Honest Worship

Honest Worship
From False Self to True Praise
(IVP, 2018)

WHO: Manuel Luz, creative arts pastor of Oak Hills Church in Folsom, California.

HE SAYS: “The role of worship leader is to lead people to the throne of God, but we can often make it about ourselves I ways we don’t even understand.”

THE BIG IDEA: An honest examination of spiritual formation with the current state of the arts in worship.

Part 1, “Worship on the Cutting Edge,” discusses the importance of remaining focused on God in the midst of production and encourages readers to examine their motives in worshiping.
Part 2, “Pride and Humility,” looks deeper into how we see ourselves, how God sees us and what worship from our true self looks like.
Part 3, “Rediscovering Worship,” talks about worshiping God through our lives.

“Honest worship is worship that is not tainted by the stylistic preferences and vanities of our false selves, nor clouded by the cultural forces of narcissism or consumerism or spectacle, but instead comes from our true selves before our holy God.”

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How can a pastor direct his church’s worship back to honest worship if it has strayed too far?

Wow. What a big question. In Honest Worship, I talk at length about external forces like cultural narcissism, consumerism and our celebrity-driven orientation that take us away from honest worship. There are powerful cultural forces that daily teach us to be more narcissistic, more consumeristic and more spectacle-seeking. These forces form (or more specifically, deform) our hearts, and without even realizing it, we inadvertently take these deformations into worship with us every Sunday morning.

As pastors and leaders in churches, we inadvertently play into this cultural narcissism—by providing high-tech, highly entertaining, felt-needs-driven services. Our Sunday morning gatherings become inadvertently driven more by the people we hope to attract instead of by the God we want to worship. And then we wonder why our people are not actually changing—not actually learning the heart of the gospel, which is to deeply love God and others, and die to ourselves in all aspects of our lives.

While I have nothing against high-tech, modern worship (in fact, I’m a practitioner), pastors and church leaders need to teach and model a fuller view of the gospel—a view that is focused on pleasing God and not ourselves, a view that sees our own preferences as trivial diversions on the way toward dying to self.

The subtitle of the book is From False Self to True Praise, and this also bears mentioning. Pastors have unique pressures upon them, and they’re on trial every week—compared and applauded, criticized and critiqued. They are scrutinized for their leadership, their preaching, their personalities, even their personal lives. In response, there’s a tendency for pastors to live in their false self, an identity that each of us forms through our lives to disguise and protect ourselves from harm. It’s false because it’s based on layers of defense mechanisms, identity issues, external pretense, and an inner dialogue of self-sustaining lies. Everyone has a false self, and it is my contention that living in this false self is what keeps us from offering up honest worship to our Holy God.

So I guess the short answer to your big question is that, if a pastor is to lead their church back to honest worship, then they must courageously begin to dismantle their own false self first. And this requires ruthless self-examination, the help of discerning truth-telling friends, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Speed of the leader, speed of the team. Imagine a church whose pastors and leaders truly modeled God-breathed humility and transparency to their congregation. Imagine a church without image management, without self-deception or pretending. Imagine if honesty and self-awareness and mutuality permeated every relationship and conversation in the church. And now imagine how that might change the way that congregation worships.

How does it damage a church when the team leading worship is addicted to applause?

In Honest Worship, I share a wonderful story by A. W. Tozer that goes like this: Jesus fulfilled Scripture when he rode a young donkey into Jerusalem. The great crowds came to meet him, taking palm branches and spreading them out before him, praising his name, shouting, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” And that’s when the donkey, looking around at the crowd, thought, “Wow! I must really be great!”

One of the unfortunate aspects of modern worship is that we make celebrities of our worship leaders. Since they are up front and visible, and since they assume a role very similar to the lead singer in a band, there’s a tendency to applaud and revere the worship leaders and band members at some level. The flipside of this is that, speaking as a worship leader, there’s a real danger of actually believing the hype in conscious and subconscious ways. All of this, of course, deforms our souls and takes our focus dangerously away from God in worship.

Those of us who lead worship need to remind ourselves of the immense privilege we have of lifting up the name of Jesus. We need to make humility—which is truly knowing who we are before God—the posture of our souls.

We need to remember that we’re just the donkey.

What do you mean when you write “We need to be the hallelujah that praises God”?

As Christians, we’ve all probably sung the word “hallelujah” hundreds of times in worship. But I suspect that our praises might ring a little hollow to God when our lives aren’t lived consistent with the words we sing. It is not enough that we sing our praises, our “hallelujahs” to God. We must also embody our praise, so that the entirety of our lives reflects that praise.

In the book, I put forth the idea that God may have “love languages,” ways in which we can express our worship that is more than just singing. I identify several languages, including practicing the presence of God, obedience to His Word and will, and faithfulness in our actions and attitudes to Him. These are an attempt to show that worship isn’t something we just do on a Sunday morning, but springs from who we are, every day of our lives. So to say that we must “be the hallelujah” is to embody a life of praise.