In Spirit and in Truth: Creating an atmosphere for worship
October 7, 2003
I hate these phone calls. Another minister of music has called to tell me that he is out of a job because he has been unable to adapt to the "new" worship style. Or a younger worship minister has just e_mailed me to express his disdain for the old hymns. These are the two poles of an issue that is changing the way we "do" church.
Matt Redman’s praise chorus "The Heart of Worship" expresses best the idea that worship is all about God. God longs for us to worship Him in spirit and in truth. In other words, God would rather hear an unaccompanied voice with the right heart than a full choir and orchestra who are more concerned about looks and technique than they are about Him. The most powerful book ever written about worship is a timeless classic called The Acts of the Apostles. The healthy church described in Acts grew because the message of Christ was clearly presented, and as a result, many were saved and baptized. This is the worship barometer for the church. If the Word is not clear, and lives are not changing as a result of God’s saving power, then … we have a problem.
God’s presence is awesome. At First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla. (where I served before coming to Missouri), we asked ourselves what hinders true worship in our services. We consistently looked for elements to remove as well as those to add. We were unapologetically celebratory in our demeanor and presentation, but there was always a time that allowed worshipers to reflect quietly upon the awesome wonders of God. Here are some ideas to help you prayerfully work toward a more spirit_and_truth worship atmosphere in your church:
- Examine last week’s order of service. Find the place in the service where participants had an opportunity to speak or sing to God from a first_person perspective. The following are examples of choruses or hymns with a first_person perspective:
"Lord, I Lift Your Name on High"
"Who Can Satisfy My Soul Like You?"
"I Need Thee Ev’ry Hour"
These songs speak to God rather than about Him. Both corporate and private worship experiences should provide opportunities not only to speak to God but to hear from Him as well. Consider your worship service last week. Was there any time for personal prayer or testimony? Was there active participation or simply observation?
- If you are uncomfortable working with a "band" (piano, bass, guitar, and so on), find someone in your ministry or in your circle who is. A local high school band director or jazz band director is a great resource. Do not try to be someone or something you are not. Most guitarists, bassists, and others who grew up playing in bands cannot relate well musically with traditionally trained musicians. The two groups often have trouble communicating with each other, but both are valuable. Find a way to work together! Some will say that drums and guitars have no place in church. Others will suggest that the organ should be broken into pieces. Neither is a biblical mandate, but both ideas reflect the elements of familiarity and taste that are rampant in churches today. So what is the answer? Our pastor, Jay Dennis, says it this way: "Do not make the mistake of calling your personal preferences doctrine."
- Consider a praise team. A praise team can help reinforce vocal melody and harmony, which help a congregation learn songs and sing more comfortably. Hearing is a great way to learn. Remember, too, that praise teams should be developed as servants and not as "stars."
- Do not be afraid of the word drama. Sketches can be used to emphasize a point or teach a concept. Drama use in worship must have a point, or it is just filler.
- Be conscious of time. Make sure your worship service is not bogged down with announcements and similar elements that might seem important but have no worship value.
- Pay close attention to flow. Make sure each service is planned with logical progression of praise and smooth transitions. Abrupt transitions can hinder the Holy Spirit. Make sure you have provided enough planning and coordination to prevent major distractions. Be ready to move in another direction as the Spirit leads. Do not be so tied to the order of worship that you cannot move.
- If you are having trouble coming up with new material or ideas, ask your congregation! Give them the freedom to drop by with a CD or a suggestion. Find a way to interact with the congregation as a whole. They will love the opportunity to offer input.
- Don’t give up. If your personal worship life is growing, then your corporate worship leadership will bear fruit. Remember that the Bible should be the ultimate worship manual. Words such as blended, contemporary, and traditional are used to describe the modern worship experience. To the average person, these terms reflect a cup of coffee more than intimate communion with God. Ministers of music and worship are called upon to meet the worship needs of a local congregation by constantly retooling. But there is hope: God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. His message fits all generations.