Encounter or Entertainment? (pt. I)

My last post considered style and content in worship. This post and the next will consider the function and purpose of our worship.

What do you expect when you come into corporate worship? Worship planners, what are you working toward when you plan?

A brilliant man named David Peterson says worship is essentially an engagement with God. If he’s right, we can’t enter worship merely expecting to be entertained or interested, to enjoy our time, learn something new, or even feel emotionally engaged. If we come to worship to meet with the living God, we should expect nothing less than to leave changed.

In a great, short article on the difference between art and entertainment, Jeff Goins shares the quote, “Entertainment gives you a predictable pleasure… Art leads to transformation.” I don’t want to get into whether worship is or isn’t art (you can use the comments for that if you’d like), but given this definition, I think our worship should be much more art than entertainment.

Goins says art transforms us by first surprising or wounding us. It evokes something within us and connects us to something that transcends us. Does our worship do the same?


Do you find yourself surprised in worship? This is not the-pastor-just-rode-in-on-a-Harley-just-because. Surprise! That surprise doesn’t transform; it amuses.

This is the kind of surprise that comes when you hear a word from Scripture that catches you off guard, or you are suddenly overwhelmed by something about who God is or who you are in his eyes. This is the surprise that comes when you are amazed by how God still answers prayers and still works in our world, or the surprise of conviction and calling where you had previously been comfortable.

I remember hearing my friend Josh preach about Abra(ha)m’s incredible faithfulness before God: leaving his home to go wherever God was leading, and later preparing his only son to be sacrificed because God commanded it. I was overwhelmed at that kind of reckless trust and obedience before God. And then we sang “Walk by Faith.” I had heard the stories and sung the song plenty of times, but God encountered me in a surprising way that day in worship. I went home and followed through on some big commitments that I knew God desired and that I had been dragging my feet on.

For planners, how do you plan for surprises like this?

  • 1 – You don’t entirely. You aren’t in charge of the surprise. Worship is about an encounter with God, and we leave the surprises to him. We are facilitators. With that, we pray that the Spirit will move in such a way that people are overcome, overwhelmed, and changed.
  • 2 – Put yourself in position to be surprised and pass it along. I remember preaching on simplicity and generosity for about the fourth time in two years (yes, we preach that theme a lot) and suddenly being shocked to find the same Greek word used for both throughout the New Testament. It changed the way I understand simplicity and generosity. It changed the way I live. That was a great sermon to preach. It was like letting everyone else in on the great surprise God had just given me.
  • 3 – Allow others to lead in worship. As I have let go of control and involved more people in worship leadership, I have been more consistently surprised. Why? I’m getting to hear about God and his work in our lives from other perspectives. These are experiences I have never had and things I have never considered. If I were the only one leading, I wouldn’t have heard these and neither would the rest of our community.
  • 4 – Don’t waste all of your creative energy on entertainment surprises. The worship leader playing guitar while suspended from the ceiling may be neat, but it’s probably not more likely to lead people to a genuine encounter with God. Even more, that entertaining surprise may distract people’s focus from the truly transformational or train them to expect mere entertainment in worship.

Are we expecting and planning for predictable pleasure in our worship, or do we come expecting God to encounter and transform us?

More on wounds in worship and transformation next time…

What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What questions does this raise for you?

15 thoughts on “Encounter or Entertainment? (pt. I)

  1. I love your comments on the difference between art and entertainment. I think most of us don’t go to worship on a Sunday hoping to be wounded but this article has made me long for jus that.

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