I’ve been an enthusiastic worshipper since I was a toddler (my mother told me I sang really loud). I began planning and leading worship when I was 17. So my heart is really into this subject.
The church is never beyond the need for renewal, and I think renewal of our worship is especially needed now.
In the points below I try to be creative but make no claim to originality. In fact, I hope most ideas are quite old and enduring.
A Truly Worshipping Congregation
Give worship back to the congregation. Stop the stage-centered professionalism. Get the congregation singing, not just standing—engaged and not mere passive onlookers. Lower the volume, if necessary, so that people can joyfully hear themselves sing. Make the congregation active participants in worship “with heart and soul and voices” (Now Thank We All Our God by Martin Rinkart, 1636). Worship can be high quality without being so orchestrated.
In Touch with Our Christian Heritage
Renew worship connection with our rich Christian heritage even as we also sing good current compositions. Put the people in touch with the saints of the past—their struggles, suffering, spirituality, successes and songs. The Holy Spirit didn’t first arrive with “Jesus Music” in the 1960’s!
The Word of God in Worship
Integrate the Word of the Lord into worship more thoroughly. People need to hear the Scriptures read. If we evangelical Protestants consider ourselves “People of the Word”, why is there more reading of Scripture in a Roman Catholic Mass than in the typical Evangelical service?
The Word Proclaimed and The Word Explained
(Example: Acts 2:14-42)
We must see the distinction between Proclamation of the Word to non-believers and Instruction in the Word to believers—both necessary and complementary. As you plan the worship experience, remember that its primary purpose is to instruct and build up of believers in faith and life.
While non-Christians should be invited and, when present, not made to feel like awkward strangers, the worship hour should be distinguished from other occasions that have as their primary purpose drawing non-believers to hear the Word of Salvation and confess Jesus as Lord.
Expository Sermons as a Work of Art
The Message should unfold and apply the meaning of Scripture to the people so they can see what was there all along. While the expository pastor has training and tools available that the rest of us don’t have, sermons should not create an unhealthy dependence on the speaker to know what God is saying.
Sermons should usually be under 30 minutes—it takes more work to create a tight sermon than an extended one, but it will be a better sermon. Organize the sermon as if it were a work of art, and then maybe it will become one!
“Less” is often “More”
(Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; Habakkuk 2:20)
Musical instrumentation in all its variety is marvelous in worship. But don’t forget places for silence, softness and quality a cappella singing. Spoken words are not always necessary and, when they are, few are better than many.
Giving in Worship
Don’t forget the giving opportunity within the worship service. Other avenues for giving (payroll deductions, on-line giving, etc.) have a growing place, but must not supersede a time to give in the worship service.
Technology in Worship—Dine with a Long Spoon
Technology must always be the servant of worship, never its lord. People should leave worship thinking, “I’ve met God today!” Not, “Wow!” Ask these questions when using technology: “Does this feature really enhance worship? Does it point us straight to Jesus? Or does it detract and distract from him?”
Humor Has a Place—Keep It There!
(Ask those “tech” questions again!)
Lightheartedness and laughter have their place in worship, when done with purpose. But the service must never get frivolous and must always lift us above ourselves to God. Humor is one thing, trying to be funny another.
A Real, Live Pastor
John 3:16 doesn’t say God in love sent down images of his son! No, God sent his Son—he “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
The pastor who speaks should be there in flesh and blood, not electronically delivered like a hologram. Pastors, we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We aren’t indispensible celebrities! The people need true interaction with the pastor during and after the sermon, not an impersonal non-encounter with someone who isn’t there.
And no fleeing out the side door for privacy right after the benediction! I preached three sermons on Sunday mornings for fifteen years, and I know a pastor can guard his energy without avoiding personal time with the people.
Worship settings don’t need to be extravagant, but they shouldn’t be bland and utilitarian either. The place of worship is sacred space, removed from the “common settings” of the rest of the week. It’s not another “Home Depot!” Worship is a vestibule to the Celestial. In “The Gathering,” we are a holy temple of God, a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.
The visible word should tastefully and purposefully surround worshippers in the worship location through artistic display and symbols, and (yes, an old idea) even in the windows.
The Eucharist in Worship
The Communion (the Eucharist) should be a regular feature of renewed worship—even weekly. Communion isn’t “fast food.” Enough time must be given to ponder the Cross, God’s grace and our need for repentance. In the Communion time pastors should declare the good news of forgiveness.
Shepherding the Flock in Worship
Pastors should actively lead their people into worship, within worship, and out of worship. This means a pastoral role for the Call to Worship, the Pastoral Prayer, and the Benediction. The people should be led in petitionary and intercessory prayer. Appropriate prayer and anointing of the sick with oil should be provided by the pastors and elders of the church.
I’ve offered these pointers because I want to keep worship ministries moving in a positive, biblical and God-honoring direction. This will mean moving away from some recent trends in Evangelicalism. It will be well worth it if we become better and more biblical worshippers. — by Donald P. Shoemaker, pastor emeritus, Grace Community Church, Seal Beach, Calif.
This article first appeared in a monthly newsletter produced by Don Shoemaker and was written in tribute to John Heideman, who served as director of worship at Grace Community Church, Seal Beach, Calif., for 25 years. John died on January 18 after a long fight with cancer. “I thank God for the privilege of serving with him so long,” Don wrote in his newsletter. “Over the years I discussed worship topics with John more than anyone else. In tribute to his contributions to my thinking, here again is my call for ‘A Renewed Paradigm for Worship.’”