Worship: What matters most, form or function?

Sunday I preached a sermon titled "How can I prepare for worship". The
next morning I sat down with our worship musician and we began planning
the next week's worship services but in the process we started talking
about worship as it's done here -vs- worship at it's essence. The
timing was God ordained because we've been working on some contemporary
music in the evening. But even there we became aware that our focus
could (and might?) very easily get out of alignment if it hadn't
As we continued to reflect on worship we realized that all the
arguments about worship are due to form, rather than function. Generally I think most people to some degree understand the function
of worship. In any good design of any given item, product, method or
whatever form should follow function (If you disagree stop reading and
go read some artsy magazine somewhere else it won't do you any good to
rant on this with me.)
I believe the way a worship team builds a worship service should be
first with a consideration of it's function. Therefore the function of
worship needs to be clearly stated. As best we can briefly determine
the function of worship could be stated this way:

To ensure that each one here can express to God the love and admiration they have for him in their heart.

we design a worship service then we need to find a form that enables
this function to take place. That's where all the debates about music
style and flow or non-flow take place Yet even before we go to that
high level of debate there is yet another stop – and that is the
concept of movement.
If we take the Lord's prayer as a model of worship we find a
spiritually and aesthetically pleasing movement from beginning to
recognize or acknowledge an aspect of God's nature and character – an
embracing of our relationship to God and and will find ourselves moving
in the following directions. But what about people who have need to
confess sin (ie, all of us)? Well that's included in the Lord's prayer
model of worship as well. But let's take a quick and dirty breakdown of
the Old Testament Sacrificial system and apply it to worship –
inserting it as a subset of the fourth point of repentance. From the
recognition of sin to the post-sacrificial change of life the
sacrificial model of repentance, and change is as much a part of
worship as singing and scripture and whatever else you may include in
the form of worship.

  • Prayer as a worship Model: The Lord's Prayer
    1. Identity and attributes of God / "Our Father Which Art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name". (don't forget the aspect of relationship – which is central in the first two words.)
    2. The Work and Will of God
      What is God doing in your life? Or what has God done in creation? How
      have the works of God in the past displayed his glory? "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done".
    3. The bread of the word "give us this day our daily bread" The incorporation of God's word into the service is needful.
    4. Relationship:
      Confession of personal sin to God and restoration of relationship with
      others – love for the brethren Esteeming someone higher than yourself. "forgive us our debts as we forgive those indebted to us".
      (insert The Sacrificial Model: Worship as a transforming process when life change is needed.)

      1. Acknowledgment of sin or a desire to praise God.
      2. Selection of the sacrifice. (Thankfully Jesus Christ is our once for all sacrifice!)
      3. Coming to God's presence (Temple) with contrition.
        (This was inherently public since everyone could see Marvin dragging
        yet another ram to the temple for yet another sacrifice.)
      4. Presentation to the priest
      5. The actual Sacrifice of killing the sacrifice.
      6. Changed behavior on the other side.
    5. Guidance "lead us not into temptation"
    6. Deliverance "Deliver us from the evil one".
    7. Glorification: "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen."

Having established this as a reasonable description of both the primary
function of worship "expressing love to God", and having built a
scriptural model of worship (others perhaps can be had but we
determined that this one was fairly all encompassing.) It's time to
start working on a functional form that will enable the function
to take place.
That's where it's time to start exegeting the audience to take a phrase
from Haddon Robinson (Biblical Preaching) and apply it to worship
instead of the sermon.
Your form will differ radically from teens to seniors but the function
remains the same. What about a mixed audience? The burden lays heavier
upon the worship leader and the worship team to develop a service every
week that "ensures that each person can express to God the love and admiration they have for him in their heart."
Yes I realize that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make
them drink, but if the horse is thirsty and you lead it to a sandbox,
you may have changed his scenery but nothing useful is accomplished –
IMHO it's no better than not leading the horse anywhere at all.
The form of worship has got to enable the function. If the form blocks
the function – throw it out and construct another.
With that framework and purpose in mind we now begin the arduous and
worthy task of carefully and most of all prayerfully constructing a
worship service that truly Honor's the God of heaven and earth. Is he
not worthy of our finest efforts towards that end?
– and that's the truth.