What is Worship? Can Churches Really Shut Down? Can Governments Really Restrict Worship?

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Worship is a very misunderstood thing. It is an often argued about thing as well, mostly because I think of the misunderstandings that the (sadly) vast majority of believers have about what worship is exactly.

I think this became painfully obvious as we entered into the lockdown phase of 2020 after the whole COVID19 thing hit. It was in this moment that I began to see the following two concerns or questions being raised by believers in large numbers:

  1. Can a church be shut down?
  2. Can a government really restrict our worship?

To answer question one, in short, since the church is a body of people, the only way a church can be shut down is if the church is being run like a business and not an actual church.

I’ve said that before, but I think it bears repeating.

Think about it…if your church is being run like a business, and your only source of revenue is the donations of your people…and those donations are only accessible (by-and-large) through in-person events you hold once a week (or more) for one hour at a time, then yes…your “church” (read: business) could be shut down.

But since the church ISN’T a business, you can’t shut it down. The only way to shut it down would be to end the lives of the very people that make up that body. Even then, the church will go on. And since the lives of the church body haven’t actually been taken (at least here in America), then the Church was not shut down.

It’s one hour large church gathering got shut down, but the church itself was not shut down. I would even go so far as to say that it was at the height of this whole lockdown thing that we saw the church looking more like the church than it has looked in quite a long time.

Which brings me to the second question – can a government restrict our worship?

The short answer? No.

The longer answer? The government can’t restrict our worship because our worship is more than what we do in our weekly one hour gatherings. And to understand this…we have to truly understand what worship is.

So today, I want to explore the question, “What is Worship?

I will first go through the various ideas people have about worship, and then I’ll let the Bible tell us what worship is. After all, it’s all well and good for everyone to have an opinion about what worship is, but if we don’t let God define that for us, our opinions will remain opinions and we will miss the mark entirely.

Without further ado, here we go!

Many think worship is the gathering of the church body.

Worship ABSOLUTELY includes the gathering of the church body. Unfortunately, there is a huge dispute amongst the body as to what constitutes as a proper worship gathering. Especially under COVID19 restrictions and lockdowns that we’ve seen.

Some say a worship gathering must have music, a sermon, a time for prayer, a time for offerings, etc. They will say that without these things present, a proper church gathering did not take place. Some say a worship gathering is simply the body of believers coming together and encouraging, exhorting, and building up one another. They will say that you don’t need a pastor or a sermon or any of the trappings of “church” that we currently see to count as a gathering.

I will say that the Bible indicates that God is in our midst at all times and even more so when two or more are gathered (Matthew 18:20) – so the church gathering needs to at least include, at a minimum, 2 people.

Should we gather? Yes!

Is there many ways we can gather? Yes!

Can this even be done virtually (Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, etc.)? Yes!

However the gathering may look, while certainly part of worship…it’s not the only part.

Many think worship is prayer.

We too often treat prayer as a one sided “conversation” where we go to dump everything out on the lap of Jesus, which usually results in us walking away never having heard him speak back to us. Then we get frustrated because we say “God doesn’t answer my prayers”.

Then again, we aren’t actually listening for the answer, are we?

We’re just spewing out all our problems and then saying “Alright God, fix it!” All the while thinking that this is all there is to prayer.

Want a visual?

This is kind of how prayer looks (if we’re honest with ourselves):

If you watched that video, you’re probably laughing. But sadly, this is exactly what it looks like WAY too often.

The reality is, prayer is conversing with God. Conversation is a two way street…it is a time of both speaking AND listening.


So, while prayer, conversing with God, is a HUGE part of worship…this too is not the only part.

Many think worship is music.

This one is probably the hottest topic on the list.

For decades, it seems, the Church has been arguing with one another over church music. Traditional or contemporary? Choir robes or skinny jeans? Organs and pianos or electric guitars and drums? Unplugged or loud sound system? Hymns or CCM? Hymn books or projector screens?

NOTE: I wrote two long articles, HERE and HERE, on this one in response to another article telling us how hymn books are basically superior to screens in helping us worship. Try not to roll your eyes too much.

Personally? I think these are all stupid arguments.

Every. Last. One.

I say that as a worship leader in a church who leads the music for our contemporary service.

Why do I think these arguments are stupid?

Because A) worship is more than music (I’ll get to that in a minute) and B) It’s pathetic and sad just how much we have allowed musical preferences (yes these are ALL preferences) become a point of anger, frustration, and division in the church.

These arguments over musical preferences (yep, I said it again) demonstrate a great deal of immaturity in the Church when it comes to worship.

As a musician, I understand and appreciate the beauty of all genres and styles. I understand how music can leave a literal imprint in our memories. I understand how we can latch on to certain songs because they speak to a part of us in ways other things can’t.

But these things are not good enough reasons to make music in to the idol it has become.

That said, one thing I can appreciate about music and I think is one of the greatest benefits of music, is that it is one of the greatest teaching tools out there. We struggle to memorize bible verses, our phone numbers, or street addresses…but give me a song (“867-5309” anybody?) and suddenly we can’t forget it. Tie those lyrics to a catchy tune, and even a memory, and it will be forever engrained in our psyche.

There’s a spiritual aspect to music too. In the Bible, music helped soothe Saul’s troubled soul (1 Samuel 16:23). It helped David process the good and bad in his life and even remind his own soul that God was in charge (see the entire book of Psalms). It was a way the early church communicated and encouraged one another (Ephesians 5:19). And more.

So, while music is certainly an avenue of worship, it’s not the only avenue.

What is Worship?

This section is probably going to be very disappointing in length compared to the sections above, mostly because worship is possibly one of the most simple spiritual concepts to grasp.

Are you ready?

Worship is many things…in fact, it is all things.

Worship is simply this “Giving God the glory in all that we do.”

OR, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”, or in Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

That’s it!

All that you do, and all that you are…THAT is worship.

Whether you are singing, praying, gathering, sleeping, eating, drinking, feeding the poor, caring for the homeless, adopting, helping a widow, serving fellow members of the church body, driving to work, working, parenting, going to school, reading, shopping, obeying your parents, caring for pets, and much MUCH more.

Now go…present your bodies…your lives…as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is YOUR spiritual worship.

1 Comment

  1. The Greek that we interpret “worship” in the NT is “proskuneo” which can also be interpreted as “bow down (as in prostate) to kiss.” Ephesians 5 is clear that the marriage relationship is meant to show (ie. glorify or reveal) Christ’s relationship with His bride. Worship is Christ and His bride making love.

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