Two Kinds of Worship?

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One of the things I like about Christian theology and practice is that it is always evolving. Sure, certain absolutes remain constant, but lots of the periphery change and I believe the reason why the Christian faith has endured (and in fact flourished) over the centuries is because of its cultural adaptiveness.

So, when I write in this blog, I’m not trying to provide static answers and manifestos. I appreciate that my own thoughts will change and be challenged, as much as I seek to challenge and grow the mindsets of others.

If you’ve read my earlier posts on defining worship, you will see that I take a very broad view of what worship is. The definition I like the most is Harold Best’s, which says that worship is “continuous outpouring”, meaning that our whole life is our worship to God.

I thought that was pretty progressive, until I came across James MacDonald’s writings in the November 2012 issue of Worship Leader Magazine. In his article, “Unashamed Adoration”, MacDonald says this:

We are frequently told that making a meal for your family or cleaning your car or helping your neighbour are all acts of worship. When these acts are the outgrowth of our love for God and are done to demonstrate that love, I would agree that they are “worshipful”, but technically they are not worship. I’m not seeking to parse meaning with undue rigour, but we need to be precise in our definitions if we want to accurately embrace the very purpose for our existence. Worship is the actual act of ascribing worth directly to God. Worshipful actions may do this indirectly, but when the Bible commands and commends worship as our highest expression, it is not talking about anything other than direct, intentional, Vertical outpouring of adoration. While that does not have to be put to music, it does have to be direct in order to rise above the “worshipful” and actually attribute worth to God…. Worship is mind, emotions, and will engaged in whole-person ascription of worth.

Nothing brings glory down in church as quickly and as powerfully as when God’s people unashamedly adore God’s great Son, Jesus Christ.

I like the distinction McDonald makes between “worshipful acts” and “worship”, with “worship” being something requiring intensity, intentionality and vertical-focus.

Just the other night, I was trying to describe what we were going to do for Global Day of Worship and how some time during our “worship”, we should have a time of giving. I had to make inverted comma signs with my fingers when I said the word “worship” to delineate between musical praise and taking the monetary offering. And then the thought occurred to me that I might need to use “air ponies” (as Gloria in Modern Family puts it) every time I want to describe intentional praise as distinct from lifestyle-worship just in case anyone misunderstands me. At that point in time, I thought whether an excessively broad definition of worship might make the term meaningless and unusable.

So perhaps, much can be said for MacDonald’s position in taking us back to a more rigid (and what I had thought was a less progressive) definition of worship. What do you think?


  1. I’m actually more inclined to go along with MacDonald’s definition. The way I see it, the point is not to downplay ‘indirect’ forms of worship but rather to reserve a distinct definition for the act of direct and deliberate outpouring of love and adoration to God.

    Drawing a loose parallel to my relationship with my wife, It turns out that I’ve got lower standards of neatness around the house and I often have to go about tidying up and cleaning before I personally feel it is due. I (sort of) gladly do this because I love her and I know it means a lot to her and it really is an extension of her ‘heart for the house’ etc. That’s all good and as much as she can see my expression of love in these things, they will never be as important as the times where there is direct affirmation for our love and commitment to each other.

    Bringing that back to God, I think it is much the same. It really is His heart for us to worship him in a continuous outpouring in everything we do. But I think there is a special place reserved for an intimate expression of ‘praise’ and ‘worship’. Perhaps I am biased as a musician in a church worship team, but in my personal walk with God, nothing comes close to those times of intimate worship where expression through music, words and spirit all blend into one purposeful act of adoration to God.

    1. Thanks DTW for sharing your thoughts. I agree with your analogy and I think that explains why the New Testament specifically uses two different words for worship. In John 4, the word is “proskuneo” which means “to kiss the hand” which conveys the intimate, directed and intentional expression you speak of; and then in Romans 12, Paul uses “latreuo” which refers to giving our whole lives in service to God. Both are translated as “worship” but clearly have different connotations. The question is: if you were to translate these two terms into distinct words, what would they be? Should we reserve “worship” for the intentional, directed expression? Service itself has become a specific term to describe an act rather than a state of being. I’m wondering if anyone else has struck the right vocabulary that avoids the confusing of the two.

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