I just got off the phone with a friend, who is a passionate worship leader and yet at the same time has been struggling lately because she finds areas of what we call 'worship' so inward looking. She said "At my most cynical moments I have felt like I am just there to make church more comfortable for the members." She has started exploring other areas of ministry, particularly to do with God's heart for justice. Its not that she lost her heart for worship, its just that her worship has led her out of the building...

Do you recognise that in your worship ministry? Do you sometimes share her frustrations? Does it have to be this way? Whilst we must never under-value the immense privileged and joy of helping people glorify God through our songs, and building up the believers Sunday by Sunday, is it true to say that often the worship team is the most inward looking of all departments in a church? I sometimes jokingly mis-quote the well known worship chorus as "it's all about me..." - but how often is that too close to the truth?

The late hymn writer, Fred Pratt Green, wrote these words which challenge me and the worship I lead at a deep level every time I read them:

When the Church of Jesus
Shuts its outer door,
Lest the roar of traffic
Drown the voice of prayer:
May our prayers, Lord, make us
Ten times more aware
That the world we banish
Is our Christian care.

If our hearts are lifted
Where devotion soars
High above this hungry
Suffering world of ours:
Lest our hymns should drug us
To forget its needs,
Forge our Christian worship
Into Christian deeds.

Lest the gifts we offer,
Money, talents, time,
Serve to salve our conscience
To our secret shame:
Lord, reprove, inspire us
By the way you give;
Teach us, dying Saviour,
How true Christians live.

The Old Testament prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself all show a hard-wired link between our worship and the way we treat the world outside. We can't choose whether we are 'sung-worship Christians' or 'social-action Christians'; these are two sides of the same coin. God requires both our corporate, sung devotion, and our 24/7 lives-of-worship. As the Message paraphrases Hebrews 13:

"Let's take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus' name... Share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship - a different kind of "sacrifice" - that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets."

Recently I've been trying to be intentional in my worship leading about including things like creative intercession for world situations as part of our sung worship times; using songs of the world church to help us connect with those who worship God in far-off lands and sometimes harsh situations; and connecting with people's daily lives in sung worship by mentioning things like work, schools and home life as part of prayers or songs. Have you got ideas or experience of how we can involve 'everyday life' in our worship, rather than seeing Sunday praise as merely an escape from the realities of the week?

On the flip-side, we've also been trying to engage our music and worship team with our local community. Last night our choir and musicians were part of a village concert, organised by non-Christians in the village and with all proceeds going to an Alzheimers charity. Our guys set up the PA, helped with refreshments, performed in the concert, sang carols during the interval, and were generally a positive presence in this community event. This morning we hosted the local school at our church for a Christmas service; with the music and tech team serving the school with relevant music and visuals. We've worshipped God in our serving, and may have even led non-Christians in worship, if we believe what Jesus says in Matthew 5:???

"let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Does this stuff challenge you? Have you got stories of engaging your community through music and creativity? Do your services engage with the needs of this broken world, and equip people to take their worship into 'everyday life'? Would you like to explore this further?

Worship Beyond is a day conference we're involved in; an opportunity to explore all of these issues with others, including people like worship leader Geraldine Latty, DJ Steve Leach and cafechurch network director Cid Latty. In itself the conference will be a community-reaching event because a team will be going into a local school the week before, and putting on a concert with the school to close the Saturday. If you can make it to Wolverhapton, UK on 13th March 2010, please visit www.mwf.org.uk/worshipbeyond and join us!

We think that its possible these issues could be the most pressing questions for church worship in 2010; that if we can keep the best of our current worship models but push into these issues of worship and mission, justice, intercession, evangelism, community action... that maybe it could transform our churches, and more importantly change the world. As the song says;

"Let justice and praise become my embrace - to love you from the inside out."