Defining Worship, Pt. 1

Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536) once said “Every definition is dangerous.” That may explain why when we try to define a word simply and precisely we often end up missing significant aspects of the word we’re defining. Attempts at explaining worship as “love,” or “intimacy,” or “relationship” say something true, but end up leaving out more than they contribute to our understanding of worship.

In spite of Erasmus’ warning, over the years I’ve come across numerous definitions of “worship” that have caused me think about worship more biblically.

Harold Best, in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith defines worship in the broadest sense as “acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and by consequence, to be obeyed, feared, and adored…Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it. (pg. 143)

We want to be mastered the objects of our worship. And indeed we are. We worship whatever rules our time, energy, thoughts, longings, and choices. “Those who make them [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psa. 115:8, ESV)

A definition of worship that I appreciate for its simplicity and clarity is by Warren Wiersbe, who writes:

Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does. (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, p. 26)

I’ve used that definition, or something similar, when I want to accent that worship can’t be half-hearted, and is all about God’s character, words, and acts.

David Peterson, unpacks what at first blush is a more sterile, but nevertheless insightful, definition:

“Worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible. (Engaging with God, pg. 20)

Peterson’s definition highlights God’s initiative, authority, and enabling power in our worship.

Dr. Dan Block, who until recently was a Professor of Old Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, defines true worship as “reverential human acts of submission and homage before the divine Sovereign, in response to his gracious revelation of himself, and in accordance with his will.” (from Dr. Block’s For the Glory of God. course notes)

This is the first definition that specifically mentions what many of the biblical words for worship imply – submission and homage.

Well, this post is already longer than I anticipated. But, here’s one more from William Temple’s (1881-1944) Readings in St. John’s Gospel.

“Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin”.

Amen.

Read Part 2 of Defining Worship

For more on this topic, listen to the following free message from Sovereign Grace Ministries:
Worship: What Really Matters by Bob Kauflin

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36 Responses to Defining Worship, Pt. 1

  1. Ben Cook November 1, 2007 at 4:23 PM #

    I really liked this article a lot. Worship is truly more than just sing on Sunday mornings. Everything we do is to honor God. One way that I think of it is that I need to worship God in every part of my life. That doesn’t mean pray every second or play a worship song or evangelize every moment of my life, but it does call on me to realize that God deserves all glory and obedience from me. Some worship times are more intense, like on Sunday morning.

  2. Rev. ALLEN MKITA November 23, 2007 at 5:14 AM #

    Dear Brothers ,

    I am so glad to write after passing through your web . It is really interesting to see some of the important spiritual insights . It really shows that you are serious for his sake . In the past , I was the preacher of the Church of Christ having studied and obtain Bachelor of Biblical Studies . But because the writer in Psalms 119:96 says that God’s word is wider enough ,we ( I and my wife ) started to re-read our Bibles and seen that some of the things which I received were not so . For example Instrumental music and judging others e.t.c . For that reason we decided to leave the Church and just worship at home up to the moment . We will still be here up until God tells us what to do in the future . We are so much eager to start another Congregation in our local area .

    Therefore brothers , I would like to welcome you in our Country , if you feel like and assist us in evangelism and seminars so as to grow up his Kingdom . I really know that we need other brothers and sisters in performing his will . I will also be glad to work with you in any capacity . May you pray for us and we will do the same . Lastly , I hope to hear from you soon .

    In Him ,

    Rev. ALLEN MKITA
    TANZANIA E.A

  3. Bob Kauflin November 23, 2007 at 10:01 AM #

    Allen,

    Great to hear from you. Please send me your address, as I’d like to send you some materials.

    Bob

  4. Paul Fincher January 21, 2008 at 3:22 PM #

    Great read.

  5. Kelvin Mutize Zimbabwe February 7, 2008 at 8:51 AM #

    Wow this is good, as a worshipper
    I am still looking to understand more about worship.I have to learn more about worship because i belive the most powerful man on earth is the man with an understanding of why he does what he does.

  6. cathy February 21, 2008 at 7:55 PM #

    These definitions are wonderful. I love definitions because I think they can bring clarity to our thinking.

