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By Paul Ryan

What is authentic worship? What makes it genuine, real or true? I recently posed this question to my students. They argued that worship is authentic when it is:

  • true to their emotions,
  • true to their knowledge level,
  • true to their culture,
  • true to their experience, and
  • true to their language. 

They explained that worship is most real when it connects to them.

Authentic worship expresses joy and sorrow, belief and doubt. It’s smart, but not heady. It embraces technology and art, movies and music. It addresses real life and not pie in the sky sentimentality. It’s off the cuff, rough around the edges, and informal. Is this authentic worship? Yes. It’s authentic to them.

In order for worship to be authentic it’s vital for worship to reflect honestly the people who worship. At the same time, if we’re talking about authentic worship we must remember that worship is not just about us. In worship we gather before a triune God in the context of his creation and his church.

Any conversation about authentic worship must also ask, “What is authentic to God?” First, to be authentic to God we must be true to who he is: triune. God is three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So often in our songs and prayers we neglect to name God for who he and how he acts in worship. Much of our worship expresses an ambiguous God or Lord who is largely passive, waiting for us to give him praise. But the Father is active, calling us to worship; the Son is engaged in perfecting our worship, and the Spirit empowers worship’s every breath.

Second, to be authentic to God we must be true to his creation. We do not worship alone. The mountains and hills, the sky and sea, and every living creature offer praise to God (Ps. 148). Creation also cries in lament for its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:21). If worship is to be authentic it must give voice in prayer and song to the praise and lament of the rivers and trees. Third, to be authentic to God we must be true to his church.

God’s saving purpose extends well beyond the walls of our local congregations. It includes a church of all times and all places. Authentic worship will embrace the timeless wisdom of those who have come before us and will share in the joys, sufferings, and gifts of the global church. Authentic worship is about us. But it is also about God, his creation, and his church. How authentic is your worship? In what ways do you need to be more genuine, real, or true?

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