Worship and Creative Arts Ministry
Christian worship is both the corporate and private response of a redeemed people to the revelation of the triune God found in the Word, to the glory of the Father, by the mediation of Jesus Christ the Son and his atoning work, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The church gathers each week united in the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father through the blood of Christ poured out on Calvary. The gospel shapes corporate worship practice by providing the Christ-centered foundation by which men and women worship God in Spirit and truth for his glory and for their own edification through biblical, congregational elements. The worship pastor’s task, then, is to help provide a renewed glimpse of the gospel each week through biblical and artistically creative means.
Worship should be gospel-shaped, theologically enriching, congregationally driven, missionally focused, and centered on the Word, ultimately uniting believers with Christ and one another in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).
Union with Christ in Spirit results from an authentic encounter with the triune God as the Holy Spirit guides worship of the Father through Christ. Worshipers seeking to engage with God must understand this Trinitarian source, therefore worship must paint a full picture of God, not neglecting any of the persons. Through worshiping Jesus, believers “who [are] joined to the Lord becom[e] one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17; cf. John 37b-39a; Rom 6:5). Participating in gospel-shaped worship is one of the primary ways in which believers unify their spirits with Christ. Re-presenting the gospel story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation each week reminds Christians that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness … so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet 1:3-4). Our spiritual union with Christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit to the glory of the Father leads believers into worship.
Believers are not only unified with Christ through worship, but also with one another since “there is one body and one Spirit – just as [we] were called to the one hope that belongs to [our] call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).
Worship must also be done in truth. Christians gather in worship to impart doctrine to one another through teaching, singing, praying, and artistic endeavors. Paul urged the church in Colossae to “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Music and song are not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation but also about spiritual formation. The Word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song and the arts. We disciple one another by singing the truth, and that truth is the Word of God. Through art, Christians declare truth for the glory of God. The gospel provides the firm foundation on which doctrinally rich, transformative, and fresh encounters with the one, true God take place. The eternal truth of God also connects Christians to the historical and global church.
Christians congregating for worship are a continuation of the grand story of God’s chosen people living in the world. No Christian is isolated from the narrative of God’s redemptive plan for the world, and corporate worship is a vivid reminder of this fact. Believers of countless backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and cultures gather together to witness one another affirm the same truths and grow from participating in worship, discipling one another in the process. (Rev 7:9-10). True worship of the living God includes the redeemed from every nation and tribe.
Paul also reminds his readers that participation in worship holds utmost importance: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:4-6a). Worship is not passive, but active. Christians should therefore employ their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord and the church body in a variety of ways (Rom 12:1-2).
One of the goals of corporate worship is to put words in the mouth of the people: battle cries, funeral dirges, victory chants, and songs for everything in between, to carry into everyday life and shape our devotion to the Lord. Through personal and corporate encounters with God, Christians are energized to proclaim and live out their faith to a lost and dying world. As Christians worship, the Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
The Bible not only provides a clear picture of gospel-shaped worship, but it also regulates the approach to worship. Through the Word, God mandates what must take place during corporate worship. The Bible depicts worship practice through:
- declaration with song and voice (Ps. 96, 150; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Titus 2:11-15)
- praying (Acts 2:42, 4:23-31, Eph 6:18)
- public reading of Scripture (Ezra 8:3; 1 Tim 4:13)
- teaching and preaching (Ezra 8:8; Acts 2:42, 5:42; 2 Tim 4:2)
- service and the giving of resources (Acts 2:44-45; 2 Cor 9:6-7; Phil 4:16)
- baptism (Acts 2:41; Eph 4:5)
- observance of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:17-24)
- exercise of spiritual disciplines (Acts 13:2-3; 1 Tim 4:7)
This regulation may appear restricting, but in reality, it allows for creativity within biblical bounds. The Lord delights in the creative nature of his people, and Christians glorify God through creative endeavors. What is crucial to this regulative principle of worship is the centrality of the Word to worship. The Word guides and shepherds man, while providing the substance of worship – the revelation of Jesus Christ. God directly reveals himself to man through the Scriptures, and so man’s understanding of who God is and the redemptive work of Christ comes from the text. God’s revelation fuels and appropriates man’s response. The Bible gives us glimpses into the lives of those who had direct encounters with God (Ex 33:17-23; 2 Chr 5-7; Isa 6, Acts 4:42-47; Rev 4:8-11) and lets us see how people in the Scriptures responded to God’s revelation in various scenarios. The responses always take the form of the elements listed above. The Scriptures, then, provide the guiding principles for worship.
The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ – eternally begotten of the Father and giver of the Holy Spirit – is the source, mediator, and object of our worship, now and forevermore. “For his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). May we, his redeemed people, worship him now both in Spirit and truth by the power of the gospel!
Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.