    When working with children I have used the definition I came across in “Teaching Kids Authentic Worship” by Kathleen Chapman. It is simply: “Worship is all our attention focused on God”. I call it “God-Gazing”. :) Even in it’s simplicity, I found I needed to break it down even more than that for my 4 year old Sunday School class. When we are sitting together in our “worship circle” on Sunday mornings we say, “Worship happens when what I think, say and do is all about Jesus”, and that “Worship can happen any time, any where and in many ways”. As ways to express our worship, we speak words of worship, move, play instruments, use flags & banners, write letters, and draw pictures. We are working our way through a “Jesus alphabet train” in which we ascribe an attribute of Jesus for each letter of the alphabet (A-Almighty, B-the Beginning, C-Creator, etc.), because I believe that as we begin to identify the character of Jesus we come face to face with who He is and we can not help but worship Him. Also, as Hebrews 1:3 tells us, “everything about Him represents God exactly”, so when we look at Jesus, we see God.

    Sometimes struggling through the challenge of putting things into language a child can understand has been helpful for me.

    A fellow God-gazer,
    Cathy

  7. Valerie Munoz March 3, 2008 at 12:28 AM #

    I really liked the part of quote by Harold Best “Worship is the sign that in giving myself completely to someone or something, I want to be mastered by it.” I like this part mostly because it reminds me why we should worship, to make ourselves less and God more. God takes over, not just on sunday morning but also in every area of our lives.

    I must also say that I really appreciated Cathy’s comments on how she explains worship to the children she teaches, one I think that it is wonderful that children are learning all the aspects to worship instead of just singing, and two i can relate to what she says about the fact that when you simplify something to explain it to children it really does help you to clarify it in your own mind.

  8. Russel April 30, 2008 at 11:40 PM #

    Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does. (Warren Wiersbe, Real Worship, p. 26)

    This quote said by Wiersbe really hit me this semester in school. In my worship class we have explored this vast topic and I believe that this is the best working definition. It reminds us that worship is and never will be about us. It is about God. And what we can do for Him. It is a great reminder of what Jesus says in the Gospels about coming after him, they must deny themselves himself and take up their cross daily and follow Him.

  9. Jonathan May 6, 2008 at 11:32 PM #

    So I just left a long comment on your site but when I submitted it, my time ran out, so now I don’t care enough to rewrite it all. I still have to write this comment because it is an assignment for my Worship class.

    I feel that worship is really hard to define; I’ve had a hard time processing in my mind, what a good definition of worship is. My professor loves the quote by wiersbe as well you Bob. I might agree with both of you in thinking that, but I haven’t studied the Bible at all, so I don’t feel like making an assertion as to what I think the Bible says about worship. I would agree with you Bob about how silly it can be when people try to define a complex term such as worship, so I made my own definition of worship.

    Worship – it is complicated.

  10. Timothy August 18, 2008 at 11:55 AM #

    Worship, like love, is way to massive to be confined to a single definition. Its accurate meaning requires a multi-faceted view, accompanied by extensive (eternal?) experiential knowledge which is informed by Scripture. And just when we think we’ve arrived at a clear understanding, He surprises us with a fresh encounter which confirms His unsearchableness (is that a word?)…much like love, or Scripture, or anything living. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable.” (Ps.145:3)

    With that being said, 25 years ago, as a clueless seminary student, God plopped me down into the classroom of Dr. Bruce H. Leafblad (once worship leader at John Piper’s church) who faithfully and exhaustively taught us about worship. At that time, worship for me was a nebulous concept until Dr. Leafblad helped put some handles on it…some concrete concepts with which I could identify. I would like to now completely contradict my first sentence and offer his definition of worship to hopefully further this rich discussion.

    “Worship is communion with God in which believers, by grace, center their mind’s attention and heart’s affection on the Lord, humbly glorifying Him in response to His greatness and His word.” – Dr. Bruce H. Leafblad

  11. toluene September 3, 2008 at 4:45 AM #

    I love everyone’s comment.
    I am a worshipper but i have come to realize that worship is more difficult during crisis or when you go through challenges,
    Even though it is the best time to raise holy hands and tell God who he is to you and in your life.

  12. toluene September 3, 2008 at 4:53 AM #

    Most songs that I have composed was durin times of tragedy, failures, disappointments. But all the same I learnt God is good, regardless of the good or bad situations.
    toluene,
    Lagos,
    Nigeria.

  13. Timothy Wekati June 17, 2009 at 9:29 AM #

    When a dog meets its master, it goes down on its belly in reverence, flapping the tail as the master pats it accompanying words of affection.
    Praise is Seductive, while Worship is Romance. It’s all between two lovers.

    Tim
    Kenya.

  14. Okpe Jonah Bameyi October 12, 2009 at 10:29 AM #

    Dear Bob,

    You are a blessing!

    Richly blessed by your bloggs.

