How I first learned to worship

The following was originally written as a comment I left here, and is adapted to fit here instead. Thank you Andy Traub for starting the conversation.

I have loved worship time since age 11, when I first set foot in Vineyard Christian Fellowship. I’ve been in church my whole life, with a variety of exposure to worship music, mostly of the Pentecostal / Charismatic variety. In fact, the church we had left a few months earlier had a very elaborate worship band. Keep in mind, though, this was around 1988-89, long before Chris Tomlin or anyone like that ever came on the scene. So we’re talking full orchestras, singers dressed up in “sunday best”. In other words, very elaborate, and to me, especially at my age, unapproachable. I hated it and I was bored.

What they did differently at Vineyard was that they put the relationship with Jesus first, and put polish way down the list. No suits. No ties. No dresses. Not even khakis. Jeans, shorts, t-shirts, etc., were the dress code. And the songs were definitely “love songs”, but the kind that only seem shallow if you have no context for them. And they used guitars, keyboards, drums, bass, etc. I’m sure that seems trite now, but in 1989, especially in the Midwest, it wasn’t.

The most important thing, though, is that we actually met with God during those times. I learned to really love Him out of those songs. People would stick around for 45 minute worship times every Sunday because Jesus would show up, they’d feel His love, and they’d actually go away healed. They would actually have a relationship with Him that stuck. It actually changed how they lived, myself included. I can thank my dad for giving me his perspective. He always emphasized that what brought him to Jesus wasn’t something intellectual, it was because of the love he felt. It was about a relationship.
This is why I didn’t give up on learning to be a musician and worship leader myself. I now appreciate much more deeply what goes into that process from the other end, and believe me, it can get much harder to keep perspective when you’re the one trying to pick songs and listen to Jesus in the process.

So I guess what I have to say is if you don’t experience that intimacy in your singing, you should probably spend some time trying to figure out why. It could just be that you’re just singing the wrong songs, or maybe you just don’t know what a good worship service feels like. It may very well be you need to leave the church you’re a part of to start the search, but I think you shouldn’t stop til you’ve actually found it.

So my question to you is, what has your experience been like? Has worship been positive or negative? Do you really meet God there?


  • I used to love contemporary worship. Now it just seems like one big show. I’ve been writing for years to figure out why and what the root of my problem is. I’m slowly uncovering things and working on a book about it.

    I’m finding I feel Jesus’ love more in quiet walks, silent communion, or even liturgy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with contemporary worship, it’s just not really for me anymore. And that’s ok, cause Jesus’ love is everywhere.

    • Hi Jamie – thanks so much for the comments. I like those things too. I’m curious if you’ve ever had a time in a contemporary service of any sort where you felt like you actually met with Jesus?

      • Absolutely. Used to happen all the time. I think part of my problem was putting too much emphasis on the emotional high I got from the music. I got too swept away in it. Now, I don’t get those warm fuzzies and I feel like I’m doing something wrong

        • Sorry, my phone is acting up.

          I realize now what I was doing wrong was focusing on the wrong thing.

  • Honored to be part of the process my friend. You’re awesome.

  • I was amazed at the Worship experience at the Vineyard in Syracuse. I only had organ music from my Catholic Church of long ago. The music and positive experience and feeling peace and joy in the midst of my grief journey was truly life changing. Thank you.

  • Alan Richardson

    Hi, Nathanael – thanks for writing. It’s good to hear of your love for Jesus and that he has given you the ability to express it through music. You mentioned something very important in your post, the “context” for our singing. When we sing to our God we need to do so within the context of who He is, what He says about Himself, what He says about us, and how He says he wants to be approached. Worshipping Him in spirit and truth requires both heartfelt expression and biblically-informed thinking. I think that’s why, after many years of singing simple choruses – including many in and around the Vineyard movement – I’m looking for songs that are rich with truth. For example, I can sing about how much God loves me all day, but if I don’t consider why that love is so remarkable – I deserve only His wrath! – I end up just singing and not worshipping. So I want to make sure to include songs rich with biblical content about God’s love, such as “How Deep The Father’s Love” and “All I Have Is Christ.”. When I worship Jesus, I may choose “Jesus I love you, I worship and adore You…” and “Jesus, name above all names…”, but I also want “In Christ Alone” and “Before The Throne of God Above.”

    Theology-infused songs lend context to my singing, enlarge my thinking about God and deepen my worship of Him. Worship has to have context in and around it, otherwise we tend to slip into an experience-focused mode which becomes more about how I feel and what I get from it. This is why William Temple’s famous quote on worship includes, “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…”

    Keep singing and leading God’s people to worship Him in spirit and in truth!

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