresponsible.

But I think the song speaks of God’s love to many people – that God loves us unconditionally so much so that He chases us to the point of dying in our place despite recognising us as sinners.

As a worship leader, I need to make sure the songs sung in church are theologically accurate. I think Romans 14:13-23 explains how we shouldn’t cause another to stumble.

We usually do a thorough background and theological check first before deciding on a set list.

When it comes to picking songs written by musicians whose sins have come to light, I believe the anointing can still remain with the song if it is aligned to the Word of God. After all, which one of us is without sin?

So long as the songwriter has repented, and is now under the covering of a church, God’s forgiveness and love cover all.

Hymns are the strongest in terms of their theology. They have withstood the test of time, and their songwriters wrote their hymns out of passion despite going through extreme persecution or trials.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sing new songs. The Bible tells us to sing a new song unto the Lord (Psalm 96:1). New songs reflect the messages God is giving us today.

“New songs reflect the messages God is giving us today.”

I tell the songwriters whom I meet that they are like prophets. They hear from God and write the message down.

Songs about “how much God loves me” are becoming increasingly popular. It’s not wrong to sing them. We see in the Psalms that David wrote both songs about how much God loved him, and how much he loved God.

Still, I think it’s more important to sing songs that glorify God, because that’s when our attention is on Him, not us.

Ong: There are many differing views to the issue of whether to sing songs written by musicians under scrutiny.

Personally, I think as long as the theology is sound, there isn’t anything wrong with singing the song.

None of us is perfect. All of us fall short of the glory of God. It is not for us to judge the songwriter.

A good example would be Michael Guglielmucci’s The Healer.

Even though the song was written when the writer was deep in the lies of sin, I believe the lyrics speak of the inner healing that he desired.

As for which songs to choose, it boils down to balance.

When I come up with the set, I don’t look at each song as an individual piece.

Instead, I look at the whole set as a story of sorts. There should be a running theme from one song to another so that it builds a complete picture of who God is, and who we are as His people.

Becoming part of the worship team

Yeo: Though we can worship God on our own, there is power when we gather together as a body of Christ.

When you come together corporately, there’s an anointing on the congregation. Jesus said: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). He will bless us with his presence.

That said, we can’t command God to come. God comes only when we express a longing for Him. Being leaders, the worship team has the responsibility to usher in the King of Glory. They aren’t just people who play musical instruments.

“The worship team has the responsibility to usher in the King of Glory. They aren’t just people who play musical instruments.”

Therefore, their lifestyles, their relationships, their walk with God – there must be a conscious effort to be Christ-like in these aspects.

People have greater expectations of leaders at the pulpit as well, just like the Levites. They were the priestly representatives of Israel and had higher standards to meet.

Those who are in the worship teams must know that if they are struggling in their personal lives, they should take a hiatus and find their footing in Christ.

Seek pastoral help and, when the time is right, I believe the leadership of the church will restore them to serve again.

Ministry is not the end goal. Your journey with God is.

Ong: Though the worship team should not be overly fussed about how “good” a worship set is, there is still a need to strive for excellence in whichever area of ministry God has called us to.

The worship team’s role is to usher the congregation into His presence.

That means we can’t distract or bring attention to ourselves, but to creative a conducive environment where the laity’s focus is on Him.

About the author

Rachel Phua

Rachel Phua contributes to Salt&Light, where she was formerly a full-time writer. Her stories have also been carried by several US publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Austin American-Statesman, and the Austin Business Journal.