Today’s worshippers live somewhere by God’s providence (Acts 17:26–27; Eph. 3:14–15). That particular place probably has a culture with particular nuances about worship (e.g., Southern Gospel and Bluegrass musical culture in Appalachia, the talented orchestra and choir of The Moody Church in Chicago). Today’s worshippers are also the living earthly members of that heavenly redeemed community. Consequently, we are not only part of a local cultural context of worshippers, but we are also part of a global, historic, and heavenly body of believers. With regard to our local context, we want to engage their souls in worship, which means understanding them. With regard to our broader context, we want to faithfully steward the worship of God in such an assembly of witnesses (Heb. 12:1–2).
A truly local church reflects the members of its community. In our rural setting, we are and should be a multigenerational gathering of worshippers. While this is a great opportunity for all involved, it also presents unique challenges when the worship ministry attempts to engage all of those generations. The most important thing to remember as a worshipper—no matter the context—is that worship isn’t essentially about you. It is about God and for God. From there, we can move into how to engage the worshipper. Philippians 2:1–5 calls us to unity by putting the interests of others ahead of our own, just as Jesus did. This wisdom is needed when thinking about our individual worship preferences.
With that said, how do you get your seven year old to engage in worship and seek the presence of God? And if the service engages the seven year old, will it also engage the 90 year old? Should we engage the 90 old at the expense of the seven year old, or vice versa? Oh, and what about the 36 year old parent of the seven year old? How do you usher all of these worshippers into the presence of God during the worship hour together? Certainly, no one has all the answers, but here are four methods of engagement for all ages.
First, there must be order—a consistent, mostly predictable pattern for worship that is well-planned prior to the gathering. There can be spontaneity, but it should be planned spontaneity. Some may ask, what about giving the Spirit freedom to move? Most often, this question is built on a false assumption about the Spirit, for God is a God of order, not of confusion. The Holy Spirit is not some rogue member of the Trinity who spontaneously invades the worship service. He loves order, shares a plan, has an aim for you, and a written and demonstrated agenda to glorify Jesus (Jn. 16:14). The Triune God created in an orderly fashion. He planned the exodus from Egypt and the establishment of the nation of Israel. The incarnation of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ascension were all part of the eternal plan of God. Orderly worship reflects the character and actions of our God. The aim of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12–14 is to bring orderly worship to the church in Corinth, because it was divided and chaotic. It isn’t order that prevents the Holy Spirit from filling the worshipper (Eph. 5:18), rather it is that we may be actively grieving him, quenching him, lying to him, or harming the church that he’s trying to build. These things hinder the Spirit’s engagement of the worshipper.
Second, it is good to engage the senses in worship. Our hearing, seeing, speaking, touching, tasting, and smelling can be engaged for the glory of God. This isn’t to say that every Sunday every sense must be engaged, but rather it is an admission that engaging the senses, engages the person.
Third, remember the power of the word of God. When the word of God is preached, it travels through the hearing, targets, pierces, and plants itself into the deep soil of the human soul. However, fruit-bearing takes time, sometimes several years. Therefore, don’t grow disheartened in thinking that “nothing’s happening” during worship, especially when the word of God has been faithfully proclaimed.
Fourth, practice live reflection. If you are the parent of a child, create a journal for your kids appropriate to their level and ability of engagement. For example, they could (1) write down their favorite song lyric, record important words that they hear more than twice and define those words afterwards, draw a picture based on the worship experience for that day, write down a prayer based on the worship for that day, and/or write down questions they have from the worship experience that day. Adults miss out when they fail to take some notes from the worship experience. These live reflections can extend the worship experience beyond Sunday and into the week ahead.
Worshippers and churches in any context can practice these four things: (1) Order, (2) Senses, (3) Word, and (4) Reflection.