Worship Evangelism. By Sally Morgenthaler. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995. 320 pp. Cloth, $19.99.
Finally there is some sound theology and reasoning injected into the controversy over church worship styles. While expecting another book of church-growth ideas and formulas on how to make the church service appeal to unchurched “seekers,” I found instead a refreshingly impassioned plea and powerful argument to “do” worship for worship’s sake.
In the preface Morgenthaler states: “The central paradigm of this book is that our worship of God either affirms or contradicts our message about God” (p. 9). Accordingly, unbelievers will be either attracted or repelled by what they experience in our worship services. She believes genuine worship brings people into an experience with God. Even the unchurched are searching for spiritual reality (not “religion,” which they associate with boring church services). If churches worship so as to offer an experience with God, unchurched people will be drawn to Him (eg. Acts 4:42; 1 Cor 14:23-24).
Morgenthaler uses the term evangelism in the sense of a witness to the reality of who God is and what He has done for us; a witness that attracts people. Thus she quotes Gerrit Gustafson’s definition of worship evangelism: “wholehearted worshipers calling the whole world to whole hearted [sic] worship of God…[and] the fusion of the power of God’s presence with the power of the gospel” (p. 93). Technically, some might prefer to call this pre-evangelism. In any case, her point is that when we worship for worship’s sake, we will attract those seeking spiritual reality. This is the spirit of John 4:23 where Jesus explained that “the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
With this as her paradigm, good worship is not necessarily traditional or contemporary. It is what brings us into God’s presence and helps us experience the reality of Him. She recognizes the stifling effect of irrelevant traditionalism, but also the shallowness of contemporary entertainment services. When Christians worship unapologetically with their whole hearts in spirit and in truth, seekers will be attracted to the reality of God.
Balanced with the concern for spiritual worship is a good discussion on how to be relevant and meaningful. Morgenthaler includes profiles of the different age groups (Builders, Boomers, Busters) and what is relevant and meaningful to each. She interviews worship leaders who represent several different styles of worship.
As helpful as the practical application section of the book is, the reader should not underemphasize the first three chapters where she identifies the weakness of making worship a lower priority than evangelism and shows how worship must be restored as the church’s first priority. Her biblical argument along with numerous references to statistics, studies, and leading authorities make a convincing case.
Morgenthaler is courageous to challenge the direction so many prominent churches have taken with worship services. She has presented a strong case for her paradigm. Readers will find that she has “done her homework” and has argued persuasively. Besides this, she is a forceful, effective writer. Finally, there are helpful evaluations of worship formats, hymns, and other practical items to show how her paradigm can be realized through a variety of worship formats.
Morgenthaler seems to fall on the side of the Grace Gospel. She is concerned that we represent grace faithfully in our worship and music. She does affirm sola Scriptura, sola fides, and sola gratia and assails the legalism of works-salvation. She also condemns the rule-centered legalistic attitude that rears its head in the worship of some churches and in the attitudes towards the unchurched who come seeking spiritual reality (pp. 104-105).
This is a solid book that will not only convince readers of a much needed perspective, but will also whet an appetite for the kind of worship advocated. We need more of that appetite.
Charles C. Bing
Burleson Bible Church