From Glory to Glory—
Leading Change in Public Worship
(Author’s Note: Change and worship go hand in hand. I sense that many pastors and worship leaders will want to re-vamp their worship ministries as the church comes out of lockdown. The reformation can be based on any of a number of sources but the overall goal is improvement. Why not come back to a worship experience that is better than the pre-pandemic one? When such worship reformation is done by the Scriptures, this can be the result. If other sources of inspiration and information are engaged, such as pop culture or the worship music marketplace or the influence of some popular church, the results may not be an improvement. Toward the goal of biblical worship reformation, I wrote this 2-part article in 2016. In view of the coming post-pandemic world, I want to update it now. This is a moment to be seized. Let us not be hesitant but neither should we be foolish in choosing the information upon which our reforms are based. Stephen Phifer)
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
I love to study about warships. I’ll never forget the first time I boarded a WWII battleship, The North Carolina¸ at Wilmington. She was a thing of beauty designed and built in the 1930’s. Inside and out, she was made to be fast and deadly to any enemy who might take her on and safe and accommodating to the men aboard her. Still, when war came she had to be refurbished. New weapons like radar had been developed since she skidded down the ways. So to drydock she went to be outfitted with the latest gear. Refurbishing is something every fighting vessel must undergo time and time again to keep her in fighting trim.
The Ship of Zion
The local church, sometimes called in old gospel songs, “the ship of Zion,” also has to be refurbished if she is to fulfill her mission on the ever-changing high seas of ministry. The church is going through a thorough re-fit today.
- Traditions are being dismantled and tossed overboard.
- The latest equipment is being installed everywhere a sailor looks.
In these post-pandemic days of this 21st century change is the order of the day. Leaders make differ from each other in many ways but they all share this unique and challenging moment. As pastors and worship leaders take the helm and issuing new orders to “all hands and the cook,” as my Dad used to say, let us consider our sources.
- Sometimes the changes are scripturally sought out, carefully thought out and prayerfully brought about as the ministry of the Holy Spirit oils the skids so a refurbished “ship of Zion” can slide into the deep, prepared for the challenges posed by pos-pandemic navigation.
- At other times changes are culturally conceived, humanly charted, and brutally executed leaving the local church damaged, leaking oil, taking on water and listing with hardly enough crew of experienced seaman to handle all the passengers.
The difference in these contrasting cases is whether the changes are done biblically, spiritually, with godly wisdom and sensitivity to the cultures involved or whether they are done culturally and politically, with little regard for powerful but internal cultural forces.
Spiritual Transformation through Worship
Spiritual transformation is a work that only the Holy Spirit can do; it is beyond the reach of human leadership. One of the ways transformation happens is through worship, both public and private. A biblical term for worship is “Beholding the glory,” as the footnote in the NIV of 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 indicates. “Contemplating the glory of the Lord” is transformational and leads to a lifestyle of progressive change from “glory to glory.” All change in worship needs to be led in this inwardly transformational way. True Spirit-directed, Spirit-empowered change happens from the inside out, not from the outside in. When leaders try to affect worship change from with outside-in techniques, they are not working in agreement with ways of the Holy Spirit. They will affect change, but not necessarily the change the Spirit wants to bring about or do so in the way He wants to bring it about.
Understanding God’s Highway
Another metaphor for the work of change is heard first in the words of Isaiah and again in the preaching of John the Baptist. Worship is the road the Lord travels to come to us. Worship leaders build the road. We do this by removing hindrances to worship.
Isaiah 40:3-5 NLT
Listen! I hear the voice of someone shouting,
“Make a highway for the LORD through the wilderness.
Make a straight, smooth road through the desert for our God.
Fill the valleys and level the hills. Straighten out the curves and smooth off the rough spots. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”
Pastors are voices crying in the wilderness, “We must prepare the way for Him!” We can build Jesus “a straight, smooth road”
- by filling in the valleys of the lack of skill and understanding,
- by leveling the high places of pride and preference,
- by straightening the crooked places of ungodly methodology and
- by smoothing out the rough places of careless doxology.
