Published on September 29, 2023 by Jonathan P. Rodgers  
Two Female Worship Arts Students At Worship Service

As we continue our series on “Healthy Congregational Worship,” we come to an idea that often requires that I hold two considerations in balance: the vertical and horizontal nature of worship. In his book Worship Matters, worship pastor and thought leader Bob Kauflin unpacks various “healthy tensions” that are common in corporate worship. Depending on our personal makeup, training, leadership style, and even church context, we often find ourselves caught in tension between two viewpoints on or approaches to a certain aspect of worship leadership. For example, some leaders and churches are more head or cerebrally oriented while others are more heart or emotionally oriented. Both approaches are valid, important, and necessary, but often we have an overriding default setting. In this post, I want us to consider the healthy tensions that exists between the vertical and horizontal nature of worship, specifically as it concerns our relationships.

I find the metaphor of worship as a conversation to be helpful in framing this topic. Let’s consider the nature of a conversation. Throughout the day, we might engage in a private conversation with a single individual or perhaps a conversation with multiple people like in a team meeting. It’s usually a hybrid of both approaches at any point in the day. To parallel congregational worship, we typically use language that enables us to converse with the Trinity (Father, Son, or Spirit) or one another and often a hybrid of both; we use both vertical and horizontal lines of communication. In our songs, we typically sing to God, about God, or to one another, and we should use this language because we are commanded to do so in scripture.

The Psalms are replete with commands to address God directly, typically in song. Some phrasing of “Sing to the Lord a new song” is found in Psalm 7:17, Psalm 9:11, Psalm 13:6, Psalm 18:49, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 30:4, Psalm 57:9, Psalm 68:4, Psalm 92:1, Psalm 96:1, etc.

In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul emphasizes the importance of speaking/singing to one another.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart…

He emphasizes this again in Colossians 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Psalm 105:1 combines both perspectives beautifully:

Give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!

While we are likely familiar with most of these passages, it is worth highlighting this fundamental guidance for corporate worship as it is easily assumed or neglected. As I mentioned above, we tend to operate more out of a vertical or horizontal approach in worship. If we are not careful, we will lean in one direction to the neglect of another. As with host healthy tensions, a proper balance is most effective, and here I am advocating for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” approach. Consider a few practical steps that can help ensure your congregation has the tools and language to engage in relationships both vertically with the Triune God and horizontally with fellow worshipers:

  • Select songs that address God directly with “You, Father, God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit.”
  • Select songs that come from both an individual perspective (I, me, my) and corporate perspective (we, us, our).
  • Include moments that allow congregants to address one another in song, and in other moments of the service.
  • Consider the lighting in your space. Avoid excessively dark worship spaces that discourage interaction.
  • Provide common gathering spaces where people can meet, talk, and mingle.
  • Include practices that encourage people to look up and out/around at one another.

No matter our approach, let us remember that we are not alone in our worship. We are with God and with His people. We are called to love God and love people, so let’s be sure our worship is designed to activate both vertical and horizontal relationships.


Jonathan RodgersJonathan Rodgers is Area Coordinator of Music and Worship, Director of the Samford Worship Collective, and Faculty Fellow for The Center for Worship and the Arts at Samford University. He has been directing choirs in schools and the church for over fifteen years. As a clinician and presenter, Rodgers has been a guest conductor for honor choirs throughout the Southeast. Currently, he is serving as Minister of Music and Worship at Liberty Park Baptist in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to this position, Rodgers was Minister of Music and Worship Arts at Hunter Street Baptist Church, and prior to that, Assistant Professor of Choral Music at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. In addition to his conducting and scholarly activities, Jonathan is an active pianist, church musician, and composer. Jonathan has been married to his wife Alicia for seventeen years, and they have four children: Savannah, Leighton, Brooks, and Gabe.