Pastor's Blog

Worshippers Live in a Context

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.

Posted by Rex Howe

Worshippers Plan to Worship

Throughout the history of God’s people and according to revelation, worshipping communities have made plans to worship God. Whether we study the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:17–34, or observe the early church in Acts 2:41–42, the Scriptures describe a community of people busy in the worship of God. Planning for worship involves calendars and activities. How do you plan for worship in your home or along with the church?

  • Calendars: The Christian liturgical calendar is arranged so that the believer will think about and experience the life of Christ throughout the calendar year. Advent begins the year, then onto Epiphany at Jesus’ Baptism, followed by Lent and Holy Week with Palm Sunday and Easter, and Pentecost follows seven Sundays after Easter. Ordinary time is spread between these major calendar moments. The Christian calendar isn’t commanded in the Bible; rather, it is a way that many churches have ordered their year in order to consider the life of Christ all year long. The preaching calendar also aids in the planning of worship. Whether preaching through an exposition of a book of the Bible or preaching through details of a biblical topic, each Sunday’s passage aids those who plan and attend the worship of the church. Creation’s calendar is something that we sometimes forget about when we think of worship. God has ordained seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. They teach us about God as Creator, and on them—we might say—he has even imprinted the themes of death and resurrection to glorify his Son. While we’ve considered the worship calendar from the church’s perspective, we should also consider it from the single person and family’s perspective.  Worship should be planned into our routine. “Worship” should have a reserved space in your personal or family calendar.
  • Activities: Acts 2:42 lists activities to which the early followers of Jesus devoted themselves: the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s supper, and prayer. Music is a historic activity of the believing assembly (Ex. 15; Ps. 149–150; Acts 16:25; Eph. 5:18–19; Col. 3:16). Art, architecture, and craftsmanship were essential in the design, place and experience of worship in Israel (Ex. 35:30–35), and considering the decentralization of worship in the New Testament, the artistic aspect of worship should be flourishing in an even greater way through the church community’s diversity and various contexts. The public reading of Scripture is another activity of worship (1 Tim. 4:13). Readings can come from a single individual or engage the congregation in various ways. An often overlooked activity of worship is what we might call “live reflection.” The saints in Berea received the preaching eagerly and examined the Scriptures to see if it was true; therefore, we might say that note-taking or other activities that invite reflection on the worship service are in themselves worshipful. Cheerful generosity is a worship activity that imitates the generosity of Jesus, who became poor that we might become rich in him (2 Cor. 8:1–15; 9:7).
Posted by Rex Howe

Worshippers Look for Experience

Having laid the foundation of revelation to worship, we may now safely say that worshippers look to experience this God who has revealed himself, and rightly so. Modern worshippers should remember that the experience of God’s presence is an ancient quest as well as a present one; that is to say, today’s worshiper is not the first worshiper. Worship isn’t my idea or your idea; it’s God’s idea, given to his people throughout the ages. We aren’t the first to think about worship; nonetheless, our aim to worship him today is important. Here are some guidelines for experiencing God today in light of revelation:

  • Experience the Guide: The ministries of the Holy Spirit guide worshippers into a life of the true worship of the Triune God. The Holy Spirit restrains (2 Thess. 2:6–8), reproves (John 16:8–11), regenerates (John 3:3–7; Titus 3:5), indwells (John 7:37–39; 14:16–17; Acts 10:44–47; Rom. 8:9; Gal 4:6; 1 John 4:13), illuminates (1 Cor. 2:6–14), intercedes (Romans 8:26–28), baptizes (Mark 1:8; John 1:33; 1 Cor. 12:13), seals (Eph. 1:13–14; 4:30), fills (Eph. 5:18), gifts (1 Cor. 12), and teaches (John 14:25–26, 16:12–15). His aim and direction for you always leads to Jesus Christ. We hinder the Spirit’s ministries when we grieve him (Eph. 4:30), quench him (1 Thess. 5:19), attempt to lie to him (Acts 5:1–11), or do harm to the church (1 Cor. 3:16–17).
  • Experience the Posture: Maturing faith is the correct posture for experiencing God as a worshipper (Ps. 95; 1 Cor. 2:6–3:3). A “natural person” has no faith; the things of God are foolish to him or her. The carnal person needs to return to the trajectory of maturity. However, those who are spiritually maturing in faith are experiencing what “no ear has heard, nor eye has seen, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
  • Experience the Attitude: Maturing love for God is the correct attitude for experiencing God as a worshipper (Deut. 6:1–9; Matt. 22:37–40; 1 Jn. 3). God’s love for us gives us hope (Rom. 5:1–5); our love for God opens our souls to awe, to thanksgiving, to obedience, and to proclamation.
  • Experience the Service: Maturing in grace creates an important kind of gratitude needed for worship’s work (Heb. 12:28–29). Grace-caused gratitude matures us into Christ-centered servants, contagious servants, creative servants, courageous servants, and confident servants.
  • Experience the Community: Jesus’ work and the ministries of the Spirit decentralized worship (Jn. 4:23–24); that is to say, there are many local “temples” rather than one geographically limited Temple (Eph. 2:11–22); the mission goes with all of these local churches; the presence of God travels with all of these local churches; the gospel truth is accessible to any local, believing assembly; the glory of God shines from all of these local congregations; and God’s revelation is available to all of these gatherings. God is with these decentralized communities of believing worshippers all over the globe, including us (Heb. 10:24–25), who bear the essential marks (Othodoxy, Order, and Ordinances) and works (Exaltation, Edification, and Evangelism) of a local church.
  • Experience the Glory: The glory of God is the chief goal of humans and the end goal of all things (Ps. 96; Matt. 6:9–13; 1 Cor, 10:31; 1 Pet. 5:10; 2 Pet. 3:18). As worshippers, we wish to experience the pleasant heaviness of the glory of God (all he is and all he has done), and as aliens here and citizens of another kingdom, we carry the heavy burden and longing for a glory that we only see by faith, not yet by sight.
Posted by Rex Howe