If we do not prepare this highway, we will be stuck where we are. Like the generation of Israelites who would not cross Jordan, we will be marching in circles, miraculously provided for, but going nowhere.
We need to build a highway in the desert that will take us to the river and beyond. A new destination demands a new road. That’s why worship leaders and pastors are change agents in the church. But there has to be a godly, peaceful way to bring about change. He is going to reveal His glory somewhere. If we prepare the way, we can see His glory revealed among us.
Understanding How the Holy Spirit Brings Change
If we are to avoid the ways of man—cultural calculations and power politics—we must understand the ways of the Spirit of God. Worship Renewal is a spiritual change not a political or an artistic one. The most common mistake in worship renewal is to major on the externals at the expense of the internals.
- Artistic change, changing the music, the lighting, the technology, the instrumentation or the “sound,” is external change.
- Political change, the preference of one group over another or the deliberate division of the church along generational lines, is also external change.
- Spiritual change (“Transformation” is the biblical term.) takes place from the inside to the outside and is a work of the Holy Spirit. Hearts change first; internals before externals. Truth sets people free. “Beholding His glory” is transformational.
2 Corinthians 3:16-18 NKJV
Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding (contemplating) as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Spiritual Transformation provides us with a biblical vocabulary, not a cultural one—Worship Renewal—not just “change!”
Change by itself does not have a reason attached to it. If no reason for change is given, it raises suspicions:
- Leaders don’t really have a reason.
- Leaders don’t have a good reason.
- Leaders have a secret reason.
This produces an atmosphere of distrust.
- Change will be destructive, not constructive.
- People will observe the careful presentations of their leaders with a deadly skepticism.
- They will hear what is said and wonder what is really going on.
When leaders have produced an atmosphere where the rank and file of the church are thinking, “What’s going on is not really what’s going on,” they have produced a toxic environment.
Worship Renewal, however, supplies its own reasons:
- We want more of God.
- We want to be a whole, healthy, victorious people, a family of faith, a thriving community of worshipers.
- We want to have a greater impact on our community.
- We want to extend the Kingdom of God, to tell people about Jesus.
These reasons are compelling, not threatening.
- They appeal to the heart as well as the mind.
- They invite scriptural affirmation and are clearly visionary.
- They are inclusive not divisive and
- they are trustworthy—“What is going is, is what is really going on.”
In an atmosphere of trust and shared goals, hearts are open to revelation from the Holy Spirit. Pastors can preach about renewal. Worship Leaders can lead prayerful worship. The church can openly seek God’s face and enter upon a voyage of discovery together. The Holy Spirit can birth in each heart a vision from the Lord. This revelation by the Spirit in the heart of the worshiper is the source of true change. This spring of truth in the heart will gush into a river of the Spirit, the River of Life Jesus spoke about, flowing from the heart of the believer.
Change is the result of this positive flood.
Revelation from God justifies the cost of renewal. The writer of Proverbs gives us this jewel whose meaning becomes clear in the NIV, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint…” Proverbs 29:18 NIV When hearts are changed and full of a revelation of how different God wants things to be, people will take upon themselves the necessary restraints demanded by the new and powerful vision.
Understanding the Purpose and Effect of True Worship
Those who refit warships need to have thorough knowledge of what enables the ship to go fast and fight well. Worship reform, however, is sometimes attempted without a thorough understanding of worship.
- We do not learn about worship from studying the desires of people, not “un-churched” people, and not church people.
- The study of worship begins and continues with the study of what God wants from His people.
Worship does not originate in the fallen heart of man. On the contrary, worship begins in the relationships within the Trinity.
A Demographic Reformation
I was told of one pastor who was researching worship in preparation for worship renewal. I was excited. “What is he researching?” I asked, “Acts? The Psalms? Hebrews? The Epistles? The teachings of Jesus?” “No,” the answer came back, “Not that kind of research.” He was studying culture and what each group likes and doesn’t like and planning what I call a “Demographic Reformation” not a Spiritual Transformation. While the cultural aspects of the people we want to lead in worship are important, the Word of God needs to be our primary source of truth for worship renewal.
