Defining Worship

I expect that this will not be the only post I write on this subject because “worship” is one of those words which we all understand in some way or another, but find extremely difficult to pin down.  Depending on the context, its meaning expands and contracts.  Also, a lot our understanding will also be derived from our subjective experience.  It’s very much like the word “love”.

But I’ve been writing about worship and the church for the last four months and I still haven’t explored this important topic, so it’s about time.

I want to begin by establishing context:  when I talk about “worship”, what I really mean is “Christian worship”.

At its simplest, “worship” and “god” are interconnected; you can’t talk about worship devoid of a “god” being the endpoint of worship.  Without “god”, there is no worship.

But “god” takes some pretty surreptitious forms which we often don’t recognise.  For the unredeemed, fame, fortune and popularity may well be “gods”, things around which people centre their lives.

In the Christian context then, it’s obvious that when we talk about the endpoint of our worship, it is Jehovah God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, revealed through the books of the Bible from eternity to the present, existing outside of time and dimension, yet stepping into history through Jesus.

So here is the best definition I’ve come across so far for “worship” (I expect that more definitions may be proliferated in the future that might replace this one as my favourite).  It is “best” in form and substance because it is provided by theologian Harold Best.

In Best’s book Unceasing Worship, he defines worship as “the continuous outpouring of all that I am, all that I do, and all that I can ever become” to God.  (I am simplifying his definition somewhat, because it gets a lot more theologically technical, but what I have extracted here are what, I believe, are the core elements.)

This is a much better definition than the popular, oft-quoted definition of “worship is a lifestyle”.  Best’s definition recognises that worship is more than a lifestyle: it is also a state of being (“all that I am”) and also a life goal (“all that I can ever become”).

There’s a lot more to unpack in Best’s definition, but I will keep is as that for now.

In the meantime, have you come across a good definition of worship?  Or have you come up with your own?  Share with us by commenting below!

2 thoughts on “Defining Worship

  1. I saw “Harold Best” tagged in this post and, as a Wheaton College grad, I had to stop by and check it out. Best is one of those scholars that when he speaks on worship, I stop and listen.

    I appreciate what he has to say here, and I would point you toward Daniel Block’s work on this subject. I don’t believe his volume has been published, but a google search will provide enough information. I like Block’s work because he maintains the idea throughout that worship is a response.

    I also liked very much how you did not use the word “worship” to mean specifically “corporate worship,” which so many do, seemingly without hesitation. The common understanding of worship is maddening to me, and it’s the church’s fault that people don’t get it.



  2. Thanks Jonathan. I think Harold Best’s “Unceasing Worship” and David Peterson’s “Engaging with God” are probably the most authoritative treatments on the subject of worship. I will check out Daniel Block – thanks for the heads-up.

    I agree that we do really need to move away from worship being corporate worship to a more holistic concept. If every Christian approached personal worship with a greater sense of responsibility, the experience of corporate worship will be so much more dynamic and fulfilling.

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