One Shot at the Starting Gate

The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.
— A.W. Tozer

Recently I accepted a call to serve as the worship pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church just north of Louisville. As I’ve thought through the first few weeks, I’m more convinced than ever that “you only get one shot at the starting gate.” If a sprinter or downhill skier falters at the beginning of the race, they spend much of their energy making up for lost time.

I wanted the folks at LaGrange Baptist to know right from the start that gathering together as a church family around Jesus Christ, His gospel, and the Word of God helps mold all of our devotional lives. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, the transition statements we make in corporate worship all paint on our hearts’ canvasses a particular view of God. The starting point for life together as worship pastor and congregation isn’t music or style or methodology, but a view of God rooted in His Word.

A.W. Tozer once said, “So necessary to the Church is a lofty concept of God that when that concept in any measure declines, the Church with her worship and her moral standards declines along with it. The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.”

As we launch this new website through our Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary, it’s vital to articulate at the starting line that our vision is to serve churches, pastors and students through resources, music and research that encourage a “lofty” view of God. The website’s blogs, music, arrangements, lead sheets, worship orders and liturgies, research articles, book reviews and videos are designed to aid anyone leading and designing corporate worship in one vital task: shaping a biblical view of God in worshipers’ minds and hearts.

As Allen Ross articulated in his book, Recalling the Hope of Glory, “For worship to be as glorious as it should be, for it to lift people out of their mundane cares and fill them with adoration and praise, for it to be the life-changing and life-defining experience it was designed to be, it must be inspired by a vision [of God] so great and so glorious that what we call worship will be transformed from a routine gathering into a transcendent meeting with the living God.” 

The words found in Isaiah 66:1-2 reflect an oft-repeated scriptural theme, a recurring refrain of seeing God first as transcendent (His otherness), then as immanent (His nearness):

Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne,
     and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
    and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
    and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
    he who is humble and contrite in spirit
    and trembles at my word.

In the passage above, the description of God and His otherness precedes the more personal and intimate action of His gaze upon the humble.  So too must we remind our congregations repeatedly who it is they worship. When worshipers see God for who He is, then the reality of His gaze upon our frail, sinful state will be truly and wonderfully amazing. The challenging words of John Stott ring clear when I think of the importance of helping people view God rightly:

The worship of God is evoked, informed, and inspired by the vision of God…The true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship.
— John Stott

The first steps we take in any endeavor have a significant impact on the subsequent steps that follow. I pray that the steps we take in encouraging biblically-informed worship through the launch of this new website will be a step in the right direction--up--to a biblical view of God. 

Joe Crider

Dr. Crider is the Executive Director of the Institute for Biblical Worship and a professor of Church Music and Worship in the Department of Biblical Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He also serves as Worship Pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, KY.