Facets of Worship

I am grateful for an instructive experience I had near the beginning of my work as a liturgical choral conductor, hearing comments of four worshipers after a service in which my choir had participated. The first, obviously either a veteran chorister or former drill sergeant, remarked: “That choir’s procession was as precise and symmetrical as any I have seen.” The second participant commented: “I loved the exuberant style of that choir.” The third observed, as if making a new discovery: “I couldn’t believe how each piece of music went so well with the Scripture readings that preceded it.” The fourth, in a noticeably reflective tone, added: “My husband died six months ago, and tonight through your music, I finally have been able to pray.” These comments each illustrate a different level of attention and analysis. The first addresses matters of mechanics, the second matters of style, the third, the form of worship; only the fourth evokes worship’s deep meaning and purpose.

John D. Witvliet, “Teaching Worship as a Christian Practice by John D. Witvliet” (in For Life Abundant: Practical Theology, Theological Education, and Christian Ministry, ed. Dorothy C. Bass & Craig Dykstra), 137 

When We’re Not All “There”

No parent, no spouse, no friend—and no pastoral leader—can be fully present or emotionally engaged all the time. That may be because of any number of very legitimate reasons: depression, sleeplessness, or an overwhelming concern for a member of one’s own family or congregation. What we can aim for is a Spirit-shaped constancy, in which healthy habits of engagement carry us through when we are not “feeling it” in the moment. Such constancy is no less a gift of the Spirit than a vivid emotionally engaged experience of worship.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116:45

Keeping the Main Thing The Main Thing

The content of public worship is of immense importance. P. T. Forsyth said, “The preacher is not there to astonish people with the unheard of, he is there to revive them in what they have long heard.” What is so for preaching . . . is also true for the context in which preaching takes place. Every element of the public worship of the people of God must communicate the true content of the faith, which finds its focus on the person and work of Jesus the Messiah.

–Noel Due, Created for Worship, 235

What’s at Stake

Pastors and ministry leaders in the local church have an enormous stewardship in shepherding the lives of the people who attend services each week. People in the pews hand over sixty minutes of their week to be led in meaningful corporate worship. Sometimes I fear that worship leaders forget to ask themselves the “what’s at stake” question, unwittingly prompting a congregation to respond to them – the worship leader- rather than the One worthy of worship.

The following statement by A. W. Tozer solidified in my mind the stakes on Sunday mornings:

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God. For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

What’s at stake on Sunday mornings? People’s view of God. Worldviews diametrically opposed to the gospel barrage our people weekly; corporate worship should help people recalibrate their hearts and minds towards God. If Tozer is right that the most important thing about a person is their view of God, then every aspect of a worship service–the songs’ texts, the spoken transitions, the prayers and even the announcements–should point people to a clearer, more focused and biblically-informed understanding of who God is.

Bryan Chapell writes in his book, Christ-Centered Worship: “This is more than a matter of choosing music that is properly respectful or adequately relevant. Our worship should show the face of Jesus to those who have gathered and to those who need to gather to worship Him.”

–Dr. Joseph Crider (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville) (from a blog post at doxologyandtheology.com)

Of Planes and Pews

People on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common. All are on a journey. Most are well-behaved and presentable. Some doze, and others gaze out the window. Most, if not all, are satisfied with a predictable experience. For many, the mark of a good flight and the mark of a good worship assembly are the same. “Nice,” we like to say. “It was a nice flight/It was a nice worship service.” We exit the same way we enter, and we’re happy to return next time.

A few, however, are not content with nice. They long for something more. The boy who just passed me did. I heard him before I saw him. I was already in my seat when he asked, “Will they really let me meet the pilot?” He was either lucky or shrewd because he made the request just as he entered the plane. The question floated into the cockpit, causing the pilot to lean out. “Someone looking for me?” he asked. The boy’s hand shot up like he was answering his second grade teacher’s question. “Well, come on in.” With a nod from his mom, the youngster entered the cockpit’s world of controls and gauges and emerged minutes later with eyes wide. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I’m so glad to be on this plane!”

He wanted to see the pilot. If asked to describe the flight, he wouldn’t say “nice.” He’d likely produce the plastic wings the pilot gave him and say, “I saw the man up front.”

Do you see why I say that people on a plane and people on a pew have a lot in common? Enter a church sanctuary and look at the faces. A few are giggly, a couple are cranky, but by and large we are content. Content to be there. Content to sit and look straight ahead and leave when the service is over. Content to enjoy an assembly with no surprises or turbulence. Content with a “nice” service. “Seek and you will find,” Jesus promised. And since a nice service is what we seek, a nice service is usually what we find. A few, however, seek more. A few come with the childlike enthusiasm of the boy. And those few leave as he did, wide-eyed with the wonder of having stood in the presence of the pilot himself.

–Max Lucado, Just Like Jesus, excerpts from pages 77-79