Worship Styles? It’s Not about the Shoes

For several years beside my front door, we had two small baskets of shoes. This was our compromise. We had a shoe rack where my wife and I put our shoes, but try as we might we could not get our children to use it. Lucas was nearly five. Emerson, six-going-on-twenty.

They've always taken off their shoes when they come in the house but then where the shoes go after that is anyone’s guess. So we instituted the baskets. Don’t worry about matching. Don’t worry about setting them side-by-side. Just chuck them in the basket. Doesn’t even matter which one…

It was a crazy pile of styles. One pink Velcro sandal, two pairs of crocs – one tan, the other pink with fuzzy liner, dirty tennis shoes for playing in the backyard, and clean ones for going to school, a single hiking boot and a pair of water socks. Shiny black dress shoes that go with a dress my daughter never wears, and a crazy pair of green high-tops that she loves more than anything. Somewhere at the bottom is a pair of ballet slippers.

Shoes of different style and color. Shoes for water. Shoes for mud. Shoes that look fancy, and some that are just fun. There’s shoes for hot days, and for rainy cold ones. There are a lot of shoes in there.

I’ve been thinking about those shoes and something occurred to me. It’s nice to have all of them and all the options they create. But what matters most about all those shoes isn’t the shoe at all. It’s the little feet inside, and what direction they are walking.

What’s that have to do with worship?

Style Confusion!

I’ve been a part of most every kind of worship style experience that Christian spirituality has to offer. I was born in the church and have lived most of my life around (and in reaction to) the church. I’ve been in full-time ministry for twenty years, most of those years leading and planning worship.

I’ve participated in high church liturgy and low church praise-stomps. I’ve sung and played and listened to worship music of every flavor: majestic organs and trumpets, electric guitars and drums, jangly nearly-tuned twelve-string acoustics, and a cappella both good and bad.

I’ve given time to reflective meditation, whether written in a journal or prayed step-by-step around a labyrinth. I’ve worshiped with groups of artists while we painted, or sculpted clay, or made collages expressing our heart’s cry to God. My worship experiences have happened in cathedrals and mega-churches, small sanctuaries and living rooms, mountain tops (both literally and figuratively) and walking around the block, or at my local coffee shop. If someone’s given it a name – charismatic, seeker-sensitive, the Vineyard movement, Taizé, Harp-and-bowl, post-modern – I’ve experienced it.

After a lot of years of worship – planning it, leading it, experiencing it, sometimes enduring it, reading about it, even arguing about it – I’ve come to realize this:

A lot of what we talk about when we talk about worship is just the shoes.

What matters most?

What matters isn’t the shoes.

What matters are the feet inside, and the direction they are walking.

Some of the shoes were more about fashion, and their time has come and gone. Some of the shoes are more about a specific need, or context, or purpose, and in their place they are incredibly useful. Some of the shoes are long-time classics that never wear out. But all of the shoes are about helping you get somewhere you need to go.

There are a lot of worship styles and techniques, practices and traditions. There’s corporate worship with the gathered church and daily worship for the individual believer. There’s the ongoing attitude of worship as we submit our lives and decisions to Christ. All of these matter, but what matters most is the heart at the center, and the direction it’s heading.

Is your worship getting you where you need to go?

Worship is heavy.

At its core, worship is about glory. The word worship comes from an old English root that means acknowledging something has worth. When we acknowledge God’s worth, we are acknowledging His glory. Glory is about significance. The Hebrew word translated as “glory ” in the Old Testament is kabod. It’s about weight. Think about gold being really heavy. Things that matter are heavy. The hippies used this word right. “Oh man… that’s heavy.” They meant “significant.” Well, in worship we acknowledge that God has weight in our lives, that He is significant above all else.

True worship is what comes from a heart where God is the most important thing. The shoes the heart wears are less important than the direction that heart is headed. True worship is always God-ward in orientation. Sometimes it’s an act we undertake with the intention of turning our hearts God-ward. That would be a discipline of worship. Other times it’s the overflow of our hearts, already God-ward, amazed at who He is and what He’s done. That’s an expression of worship. But regardless, when our hearts turn toward God and acknowledge His glory, that’s worship.

How that looks is going to depend a whole lot on who you are, where you are, when you’re worshipping, and who you’re with. But how it looks is not nearly so important as where you’re headed.

So, what kind of shoes have been your favorite, when it comes to worship? Have those shoes helped get you where you needed to go?