    Jonah
    Nigeria

  15. Marcus December 11, 2009 at 1:55 PM #

    I have read several books on worship and heard several sermons related to the subject, and I cannot think of a more comprehensively effective set of definitions for the word, “worship,” than Pastor Kauflin offers in this blog. I am so impressed with the understanding I’ve received as a result of reading WORSHIP MATTERS, and I bless God for revealing Himself to me over and over as I read the book. As Harold Best is quoted, the book has given me the desire to be mastered by God all over again by giving in to God’s selflessness and not my own selfish, power-driven desires as a worship leader. I know that the Holy Spirit directed me to this book and these blogs, and I feel re-energized to present myself and my gifts as a sacrifice acceptable to God!

  16. Lena Masaniai April 8, 2010 at 7:09 AM #

    Hi I am a youth leader and a worhip leader at my church. I love this blog I was wondering if you have any materials that would be appropriate for worship teams…My heart is to elevate to the next level and personally by doing that i feel that i need to branch out and step out prophetically. My desire is to start singing prophetically can you help me in any way. I would love to incorporate this also with my youth worship team.

  17. Akinrinmade Praise May 5, 2010 at 7:18 AM #

    Having Read All the wonderful definitios and contributions of worship, i will like to define worship in my way as, giving the master his best food/meal! worship is food to God, because, he does not eat all the food we eat like rice, burger etc… So, if God who is our master and he is always hungry, the best you can offer in place of food is worship. prepare yourself holý both in thought and in body to be able to offer him the food(worship)as you stand in his presence he knows how to collect it from you as you offer him cos, at that moment you are lost in spirit relm, and he just come to you and receive it and touch you and each time u offer, you never remain the same. let those who worship him, worship him in truth and in Spirit. God bless you.

  18. Jamie Fenton July 1, 2010 at 9:52 AM #

    Wiersbe’s definition of worship is quite compelling. It encompasses our entire being and every action, which can be a sweet smelling aroma to God. Thanks for the insight.

  19. Shelby August 12, 2010 at 6:35 PM #

    RE: “When a dog meets its master, it goes down on its belly in reverence, flapping the tail as the master pats it accompanying words of affection.
    Praise is Seductive, while Worship is Romance. It’s all between two lovers.”

    Amen, Tim!

  20. Donald Borsch Jr February 17, 2011 at 1:24 PM #

    Came to your blog through Keri at Pop Parables. She recommended you.

    Worship, to me, is warfare.

    True, true, it is me falling face down, physically and spiritually, as I stand in the presence of His Holiness, but it is also spiritual warfare.

    Great blog/site, by the way! I shall be back, I am quite sure.

    In the King,

    Donald in Bethel, CT

  21. Grant Farmer April 14, 2011 at 4:12 PM #

    Dear Mr. Kauflin,
    thank you so much for this view on worship.
    I’m a teen who is trying to get deeper into what worship really means, because I’m striving to be a worship leader if that is what God wills for me.
    You may know my father Andrew Farmer and my sister Melissa Parris, who worked with you on 2 cd’s.

    But I just want to thank you for gathering all these views of what worship really is. It is really easy to see the real view of worship from these men.
    In my opinion, worship doesn’t need to be complicated. I think it may be one of the most powerful and spiritual things we have. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the simple definition of worship, is just expressing your love and admiration of Christ and what He’s done for you. It’s just a way God has given us to sing and praise Him. But worship shouldn’t just be for Sunday mornings. We should be worshiping God in every action we have, and not just save it for Sunday’s then say that we can just act our own way. To be a Christian, is to glorifiy God with all your actions cuz you believe in Him, and love Him.
    Thanks for this blog post :)

    in Him that all the glory goes to

    - Grant Farmer

  22. Jason Ray September 17, 2011 at 3:29 PM #

    These are some great definitions especially Wiersbe’s. Worship as a whole life response “to what God is and does”. I would also add the definition from Romans 12:1 in support of this definition.

    “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1-2).

    God desires for us to live life abundantly (John 10:10) and this brings him glory, so worship has to be a whole life response – a lifestyle of worship.

    JR

  23. Pastor Chris Wu November 3, 2011 at 5:55 PM #

    Love “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin”. William Temple. So well put.

  24. Quentin M. Williams February 26, 2012 at 12:08 AM #

    I first read this post about 3-4 months ago as I began my personal quest to increase my worship to God the Father.

    In the process my definition of worship is the following:
    worthy fellowship with God as a believer who has faith in and accepts the Word of God because there is value in the relationship with Him.

    With that said VALUE is whatever the end user(worshiper) sees it as. Ee it Love, Joy, Peace, Wisdom, Favor etc.

  25. Quentin M. Williams February 26, 2012 at 12:09 AM #

    I first read this post about 3-4 months ago as I began my personal quest to increase my worship to God the Father.