New Covenant worship is the completion of Old Covenant worship in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
- The sacrifices and festivals of the Old Covenant are fulfilled in Jesus and the New Covenant. Because of Calvary, the Living Sacrifice of Praise of the New Covenant is the fulfillment of the slaughter of all those animals under the Old Covenant.
- New Testament worshipers are the Holy Royal Priesthood.
- Mt. Zion is not a single earthly address in Jerusalem, but a spiritual location anywhere Christ-followers gather in His name.
- We are the Holy Nation. We are the Temple, the Habitation of God by His Spirit.
- New Covenant based worship is the meeting together of God with His people— Hebrews 12:22-24.
- Worship is the exchange of love, words and gifts between worshipers and God—Psalm 119:130; Psalm 103:1-5; Isaiah 61:3.
- As the Holy-Royal Priesthood, the people minister to the Lord with the Living Sacrifice of Praise—1 Peter 2:5, 8, 9.
- The Lord responds to their ministry with the gifts of His presence and His sovereignty in their hearts and in their house of worship—Psalm 22:3
- The Lord administers the benefits of His Lordship through His ministry as Messiah—Luke 4:18-19 NIV
The Purpose of Worship
What Worship Is Not:
- It is not a church growth tool to use to try and add numbers.
- It is not a showcase for our skills.
- It is not a proving ground for our theories and theologies.
In the same way that leaders need to understand what worship is and how it works before they begin to tinker with it, they need to understand the purpose and effect of worship.
What Worship Is:
- The Purpose of Worship is to give unto the Lord the glory due his name and to worship him in the splendor of holiness—Psalm 29:1, 2.
- Worship is presented to God only by His covenant people.
The Impact of Worship
What effect does a worshiping community have on the world? True Worship impacts the world tremendously. How?
- Through intercession and Spiritual Warfare the church impacts the spirit world. Spiritual wickedness in high places has laid siege to our cities and their citizens. No amount of physical effort can move the forces of darkness. However, the worship of the church beats back the darkness over individuals and pulls down strongholds over cities. With spiritual weapons we wage a spiritual warfare when we worship God. (Ephesians 6:18; Romans 8:26; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 3:10-13)
- Through the witness of Prophetic Worship, the congregation participates in the presentation of Jesus to seekers who attend the worship service. Far from being repellent to seekers, true worship is presented by the Apostle Paul as a part of the evangelistic process.(1 Corinthians 14:22-25) As Jesus inhabits the worship of the church, the Holy Spirit convicts the unsaved person of the presence and reality of Jesus and of the seeker’s need for Jesus. (See the Last Supper Discourse (John 13-17) for details on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in worship.) Through the ministry of the River of Life, the worship of the church heals the world. The picture painted by Ezekiel is one of the healing presence of Jesus flowing through the church into a world that is dead like the Dead Sea. “Wherever the river goes,” the prophet says, “everything will live!” And it is true. (Ezekiel 47:8, 10, 11-12)
- Through the ministry of the community of Christ-followers, the world sees true love and commitment. The real impact of the church is not through our services of worship on Sundays but through the worshipful service of the people of God in the world. They know we are Christians by our love for Christ and for each other. (John 13:34-35)
The post-pandemic refit of the Ship of Zion is either already underway or is about to begin. For those who are leading these processes of change, it is important to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit and not on human ability. Part Two will explore ways to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Go to “From Glory to Glory: Leading Change in Public Worship” Part Two
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved (Revised March 2021)
Pastors, for more on Leading Change in Worship, email Dr. Phifer for an extensive collection of articles on the role of the pastor in this blessed process, The Road: Building God’s Highway through Your Desert. Send your email request for this FREE resource to DrStevePhifer@Gmail.com.
Worship Leaders, your role in this biblical reformation is a vital one. Since leading worship requires both spiritual anointing and musical skill, the demands of this season also rest on you and your team. Dr. Phifer has prepared a collection of helpful articles for you as well: To the Chief Musician: Unlocking the Power of Congregational Song. For your FREE PDF, send an email request to DrStevePhifer@Gmail.com.