Marc Alan Schelske writes about life at the intersection of grace and growth at MarcAlanSchelske.com, where this article was originally published (it is reprinted here with permission). He is the teaching elder at Bridge City Community Church in Milwaukie, Oregon where he has served for 17 years. He's the author of Discovering Your Authentic Core Values. Marc is a husband, dad of two, speaker, writer, hobbyist theologian, recovering fundamentalist who drinks tea & rides a motorcycle. You can follow him on Twitter at @Schelske

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6815

What a refreshing picture of True Worship.
It’s the FEET.
NOT the shoes.
Thanks for the re-print.


Glad you like the article, Steve. Thanks for commenting.


Wonderful metaphor, Marc! I remember a photograph of Richard Nixon in his second term walking on the beach below his home in San Clemente. He was wearing a windbreaker over a white shirt and dark tie and his feet were encased in black leather wingtip shoes. It was absurd, but painful to view. I grew up along the beach farther north. It was a place where you could take off your shoes, dig your toes into the sand, and look out at the Pacific and think God’s love was even wider and deeper than that. I thought, “This man in the wingtips has lost his soul, if he ever had it.” I was sad for him.

There was the nine year old camper in black and white sneakers who made his way down to me standing with the other counselors singing choruses about Jesus at the Friday night campfire. He came from a traumatically broken home. I’d listened to his nightmares every night and comforted him when he woke up screaming. He made his way and climbed up in my arms so I could hold him because for that one week he had the peace and security of routine and someone who told him, “You’re a good kid and Jesus loves you” and who demanded of him nothing more than he brush his teeth and get into his sleeping bag on time.

Every Friday afternoon, I would polish my Dad’s and my own “church shoes” with Kiwi black polish as did my brothers before me so we could look our best for Jesus when we went to His house the next day. I experienced real joy when we came home after church and I could take off those stiff, leather shoes and put on my PF Flyer sneakers and run and explore the fields, woods and tide-pools after lunch. I recall my discoveries on those outdoor rambles better than any of the sermons I listened to on Sabbath morning.

One of my professors at La Sierra was a returned missionary from South America who told our shocked anthropology class about traveling for two days in a dugout canoe with a visiting church leader from the states who was going to baptize new converts from a village in the Amazon rainforest on Sabbath. The leader interviewed each candidate on Friday evening and then announced he couldn’t baptize them because they weren’t wearing shoes and failed to have the proper reverence for God.

Oh, yes, it is the direction of the feet and heart, not the shoes, that is the hallmark of real worship. Thanks for reminding me, Marc.


Some would question whether prayer labyrinths are Christian or rather new age mysticism.

Some would question whether that is really worship, or whether it is rather an excuse to enjoy oneself in the name of God.

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And therefore proudly disregards God’s advice on the matter, given through His messenger Ellen White:

“all such stimulants and narcotics as tea, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, and morphine . . . exert a pernicious influence upon moral character. The earlier these hurtful habits are formed, the more firmly will they hold their victim in slavery to lust, and the more certainly will they lower the standard of spirituality.” The Sanctified Life p28


Wow. What beautiful and poignant episodes from your story that perfectly illustrate our struggle with external appearance and internal reality. God relates to our hearts and spirits. Whatever external changes may come in us will only be authentic when they come as a result of internal reality.


What a blessing, Marc … the Old English root of worship, worth. The Hebrew word for Glory, heavy weight. And then there is the Greek word for constrain, as in God’s love constrains us.

There is something totally outside in going on here.

As the not quite four-year-old said, upon reaching the top of the stairs and the expected, wasn’t, “What happened here?!”


What happened, that we sense worth, weight, and constraint when we sense God?

And if we don’t?

Especially if we used to?

And just as especially if we never did?

I was waiting for a loved one to come through the Arrivals corridor at the airport yesterday. An adult traveling alone, with a backpack, wearing unmemorable shoes and a black t-shirt on which I read in white letters across his chest ‘There Is No God,’ shuffled past to the street through the doors behind me. What happened here? … I wondered … and regretted as soon as the doors closed behind him not having taken a moment to ask … “What happened here?”

My shoes were polished, though.

What happened here?


the two shoes (texts) that guide my worship are found in the opening chapters of Revelation:Rev 4:11 and Rev 5:9 NEB

"Thou are worthy O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power, because thou first create all things, by thy will they were created and have their being.

" Thiu art worthy to take the scrolls and break the seals for thou wast slain and by thy blood didst purchase for God men of ever tribe and nation, language, people, and nation; thou hast made them a royal house, to serve our God as priests, and they shall reign upon upon earth."

praise be to God. Tom Z


Kent, when I was a navy nurse in Guam in 1968, I was invited to a Micronesia Youth Conference in Palau, West Carolina Islands, stayed 2 Sabbaths. Everyone of the locals [almost] wore flip flops to church, but then had to take them off at the entrance. We americans had to do the same.
What was amazing was seeing everyone ID their own flip flops as most all looked the same to me. After that I really liked the idea of being shoeless in church.
When in Japan later visiting some friends. We went to church and had to trade my shoes for some special church shoes that were at the entrance.

