In our previous article (September 3, 2013, http://focusmagazine.org/gods-team-is-called-church.php) we noted that one of the primary weaknesses of the modern local church is not functioning efficiently as a body with every part doing its share (Eph. 4:16). Too often a church will work exceptionally well in some areas while other areas of the Lord’s work are neglected. Three things typically cause this neglect. (1) Not enough members have been trained in certain parts of the work. (2) Members with the most talents spread themselves too thin by taking care of urgent matters that other members are capable of handling. (3) Urgent matters crowd out weightier matters that do not demand our attention, such as equipping (training), shepherding, and evangelism.
Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 14 is that the church had missed a critical purpose in their worship. Befitting the Corinthian culture, individuals within the worship were participating in a way that brought honor to them instead of honor to God. You will notice that Paul’s concern was in two areas: (1) the effect their worship would have on an unbeliever or outsider, and (2) whether their worship built up the believer.
Paul’s admonitions show that public worship has certain requirements in order for it to be pleasing to God. According to verse 37, our first concern must be that we worship in a manner that is prescribed by the Lord. Next, our worship must be directed toward God (vs. 25). In other words, worship cannot be ritualistic; it must be sincere and from the heart. (Cf. Eccl. 5:1). And then, our worship must consider the response of an unbeliever or outsider (vs. 23). Our intent should be that they see God through us. We certainly want to be edified, but we also want a visitor to be encouraged to serve God as well. Churches today often do not think of the outsider when they plan worship.
What can we do to meet these goals? Here are seven principles.
- We must worship with energy and excitement. After all, we have gathered to give honor and glory to our Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life for us. The worship scenes of Revelation 4-5 give an apt picture of the focus and energy that ought to be in worship. We need to get our minds engaged. Think! We are singing and praying to God.
- Come to worship prepared. Worship is not something that happens without preparation. Personal study and prayer during the week make it possible for each member to supply edification to worship instead of just taking.
- Sing as a result of being full of God’s word. In Ephesians 5:18-19 we are told that singing should be generated from being personally filled with the Spirit. Poor singing is destructive to evangelism. Great singing, generated by our deep love and relationship with God, will completely change the evangelistic culture. Whether in singing, prayer, Lord’s Supper, or listening to a lesson, do it with all your heart.
- Participate in prayers. When we pray, is it evident that we listened to the prayer and joined the prayer by saying “Amen” (14:16)?
- Be a good listener. During the sermon, would a visitor say we were engaged in the sermon, or do we show evidence of boredom?
- Worship leaders set the tone. Are the speakers, song leaders, and prayer leaders actually prepared, joyful, and excited about their role, or are they just going through the motions? Leaders set the culture and atmosphere for worship. Think about the tone of your voice and the look on your face – some look stern and mean, though not intentionally. The way we present ourselves as leaders will determine whether members and visitors are glad they came.
- Bible classes are critical. They are especially critical to our evangelistic efforts. Each person who is a member of a class is important to the overall effort. When people who are seeking God see others who are prepared and excited about discussing the scripture, their interest and excitement becomes contagious. Our goal is, planned studies that equip, prepared teachers, prepared team members, and participating team members.
Format and Cosmetic Changes to Consider
I find it instructive when I discuss our public worship with those who visit, and especially those that are willing to study with me. Their answers to questions such as, “What did you think of our worship and our church building?” are interesting. Unfortunately, “we” often do not receive a glowing report. Here are some of the responses I have received over the years:
- “Are there assigned seats? I was afraid I would sit in someone’s seat.”
- “Why is everyone so stiff and formal?”
- “Why didn’t the church say ‘amen’ at the end of the prayer?”
- “Is there a dress code? I felt uncomfortable because I can’t dress that way.”
- “The classrooms feel like a basement.”
- “There were a lot of distractions.”
- “People seemed happy to see each other, but I did not feel the same friendliness.”
All of us who have been a part of local churches become so accustomed to our own worship that we do not consider how it appears to an outsider or even whether our worship is the most effective way to edify one another. We need to address some of the above issues because visitors usually make up their minds about a church within the first ten minutes, long before the preacher even delivers his lesson. Consider some simple changes that will help engage visitors and aid in focusing the minds of members of on God.
- Do not leave personal items in seats or pews so that newcomers feel like outsiders. Don’t have “your” pew or special spot you sit at each service. Switch around so that you get to know more people.
- Begin worship with energy and songs that are upbeat. Slower meditative songs can be sung as the Lord’s Supper approaches. Avoid liturgical worship where everything seems checklist and repetitive. Some have said, “We don’t need to change for change sake.” Really? God has given us a lot of leeway in how we format worship. Our very nature is to enjoy variety. Variety can help keep our minds sharp.
- Avoid putting the preacher and song leaders on a platform that is “high and lifted up,” separated from the congregation, and a podium that is large and obstructive. Good, connective public speaking and song leading maintains a closeness and familiarity with the listeners. Large, high pulpits do not help.
- In order to help make worship more intimate and family-like, consider replacing pews with comfortable chairs that can be configured in a way that will enhance singing, closeness to one another, and easily be adjusted so that the building always feels 70% – 80% full.
- If at all possible, do not have a Bible class in the auditorium. Auditoriums are intimidating places for Christians and visitors to speak, ask questions, and share their understanding of the scriptures. Bible classes should be sessions in which Christians feel comfortable about sharing their faith so that they are equipped to teach non-Christians.
- Follow a five to ten minute rule after worship in which you only speak to visitors or people you do not know. Discover anyone visiting from the community and make connections with them so that you or others can follow up.
- Finally, get outside of yourself. This is a time in which we are to stir one another up to love and good works (Heb. 10:25). Look for opportunities, first with visitors and then members. Think about what you can do grow God’s kingdom.
Our prime directive is to be lights to the world around us. How we handle ourselves in public worship is a key team effort in accomplishing that goal.