“Worship” can be difficult to define due to the word’s many varied uses. The term is often applied generally to anything that brings glory to God, personally to one’s affections for God, narrowly to a verbal praise of God, formally to the Sunday morning “worship” service, popularly to the musical portion of a service, and technically to “worship” music. While Christians should perhaps qualify what they mean by “worship” in some of these uses, the term “worship” can be used appropriately in each case. Unsurprisingly, confusion often surrounds the entire topic of worship because the term can be used in so many ways.
The concept of worship can be explained as both a motive and an event. Christian worship divides roughly into two categories: personal worship (the motive) and corporate worship (the event).
Personal worship is a motive that drives individual Christians to glorify God. Personal worship is a passion that becomes apparent in everything a Christian does (1 Cor 10:31). Personal worship begins at salvation and continues throughout all eternity. Christians sometimes misdirect their worship and frequently fail to offer acceptable worship. When in Bible study and prayer, Christians become more intentional in their personal worship. Christians often pursue their personal worship together with their families and with other believers. However, personal worship is not an event but a lifestyle. Personal worship is a motive embodied in a never-ending series of actions performed for the glory of God.
Corporate worship is an event where the local church glorifies God. Corporate worship begins whenever the church gathers in whole or in part (Matt 18:20) and ends when the members disperse. Corporate worship springs out of the personal worship of the congregation. Unbelievers will frequently be present and can benefit when the church worships (1 Cor 14:24-25), but only believers can truly participate in corporate worship (John 4:24; Phil 3:3). Furthermore, believers cannot fully participate in the worship of any church except their own local assemblies because worship involves relationships and service within the body. Corporate worship is “the gathering of God’s people in God’s presence in order to exalt Him through prayer praise, the presentation of ourselves and our gifts, participation in the ordinances, and the proclamation of His Word” (Doran).