Musings on Worship During a Pandemic
It feels like just yesterday. Amidst intensifying reports on the spread and threat of COVID-19 in Canada, a few of us on staff at Beulah were having lunch together, waiting for our executive leadership team to decide if we would continue in-person weekend services. It’s hard to believe we’ve already had 10-weeks of exclusively online services now.
Worship looks very different now than it did then. As a worship leader, one of the greatest joys in my life was being able to see so many people engaging with God each weekend. With each passing week, looking out into an empty room, I miss those glorious pre-COVID-19 days. I’m thankful that we’ve been able to continue our services online, but I also lament that it’s not quite the same.
While this has been a challenging time for us and our worship teams, it’s also been an incredibly strange time for our church, worshiping online each week. Do you sing out loud in your living room? Do you engage in worship the same way you do when there are hundreds of others around you? Do you raise your hands?
How do we worship in our current, exclusively online, COVID-19 reality? And to take that question a step further — how do we continue to worship authentically?
The topic of authenticity in worship has always included a range of opinions. But whatever your view, the season we’re in right now will certainly test it.
Here are some thoughts to consider as we pursue this together.
Authentic worship begins with confession
Worship is not something exclusive to those with the deepest Christian faith. In fact, regardless of what your beliefs and values are, some would argue that it’s innate, a part of human nature. We all worship something. So the moment we make the decision to give our lives to Christ isn’t actually the beginning of worship. Rather, the moment that we allow Jesus to cleanse and redirect our worship — that’s the movement to authentic worship. It’s also a call to sanctification, we rid ourselves of our tendency towards sin. As monumental a task this is, we can find confidence in:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9
Before we can move towards truly authentic expressions of worship, we need to first confess our sins and acknowledge our need for forgiveness and purification.
Authentic worship recognizes the difference between truth and preference
Worship is one of the elements of church life that’s most susceptible to personal preference. Maybe because there’s music involved. And we’re certainly all entitled to our own musical preferences. But sometimes the beckoning of preference can be so strong, that we actually mistake it for truth. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that in order to worship authentically, we have to remove any and all semblances of personal preference. I’m only saying that we need to be aware that we have them. And understand that preferences don’t constitute universal truth. Authentic worship calls us to pursue something greater than what we feel internally. Paul writes that,
Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.
Authentic worship knows preferences, but chooses the surpassing worth of knowing Christ above them.
Authentic worship lives in the present and flows through anticipation
John 4 tells the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. This is where Jesus breaks all sorts of societal norms and customs and offers the Samaritan woman “living water” — and an invitation to engage in an authentic worship response. In a moment of uncertainty, Jesus reminds the woman that,
The time is coming — indeed it’s here now — when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
John 4:23 (NLT)
Our lives as Christians are lived in the constant pull between the present and the future. Our Saviour has come and He has saved, but He will also come again. Authentic worship doesn’t waste a single moment of today with worry or selfish ambition but takes advantage of every moment to pour out continuous praise. It’s bathed in excitement and anticipation of our King, who will come again soon.
Authentic worship will resound for the whole world to hear
If we go back to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, after her interaction with Jesus, she proceeds to run back to the village to tell people of her experience (John 4:28-30). As we experience deeper encounters with Jesus that grow our faith, and as we allow God to cleanse and sanctify us, our hearts and souls are so filled that we simply cannot contain the truth of the Gospel to ourselves. If worship doesn’t drive us to want to share this Good News with our communities, our city, and our country — then what we experience on weekends, in small groups and other ministries, is it truly authentic?
This season we find ourselves in will be talked about years from now. History is being written, right now. I often wonder what people in the future will say about how the Church responded during this pandemic. I hope the history books will show that we didn’t allow restrictions and limitations to hinder authentic worship. And as we collectively engaged in that, a great revival began that changed the world around us.
Revival is renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving one’s will to God in deep humility.
Charles G. Finney, “How to Experience Revival”
About the Author: colin owen
Colin is the Worship Pastor at Beulah’s West Campus. He oversees all music-related aspects of weekend services, worship leadership development, and is also part of the creative planning team. Along with his wife, Jasmine, and daughter, Eden, Colin has been part of the Beulah community since 2015. He is passionate about the church coming together to have meaningful encounters with Jesus, letting go of personal preferences, and anything that hinders from giving everything to Him. Colin loves working with young leaders and helping them thrive as leaders in the church.