Volume 12, No. 12 (December 2017)
New Year’s resolutions abound every year at this time, and while all are well-intentioned, it’s common knowledge that most of them don’t make it through the middle of January.
Below are some suggestions for some steps that could enrich and deepen our corporate practice and individual walk of worship.
IN THE SERVICE
1. Read more Scripture.
“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)
“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you.” (Colossians 3:16)
“Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” (1 Timothy 4:13)
Most free churches (at least those I’ve visited) could and should make more use of Scripture (liturgical churches have rich troves of Scripture already built into their liturgies). As has often been pointed out, worship is not just singing; and music should not be considered “the new sacrament.” Rather, worship is “a dialogue between God and His people” (see Worship Notes 1.5), and in any healthy dialogue one part should not be doing all the talking. We need to listen as well as talk/sing.
We are talking about the Word of God. As the Scriptures are read in public worship, it is nothing less than God Himself speaking to His people. What could be more important when we gather?
The praise-filled response of the people in incredibly important, so much so that the Lord Jesus has Himself promised to be in the midst of it leading the way (Hebrews 2:12; see Worship Notes 1.8 and my article HERE). But we have nothing to say to God until He has first spoken to us; that fact of God’s gracious initiative is true in our spiritual lives, and should be reflected in our worship as well. (See my article “Giving God the First Word”).
And let us direct our energies towards making creative use of the Scriptures in our services. Not for innovation’s sake, but to draw people’s attention to the content of God’s communication to us, letting the “word of Christ dwell richly among” us. (See my article “Worship and the Word”).
2. Introduce 12 new songs into your church’s repertoire.
Adding new songs to a church’s worship life helps to keep our worship fresh and interesting.
But of course, worship is the goal, not variety. That’s why a constant barrage of the newest songs is not a healthy approach, and why 12 a year is a reasonable number (an average of one a month). When the congregation is learning a new song, it is necessarily in learning mode, and not fully worshiping. The main musical diet for a church should be familiar songs, carefully chosen, which allow for people’s minds and hearts to fully engage with God.
We should also be expanding our palette. Depending on the church, this may include bringing in more contemporary expressions, or digging into some fine but forgotten hymns of the past, or even delving into global songs.
A word of caution: many new contemporary worship songs have been recorded by singers with extremely high voices; such songs must be brought down into a more comfortable singing range for the untrained voices of the congregation, if the people are going to freely participate. I would hasten to add that also many hymns in hymnals are pitched too high for comfortable congregational singing. In both cases, there are tools available today that make it very easy to find lower keys or to transpose these songs down into a more suitable singing range.
3. Plan an occasional time of silence during the service.
What a counter-cultural move this could be! Silence is such a rare commodity in today’s world. Giving time for our people to reflect on the truth that has been read, sung, prayed and preached could be a rich addition to our services.
A time of reflection immediately after the sermon could be especially fruitful. That is the time when the expounded Word has the best opportunity to transform hearts; to rush quickly to a song, and then to the benediction, and then to post service conversations and Sunday dinner leaves little opportunity for sustained meditation on what has been proclaimed from the pulpit.
4. Renew a commitment to prayer.
That would include prayer for the service beforehand, and prayers of praise and intercession during the service itself.
OUTSIDE THE SERVICE
1. Send a “Preparing for Worship” email to your congregation in advance of Sunday.
We just started sending out such an email on Fridays. In it we introduce the worship theme for Sunday, including some Scripture for reflection. We also add links to videos of songs that may be new to some of our people, and encourage them to familiarize themselves with these songs so that they can be better prepared to fully enter into worship that Sunday. The sermon title and text are included as well.
2. Prepare your worship team/choir/leaders to lead in worship.
Pray for them. Read Scripture with them. Share the service’s theme and strategy with them. Be sure to pray together right before the service.
Our common pre-service practice for our service leaders is to recite together, after prayer, the words of Psalms 28:7:
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
My heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to Him.
3. Read 4 books of worship on worship this year.
Last month I posted HERE about the most influential worship books I have ever read. This year I am looking forward to diving into some of these:
Steven D. Brooks, Worship Quest: An Exploration of Worship Leadership
Philip Greenslade, Worship in the Best of Both Worlds: Explorations in Ancient-Future Worship
Todd E Johnson & Siobhan Garrigan, eds., Common Worship in Theological Education
Robin A Leaver, The Whole Church Sings: Congregational Singing in Luther’s Wittenberg
Richard J. Mouw & Mark A. Noll, eds., Wonderful Words of life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology
Sandra Maria Van Opstal, The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World
Nicholas Wolterstorff, The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology