Interact Magazine 2000
Volume 11 Number 3
One of the most frequent points of conflict in churches centres around what happens at Sunday services. Most of us have either been in, or currently attend, churches where this is the case. The greater the age spread in a given congregation the greater the potential for conflict over the need for change. The reality is that unless we work through the process of change outlined in the last edition of Interact and clarify our thinking on our framework for what we do on Sundays, our churches will continue to disintegrate over the issue.
The way we conduct our church services significantly varies from group to group. Whilst each may feel that theirs is the best way, or even the biblical pattern, the truth is that there is really no best or biblical way of ‘doing church’! As we pointed out in the last article, most of what we do is largely governed by our historical and cultural settings. We made the point strongly that God’s purpose for His people is clearly established in Scripture and that will never change. Indeed, in that context our Sunday services will continue to demonstrate variation from group to group and culture to culture, clearly reflecting the things that influence our thinking.
Having said that there is really no set biblical pattern for the way we conduct or structure our church services, there are certainly some crucial elements that ought to be evident when we meet together as God’s people. The one abiding fundamental is that in our walk with God, our times together on Sunday are an important part of our growth process. They therefore ought to be times of challenge and motivation to godliness and evangelism. But they ought also to be both enjoyable and relevant whatever the pattern or format used.
There is significant confusion in many of our churches about just what is meant by the term ‘worship’. It has come to mean anything from a formal church service (‘worship service’) as distinct from a ‘gospel service’ (although if the gospel isn’t preached in the morning service, what is?). However, one can engage in each of these without experiencing a vestige of true worship. It’s not the emotional feeling but our heart attitude that demonstrates worship.
The biblical concept is best described as our response to the “worthship” of God. It is therefore a whole-of-life experience. This is the emphasis in Romans 12:1,2. When we comprehend something of the wonder and grace of God expressed in the gospel and respond out of an attitude of giving our whole selves to Him, that’s true worship. Therefore a biblical view of God ought to motivate us to worship Him. We give expression of that true worship in daily living.
Jesus spoke with the woman at the well about worship. As a Samaritan she said, ‘Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem’ (John 4:20). Jesus replied by telling her that true worship comes from within. It is neither contrived nor merely a sense of atmosphere. Rather, it is a consequence of the enabling of God’s Spirit and the ongoing application of the gospel to our lives (John 4:24).
We ought to also give expression of our worship in both personal and corporate celebration. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 responded to God’s revelation of His holiness by falling on his face in worship. There ought to be times in our personal devotions when we give verbal expression of our love and adoration for God. We also have the privilege of corporate worship in small groups, Sunday services, conferences, etc.
It’s of interest to read in the Psalms of the different ways we are told to give expression to our corporate worship of God.
“Come let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Ps.95:1-2).
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclaim his salvation day after day” (Ps.96:1-2).
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord, glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness, tremble before him, all the earth” (Ps.96:7-9).
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King” (Ps.98:4-6).
Did you notice the instruments used to enhance worship? Psalm 150:3-6 adds to these:
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
Some of this may make us feel a bit uncomfortable and the thought of all those noisy instruments certainly won’t appeal to all of us! However they are all presented as legitimate forms of expressing our worship.
In our desire to be relevant and contemporary we must be careful not to lose sight of the true nature of worship. It’s very easy to unquestioningly copy what others are doing without thinking through the methods being employed in the context of our purpose of edification and evangelism. Are people growing in the knowledge of Jesus through the process (Eph.l:17-18)?
There is also the danger of promoting worship as an end in itself, or even as a means of attaining to a greater measure of spirituality through the activity itself. We can also fall into the trap of being self-focused in seeking an experience of God rather than seeking God Himself. The very nature of true worship is that it is an overflow of what God is doing within, rather than the means by which He does it.
This embodies the concept of building into each other’s lives. There are a variety of ways in place and many of them can be applied when we meet together. An obvious way is through good teaching (1 Cor.14:4). Sunday Service is the only time many people are spiritually fed. It is imperative that those of us who preach and teach strive to be clear, relevant and engaging. Good preachers are constantly thinking through their presentation and content in order to be better presenters of God’s truth, always seeking to deal with issues through our preaching to help people grow to maturity.
We are edified as we sing and worship, as our hearts and minds respond to the truths expressed in the songs. We ought therefore to take great care that the message of the songs is unmistakably anchored in the Scriptures. We edify one another as we apply the ‘one another’ principles of Scripture. Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us to provoke one another to love and good deeds and to encourage one another as we meet together.
The principle of fellowship is inseparable from edification. One could not speak of fellowship without linking the concept to those same one another principles. The biblical concept speaks of the interaction of members of the body of Christ. The basis of our fellowship is that we each belong to Him (1 John 1:3). As we walk in unhindered fellowship with Him we partake of His life and in our fellowship with one another, we share that life (1 John 1:7).
This is the essence of what Paul is encouraging us to do in Ephesians 4:12-16. We are equipped by those with teaching, pastoral and preaching gifts but the body grows, and unity and stability are experienced, as we get involved in ‘works of service’. This includes the expression of our giftedness in serving one another (1 Pet.4:l0) and the application of the fellowship principle. Imagine what would happen in your church if every member began to consciously apply these one another principles next Sunday! If we were aware of each other’s needs and really prayed for one another (James 5:16), if we applied the principle of bearing one another’s burdens (Gal.6:2) or engaged in deliberate encouragement, love and edification, it wouldn’t take long for the spillover effect to also impact the wider community!
This of course means developing an awareness of each other that enables us to engage and connect in our relating together. When these things are happening the sense of belonging and of being a part of what God is doing in our midst is enhanced.
Define Your Objectives
When asked why we meet together on Sunday, most Christians respond by saying, in essence, ‘That’s what we are supposed to do’! Many of the church services I attend appear to be almost devoid of any sense of direction or objective.
We need to keep in mind not only the things covered earlier – worship, edification and fellowship – but also our double identity: we are the people of God who are to grow into spiritual maturity, by our life and testimony demonstrating and declaring the gospel to a lost world. Our times together should be a part of the equipping process. If we are to remain true to God’s revealed purposes for us each person involved in planning for our meetings needs to be not only aware of our objectives but consciously committed to them. This will involve careful and disciplined planning. Our objectives will not be achieved automatically.
It’s also important in the above context to keep in mind our target group. Obviously a different format will be required if we intend to impact families than if our target group is young people or the over-50s. I find it very useful to know who I’m preparing for, the issues they face, their level of understanding of the gospel and how I can help them to grow. All of these are helpful in knowing precisely what we should focus upon during our services.
Keep It Flowing
People today are used to being engaged by visual things like TV and computers. It’s much harder to engage them and keep their focus, so we have to work ‘much smarter’ than some of us once did. At what point of the service do people switch off: the offering, Bible reading? Prayer time? Announcements? We need to think of ways to engage people more readily in these activities. Being in some Sunday services is like being at a play: the congregation simply watches the performers!
Try having the announcements on an overhead screen during the offering. (They should be kept to an absolute minimum!) Have a box at the door for prayer needs and have someone write them on a transparency for display at a point in the service. Invite people to select one of the items displayed and for a brief period encourage everyone to engage in silent prayer. The prayer time can then be concluded by someone summarising the needs and praying for them.
The two important things are to engage people and involve them as much as possible. To do this we need to have uninterrupted flow. Keep introductions to a minimum. As much as possible, the components of the service should be unannounced. This means that every participant in the service should therefore have a copy of the program.
The meetings must be well led by someone who keeps the focus and the flow without giving in to the temptation to indulge in unnecessary verbosity. Such leaders need to be as well planned and prepared as the person preaching the sermon. The Sunday services are in many respects the shop window by which people are drawn into the life of our churches. If people are engaged, challenged and enjoy what they see, they will come back. Sunday meetings are not the place for people who are not gifted at leading. They are not a training ground. There are other more appropriate opportunities in the life of the church in which people can develop their leadership skills.
Keep the Program Positive and Affirmative
People are attracted to warmth, friendliness and acceptance. There is no positive value in berating people for their shortcomings. Guilt is a poor motivator in the long term! It leaves people resentful and with a feeling of being ‘got at’.
It seems to me that the key is in focus and emphasis, as God’s people worship and sing, read the Scriptures, share together in fellowship and listen to the truths of Scripture being explained. As we are made aware of God’s presence in worship and reminded of all that He is through ministry, there should be in our midst a very real sense of His awesomeness.
Our focus should be clearly and deliberately directed to Him – awesome in majesty, holy, righteous and just, loving, merciful and gracious, incomprehensible in His deity, yet intimate as a Father. We ought to be constantly made aware of the work of God on our behalf, with an emphasis on what God has done for us, rather than on what we should be doing for Him. There ought to be a consistent focus on the glorious truth that our acceptance with God is never on the basis of our own performance or goodness, but always, ever, through His gracious provision.
Our churches should give us such a view of God and His love for us that our hearts are filled with gratitude and the desire to respond to Him. Regardless of the circumstances of life we find ourselves in, we ought to know that nothing can separate us from His love.
As we worship together and hear God’s Word expounded we ought to be at times disturbed, shaken from our lethargy and complacency as the expectations of the King and His Kingdom are vividly portrayed.
The wonderful, almost incomprehensible truths of sins forgiven and a complete and adequate salvation available to all should fill us with the joyful realisation that we can commence every new day as delivered people, free from the guilt and failures of the past, with the promise of a new ability for the future. We should be prodded and encouraged, even excited, at the declared purpose of God that we are to be like Jesus.
To know Him should be our goal, His life our model, like a beacon luring us on to know experientially His work within, changing us into His image. As we leave church on Sunday morning, the praises of God should echo in our spirits, as with confidence we walk with Him, reaffirming our desire to be like Him.
© Kel Willis (1 November 2000)