by Francisco Villalpando
I remember the first time I went to Starbucks and being in awe and amazement at the unique light fixtures, the dim mellow lighting, the big comfy leather couches and the jazz music playing in the background. I was absolutely dumbfounded by this place and found it almost magical. Everything inside the building looked perfect. All the mugs and tumblers were in file like a platoon of soldiers standing at attention. The bags of coffee stood tall and straight, almost with an air of pride and arrogance. It was absolutely awesome. I stepped up to the counter and looked at their menu and I immediately felt like a stranger in a new land. What in the world was a “venti”, “caffe misto”, “frappuccino”, and a “shot”? Prior to this I had never heard of these words. It felt like I stepped into a foreign language class. I panned the menu trying to find the section where it simply said coffee. The cashier asked me, “So what can I get for you?” I started sweating a bit because of my ignorance of this new language. In the midst of my confusion I managed to putter out and say, “Do you guys sell coffee here?” The cashier looked at me puzzled and after a moment she replied, “of course we do, this is a coffee shop after all.” I said, “ok, I’ll take a coffee then.”
I’m sure most people can relate to this scenario but imagine how newcomers feel when they enter our churches and our praise and worship ministries for the first time. We are notorious for using our Christian lingo and it may be almost to a fault. As believers we should disarm these words so that newcomers can understand what we speak of.
In the context of praise and worship ministry, the words praise and worship are used loosely and lightly. These words seem easily definable but we struggle to have a clear definition. I believe it is important to be aware of these meanings if we are to be involved in this type of ministry. So what is praise?
In its easiest and clearest definition praise is the act of expressing approval or admiration because of something someone has done. Pretty simple definition isn’t it? For many years I used to believe that in the context of music ministry when someone said lets sings songs of praise I thought that meant we were going to sing FAST songs. I equated praise with faster tempo. Now as funny as that may sound I’m not the only one that thought that to be true whether cognitively or subconsciously. When we look at the scripture we see that praise was given to God as a result of an act of His. The Psalms are clear in this. Psalms 105:1-2 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. (NIV)” Psalms 71:8, 117:2, 150:2 are a few more among many of verses that support this. Praise is the response we have for His acts in our lives, in nature, in the past, present, and future. The medium by which we do this varies since we do this through music, prayers, poetry, dancing, etc. Knowing this helps us to develop a lifestyle of praise since we can proclaim His deeds at all times and in very situation because praise is not fully dependent on a musical instrument or being in a particular location. So if praise has to do with God’s acts then what is worship?
I embarrassingly have to admit that I thought worshipping meant singing slow songs, the contrast of what I thought praise was. Worship comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “Worthship” simply meaning the condition of being worthy. We worship God for who He is. When our knowledge through reading the scriptures and applying them as well as through personal experience grows the result is that we will understand all that He is worth. John 4 shows us that the more the Samaritan woman spoke to Jesus her knowledge of Him grew and she went from seeing Him as simply a Jew to a prophet, then to the Messiah, the Savior. Who He is gives us reason to honor, admire, obey, and surrender to Him for He doesn’t change like shifting shadows.
It’s important that we keep it simple with newcomers and those adherers and participants of the praise and worship ministry. Knowing these definitions will help everyone live a lifestyle of continual praise and worship to God whether there’s a musical instrument in their hands or not. Much like I became acquainted after a while to the full menu at Starbucks and understood what the words meant, so will our new participants become acquainted with the diverse aspects of praise and worship ministry but let’s not forget the basic and fundamental parts of our ministries. At the end of the day Starbucks despite their complicated and grandiose menu still remains a coffee shop, so it is with our praise and worship ministry, it is a place of service where we acknowledge and thank God for His mighty acts and we revere and honor God for who He is.