Worship is prayer.
It took me a long time to wrap my mind around this. After many years of leading worship, I hadn’t much considered exactly what we were doing, but now I’m convinced this is the fundamental aspect of worship.
One of the earliest marks of distinction in the Vineyard movement was the priority placed on experiencing God through worship using music. The songs being used in worship were based on relationship. Instead of singing songs about God, Vineyard worshipers sang songs directly to God. They conveyed an intimacy that flowed out of responding to God’s revelation. It was very different from other church experiences, in which the songs used were largely hymns that sought to inform or teach. Instead, Vineyard used simple choruses that sought to connect with God rather than teach about God. They were intimate prayers—often at the deepest emotional level—put to music, and these songs formed a worship catalyst which has carried over into many other liturgical expressions of worship. It's one of Vineyard’s greatest contributions to the greater universal church: worship as direct, intimate prayer to God.
Do we have to use music to worship God? Must we sing together?
The United States of America is a highly individualistic society. We see ourselves as a nation of self-made men and women, pulling ourselves up by nothing but our bootstraps and doing it by ourselves. In contrast to this narrative, it is precisely in the church that we are called to die to self and to give all we are to Jesus and to one another. In short, your preferences, or your natural isolationist tendencies, are not important when it comes to the Kingdom of God. We live in a consumer-oriented culture that has spilled over into the life of our churches. Worship, however, is not something that we consume, but rather something that consumes us. As the word worship literally means to give worth, the worshiper’s approach should be “What can I give?,” not “What can I get?.” Following Jesus requires everything of us; worshiping Jesus requires no less.
Instead of determining what we want in worship, we should instead be asking God what He wants.
What does God want?
We’re fortunate to have some guidance in this question. There is a Biblical precedent for using music to worship God, and further precedent for doing it together. The book of Psalms is not only the largest book in the Bible, it's also situated right in the middle of it. The way the Bible was organized should give you pause: you should ask, “Why is that there?” My sense is that it's extremely important to God that right in the middle of all the stories, poetry, prophecy and theology is a song book. The Psalms were a collection of songs meant to be used in worship and to be sung collectively.
Not only is the importance of music in worship implied by the position of the book of Psalms, there is actually a Biblical command to sing to God, and to do it together.
Using music to worship God stirs our emotions and draws us together. Music is an amazing thing in and of itself. What other art form is practiced more universally, or taps into our emotions so quickly? Other art forms don’t allow for corporate participation in exactly the same way music does.
Christianity is not an individual sport, but rather a family affair. Through Christ, we’ve been reconnected with God, and in Him linked to each other. Music allows the church to corporately engage and to sing with one voice. Music also has the distinct power of staying with you. Songs can have an ongoing effect, continuing to transform our hearts and minds. Music has been an important mnemonic device for thousands of years. Our brains are made in such a way that music helps us retrieve information by providing a rhythm and rhyme. Long after singing a song together, the melody can remain in your head, and the lyrics can slowly infiltrate your heart as you meditate on them.
For more on this topic check out Ascribing Worth, which is available here.