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The Pastor and Worship

22 Feb

Volume 11, No. 2 (February 2016)

THE PASTOR’S VITAL ROLE IN THE WORSHIP LIFE OF THE CONGREGATION

Worship is central to the identity and the life of the body of Christ, including of course corporate worship, as Eduard Schweizer affirms: “Public worship is clearly and openly the place in the congregation’s life at which it manifests itself as the Body of Christ.”[1] Similarly, William Willimon states: “[Corporate] worship is the center of the Christian community’s upbuilding. . . . In worship, all the community’s concerns meet and coalesce.”[2]

As a result, every pastor should see corporate worship life as an important part of his spiritual oversight of the flock. The pastor has the responsibility of publicly cherishing the glory of God and expounding it and inviting others to share in the wonder of wholehearted, and whole-life, worship. Every pastor should have this ultimate vertical purpose to his ministry: a purpose of seeking to see the glory of God reflected in the lives of his people; a praying and striving towards a preoccupation with God, a loving of Him with all the soul, heart, mind, and strength, on his own part as well as that of his congregation; a private and public cherishing of him in lives of worship. Ultimately ministry is the work of seeking, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to build more and better worshipers of God.

Alas, these goals too often seem elusive in light of what has often been termed the “worship wars” endemic in so many of our churches. As John Witvliet diagnoses: “The Christian church is deeply divided into communities that rehearse different histories and embody divergent aesthetic preferences.”[3] But indeed, “a church at war with itself, or divided into neat cells of parties agreeing to disagree, can’t do its work very well.”[4] The continuing disunity in many evangelical churches over issues of worship highlights the need for pastors to give strong, informed leadership to their congregations in this area, in order to preserve the unity and witness of the body.

A pastor will need to bring a solid biblical and theology understanding to bear on worship discussions in his church, if those discussions are not to degrade into mere wranglings over personal opinions, style preferences and generational proclivities (as, sadly, they so often do). He will also need a firm grasp on historical and contemporary issues in the ongoing worship debates, and a considerable measure of pastoral and practical wisdom in navigating the treacherous waters where so many churches have foundered, to the dishonoring of Christ and his Church.

[1] Eduard Schweizer, “Worship in the New Testament,” Reformed and Presbyterian World 24:5 (March 1957): 205.
[2] William H. Willimon, Worship as Pastoral Care (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979), 20.
[3] John D. Witvliet, “The Trinitarian DNA of Christian Worship: Perennial Themes in Recent Theological Literature,” http://www.yale.edu/ism/colloq_journal/vol2/witvliet1.html (accessed 2 February 2009).
[4] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom, Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 118.
[the above was excerpted from Ron Man, Dallas Seminary Worship Preparation for Future Pastors, D.Min. dissertation]

POINTS OF ENGAGEMENT FOR THE PASTOR

  1. Be a private worshiper.

This goes without saying. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself. Personal spiritual discipline and nurture is foundational to any ministry in the body of Christ, and certainly for the pastor.

  1. Sing, pray and preach out of a walk of worship.

That is, a life of private worship will, and should, show when one is leading the flock in worship. The pastor’s personal and private enrichment cannot help but overflow in a deeper, more relevant, and more engaging manner in leading the service.

  1. Study worship.

As stated above, the pastor should be a student of worship, so that he can give solid biblical guidance to the church in its discussion and practices of worship.

  1. Preach on worship.

The fruits of the pastor’s study on worship should be shared with the congregation, so that they too can achieve a more balanced understanding of what God says about worship and wants from our worship.

  1. Model worship publicly.

The best example of this I ever saw was when I once attended a service in Fullerton, California, when Chuck Swindoll was the pastor there. It was striking just how personally involved he was in the entirety of the service (not just the preaching part). Congregants will know what pastors value in the service by watching their level of engagement.

  1. Lead worship.

The pastor should not abdicate all worship leadership to the worship pastor or worship leader. The entire service is to be a “ministry of the Word” (Colossians 3:16), and the pastor can help to shape and guide it by being involved both in its preparation and its implementation.

  1. Handle the text reverently and responsively in sermon preparation.

Sermon preparation is an act of worship! Pastors should ask themselves: “What is God showing me about Himself in this text? How should I love and praise Him more as a result?”

  1. Preach as an act of worship.

Handling God’s Word is a serious responsibility, and presenting it to others a holy privilege; when pastors do so they are actively representing Christ, whose ministry it is to “proclaim [the Father’s] name to My brethren” (Hebrews 2:12). [See Ron Man, “Jesus, Our True Worship Leader”]

  1. Preach as an invitation to worship.

As God’s spokesman on behalf of His inscripturated Word, pastors open the text to their people so that they can see Him, wonder at His excellencies, and humbly bow before His majesty and grace.

 

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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Church, Pastor

 

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