Labyrinth walking goes back centuries around 1200. The first was in a French Cathedral as a place to meditate in a walking activity. A Labyrinth is no different than walking around the block at one’s place of residence and meditating. It is just taking a straight line and curling it around so it takes less room. It is a great way to meditate and think about God, and it allows the Brain to expand in thought about life issues. Whether walking down a country road, a path in the woods, around a city block, a Labyrinth — these are ALL the same activity as far as the Brain is concerned, as far as God is concerned.

Walking, painting, working in clay or other mediums, knitting-crocheting, tending plants – all these activities allow the Subconscious to come to the forefront, to rest the Conscious, and to allow one to explore problems without realizing one is working on problems and issues of life.

Taize – a wonderful way to memorize short significant pieces of Scripture in song. We like to do Taize pieces in round singing at my Sunday church. Very beautiful.

Small doses of Caffeine [like in tea] has been shown to improve an older persons cognitive ability during the day, and improve thinking capacity. I dont know of one ever doing immoral acts because of Caffeine.

EDIT: I do HOPE that Someone in the group, licensed, ordained, or not, took the initiative and Baptized those believers. That was Awful! Actually, the apostles say, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be Baptized. THAT seems to be the ONLY Fundamental Belief that is necessary for Baptism.


And who would that "questioning someone be but Pago??

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Ah, cafeine, the evil drink :blush: After several cool months of only drinking hot chocolate, I began to realize my mind was not fully awake along with my body each morning. So I began the half instant coffee with hot chocolate, and now I feel as fully alert as possible. Summer mornings, it’s iced and so cooling.

To forego all coffee tea and all the EGW “no-no’s” would have ruined my breakfast of scrambled egg with cheese. I forego the EGW :hushed:



Thanks for the article input. As far as I am concerned , this is the crucial issue in Christianity… authentic.worship. This site has been obsessed with side issues too long, especially WO.

“At its core, worship is about glory. The word worship comes from an old English root that means acknowledging something has worth. When we acknowledge God’s worth, we are acknowledging His glory. Glory is about significance.”

Jesus to the Samaritan woman…“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” JN 4:23

The contemporary trend is this:

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” MATT 15:8

Mark 7:13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

So many have spent wasted energy on the "worship wars " involving types of music…which can be an issue if it is really weird/wild but the main problem is homiletics.and sermon content.
Too many clergy crowd out the scriptures with explanations, illustrations, testimonies and commentary and thus reduce the impact and significance on letting God speak to the audience.
"Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. JN 17:17

I have been on Christian talk radio and the internet to try to launch worship service reviews in the church.
Hotels, restaurants, movies, health professionals, and recently churches have had or started reviews on the internet…Tripadvisor, YELP, churchrater.com.
I challenge all pastors and/or elders, conference officials (especially MINISTERIAL SECRETARIES) to implement evaluation/review/survey forms to get feedback on their sermons/services.
If they think worship is really significant why should they not?

“Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” GAL 6:6


You know your name pagophilus in Greek means ‘freezing cold love’ or ‘ice love’

You certainly live up to your name.


In case your present approach eventually leaves you groggy, there is an answer…“Death Wish Coffee…”

Not to be confused with the more potent 5 hour energy drinks.

I have a great breakfast (and lunch) everyday, without the coffee, tea, or eggs (used to love scrambled eggs and omelets). And I’m wide awake every morning without the jolt. One can learn new habits.

Yes. But why? For me, there is no “jolt”. That would tell me it’s too much for the heart. At my age and health, I must take anti-hypertesives, the ones at night often leave me a little light-headed in themorning, and as with all Rx meds there are advantages and disadvantages and one must weight the costs, which I have.

Coffee is far milder than many, if not most of the Rx drugs I take, AFTER carefully researching all the pros and cons. (My dad died of heart problems at 59, before there were all the advances since the late 50s’ and a sister died at 61 of massive cerebral hemorrhage.) With that family history,and having reached 90, I listen to my bod and the docs.


Why assume that if someone enjoys something it can’t be worship? I enjoy singing, very much. If I sing a hymn I enjoy it. Likewise I enjoy photography and watercolor painting. I am happy to say that people have been moved by listening to me sing, seeing some of my photography or getting a painting of mine as a gift. And I enjoyed it.


great article…i think it’s clear that if our worship isn’t getting us where we need to go, it’s time to make an adjustment - it’s time to get a new pair of shoes, which is easy enough to do…


wow, andrew…you seem a bit judgmental here…

Oh, Steve…you just gave me the biggest laugh of the day! Thanks!!

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