    In the process my definition of worship is the following:
    worthy fellowship with God as a believer who has faith in and accepts the Word of God because there is value in the relationship with Him.

    With that said VALUE is whatever the end user(worshiper) sees it as. Be it Love, Joy, Peace, Wisdom, Favor etc.

  26. Milton Ortiz Tubens March 19, 2012 at 2:42 PM #

    Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with His truth; the purifying of imagination by His Beauty; the opening of the heart to His love; the surrender of will to His purpose – and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin”.

  27. Milton Ortiz Tubens March 19, 2012 at 2:54 PM #

    I LOVE THIS, “Worship is the submission of ALL our nature to God…the SURRENDER of WILL to HIS purpose – and all of this gathered up in ADORATION, the most SELFLESS emotion of which our nature is capable…”
    PERFECT! Thankyou for sharing! GOD BLESS YOU!

  28. margaret spence October 17, 2012 at 2:13 PM #

    I am preaching on sunday on this topic and wanting to engage with someone who could express whats in my heart, then I picked up a book by Mat Redman called ;Face Down; and I cried. A definition in just ONE word what a book how it met me in my spirit, submission, awe, wonder reminds me of a sentance in a book ‘I did nt know Jesus lived so near the carpet’ Oh Glory! all the Worshipers of scripture bowed low
    neh 8v 5-6 I am so with the ‘four and twenty elders ‘ of Revelation. The hymn writer has it spot on ‘o Lord my God, when I in AWESOME WONDER consider all the worlds Thy hand has made, then sings my soul my saviour God TO Thee How Great THOU art how great THOU art thankyou for this blog God bless you as you worship with awe and wonder

  29. Dan Scoggins May 19, 2013 at 11:07 PM #

    I know this post is quite old, but I just found this site. So, apologies up front if commenting on old threads is taboo.

    In a recent marriage seminar Dr. Dan Allender astounded and seriously challenged us with the statement that marriage in it’s created context before the Fall was an act of worship, especially the “act of marriage” as God’s glory is wondrously expressed through marriage. That is no different today for the believer. Our marriages are worship!

    This idea certainly took our marriage as well as our notions of worship in quite a different direction. I now look at worship as more organic or holistic.

    Looking forward to reading the next post.

  30. Olubanke Olaoye July 4, 2013 at 8:09 AM #

    Whaooo!infact am overwhelmed by all the definetions on worship,I just dashed into this page in quest to know what Deep and True worship is all about and what is expected of a Worship leader.I discovered my purpose is to be a Deep Worshiper,am a music minister and I long to minister with signs and wonder following, to impart lives through music,want to get into deep relationship and close intimacy with God infact!idesire and long to minister and the dead be raised,though I know there must definnately be prices to be paid for this!what are the prices to be paid.also I have a chanlege which I’ve been trying to overcome,am a very shy person and I know that this does noyt match up with my ministry,I know I need to be Bold and have Confidence as a music minister.how do I come out of this boundage?God bless you abundantly you have indeed made my day. 0laoye 0lubanke Nigeria

  31. pastor markus lama August 27, 2013 at 1:09 AM #

    praise the lord. Want to know more about worship

  32. ucy excel September 4, 2013 at 9:16 PM #

    Worship is all about Jesus and giving God pleasure through our lifestyle. Falling in love with Jesus over and over again. Thanks Bob 4 being a blessing.

  33. ebo frank September 23, 2013 at 5:10 PM #

    worship is the reason for our living
    it is the frank and deliberate expression of the worth of God in an acceptable, submissive and awesome daily devotion of oneself, behavior and resources.it is ALL ABOUT JESUS AND HIS LORDSHIP
    IT IS ABOUT THE EXCELLENCY OF THE TRINITY
    IT IS ABOUT ALL OUR HEART AND MIND IN TOTAL FOCUS ON OUR MAKER
    ITS ALL ABOUT JESUS

  34. Dee December 11, 2013 at 8:34 AM #

    Hi. I’ve read all five parts to this topic and really enjoyed it. I’d like to see you further define worship by discussing what worship ‘is not’.

    The word ‘worship’ gets used loosely and at times interchangeably, in this day and age where language in general gets used too loosely.

    • Bob Kauflin December 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM #

      Dee, thanks for stopping by! Worship is not a sound, or a liturgy, or an atmosphere, or simply a song, meeting, or part of a meeting. It encompasses all we do, think, and say to exalt God’s self-revelation to us in Jesus Christ. I’d have to hear more about how you’ve heard the word “worship” used to say more. Thanks for your encouraging words.

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