Praise & Worship

In my circles we often delineate praise and worship like this:

  • Praise is fast paced, loud, and forceful.
  • Worship is slower, softer, and more gentle.

So when we sing a faster song that is accompanied with dancing and shouting we’re said to be praising God. When we sing a slower song that keeps our feet on the ground and is accompanied by whispers and tears, we’re worshiping.

I’ve been dissatisfied with this delineation for a long time now. It seems arbitrary. Why is praise the faster, louder, and more forceful of the two? Why is worship the slower, softer, and more gentle? Who says?

But arbitrariness aside, this seems to relegate praise and worship to mere acts of singing and dancing. There have been a few occasions when I’ve had the opportunity to speak or teach in my church that I’ve expressed my belief that praise & worship extends past the beginning of the church service and into our entire lives (see Rom. 12:1).

I believe that attentively listening to the sermon and allowing the word of God to change us is an act of worship. I believe that loving our neighbors as ourselves in obedience to God’s command is an act of worship. I believe that functioning according to God’s plan is an act of worship. So on and so forth.

So in the end how do we distinguish between praise and worship? Does it have to do with speed, or tone, or force, or time, or place, or style, or what? I don’t know. In my head I keep saying something like, “Praise is something we do with our mouths; worship is something we do with out lives.” Sounds profound (or at least catchy) but I’m not sure that it really works.

I welcome any thoughts on the difference between the two, if you see a difference at all.



6 thoughts on “Praise & Worship

  1. I like the traditional definitions. That’s the populist in me though that resists theologians telling regular church folk everything they know is wrong ;)
    I don’t really follow the life is worship thing. I get it but it sounds like something that came about from people who weren’t really all that into the singing songs part of church but loved reading books and listening to teaching so they came up with a way to call that stuff worship. Now they don’t feel bad about not participating in p&w since they’re doing plenty of worship by reading and listening to teachings. :)

  2. Nick what might assist you is a look at liturgical theology. Gordon Lathrop has written a couple of interesting books that help you reflection at what occurs in liturgical occasions. Nick the Pentecostal churches may find assistance from those who`s liturgy may be more formal but develops it in a Trinitarian theology which is surely the aim of all Praise and Worship. If you need any more assistance I can give you more references as part of my MA course I did a Taught Course on Liturgy I hope that this is helpful I look forward to hearing from you

  3. I keep wondering what will happen in churches if the music ever stops. Your word, “relegate,” seems perfect. Thanks for the post! Indy

  4. Bryan: I’d say that it came from Paul in Romans 12. ;-) My problem with the traditional (if we can even call them that; I’ve never known Catholic or Orthodox folks to define things quite like this) definitions is that I can’t figure the rhyme or reason of them. It just seems arbitrary to me.

    Andrew: Thanks. I’ll look into Lathrop and a few others.

    Indy: I guess we can ask the Church of Christ folks what happens since they don’t have music in their services! ;-)

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