Throughout Scripture, God calls His people to worship. This worship experience should be both an individual and corporate act. Worship is not a tradition, nor is it a passive spectator event. Worship comprises a personal interaction between the Creator and the creature—an encounter with God.1
According to the Church Manual, the Sabbath worship service is the most important church meeting. Reverence, simplicity, and promptness should characterize this service.2 There is no set form or order for public worship. A short order of service is usually better suited to the real spirit of worship; long preliminaries should be avoided. The format for the church service may vary from country to country and from culture to culture; however, I have listed the major elements of most worship services in our churches. That way, you will know what we do and why we do it, even if you’ve never come to church before.
A CALL TO WORSHIP
The call to worship brings us together as a worshipping community. The call can be a few sentences, a scripture verse, or a song. As busy people, we need something that helps us focus on what we have gathered for—to worship God. It should remind us that our worship centers in God and not in ourselves. Thus, adoration is central at the beginning of worship, specifically in the call to worship: We acknowledge God’s holiness and offer our love and devotion. We praise God and affirm the good news of His divine saving activity among us. We worship precisely in response to what God has done for us through Christ.
PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Most worship services begin with a time of praise and worship. Some churches open with one or two songs. This would also be the best time for a choral arrangement or a special song from a solo artist or guest musician. The purpose of this time is to lift God up in praise and to express love, gratitude, and thankfulness to Him for all He has done for us. When we focus on the Lord, we stop focusing on our own problems and are encouraged in the process. This portion of the service is part of worship and should not be turned into an entertainment session while platform participants are getting ready to begin the service.
Fellowship time is a moment when worshipers are invited to meet and greet one another. Some churches have an extended time of greeting, when members walk around and chat with one another. This practice of greeting everybody should be done before or after service. Sometimes, it seems unnatural when someone tells the congregation that it is time to greet everybody in the church. A warm and friendly church does not need a strong emphasis on that; church members greet people spontaneously and naturally. An extended greeting time also takes precious time away from the worship service. Ideally, the greeting period should be brief, and church members should greet people in their immediately vicinity. Oftentimes, visitors are welcomed during the fellowship time.
At the beginning of the service, it is proper for the pastor, local elder, or worship leader to extend a welcome to the congregation and to make special mention of visitors.
Since the purpose of public worship is to glorify God, prayer and praise should predominate in congregational singing. Every member of the church ought to participate in this element of worship. Singing should be done not merely with the lips but with the spirit and the heart. Great care must be taken to insure that the songs are in complete accord with the teaching of the Holy Scripture.
THE OFFERING TIME
Giving has great potential for teaching basic Christian concepts of self-denial, sacrifice, and trust. The offering appeal should emphasize a spiritual motivation and should also explain corporate financial needs and how giving supports the work of the church. An offertory prayer follows the collection of tithes and offerings, in which people of the church bring an “offering” of thanksgiving to God out of the financial blessings they have received. A “tithe” (which means “onetenth”) refers to the practice of giving 10 percent of one’s income. Returning a tithe is an expression of gratitude and faithfulness to God by His people and an acknowledgment of God’s ownership of everything on the earth.
The receiving of tithes and offerings is another practice that can differ widely from church to church. Some churches pass around an offering plate or offering basket; others ask members to bring their offerings forward to the altar as an act of worship.
Invocation. The service is usually opened with a brief prayer of invocation that acknowledges God’s holiness and invites His presence. The congregation is asked to stand during the invocation.
Pastoral prayer. The pastor, elder, or worship leader leads the congregation in a special moment of prayer. Each worshiper is invited to kneel, as far as possible, in submission to God. Kneeling to pray is not absolutely necessary; however, it is an outward expression of an inward attitude.
The pastoral prayer is offered on behalf of the worshippers; it asks God’s blessing in their lives and in the lives of others. This prayer might include requests for healing, comfort, guidance, strength, courage, forgiveness, salvation, justice, and peace. Those who have special requests or prayers of thanksgiving may be invited to come forward for this prayer moment. This prayer is usually longer than the prayer of invocation, but it should not be endless!
CHILDREN IN WORSHIP
Children should be kept in mind throughout the worship service. By making worship a great experience for children, we can make the whole church experience more appealing for young families. The goal is twofold: to help families become more cohesive by giving them a common experience in the faith (which carries over into their weekday world) and to engage children in a process that increases their sense of ownership in the ministry of the congregation by progressively integrating them into all aspects of the church’s life. That sense of ownership can help keep children active in their faith communities as young adults.
Only individuals who have a love for children and who have the ability to tell stories effectively should be chosen for this portion of the worship service. This part of the service can also be used for baby/child dedications. This time must be carefully guarded to keep it within a time frame of five minutes or less.
Reading the Bible as an act of worship goes back to Jewish tradition when the scrolls would be brought out and read to the people. The preacher can use the reading as the text for his or her sermon. The Bible is central to Seventh-day Adventist worship and faith.
This portion of the service is dedicated to the pronouncement of the Word of God. Some churches call it the “sermon” or the “teaching.” Some pastors teach from the Scriptures, while others preach. Some ministers follow very structured outlines without variance while others feel more comfortable speaking from a free-flowing outline. This time is for instruction in the Word of God with the goal of making it applicable to the listeners’ daily lives. The time frame for the message varies, depending on the church and the speaker—20 minutes on the short side to 60 minutes on the long side.
The sermon, grounded in God’s Word, is the centerpiece of the worship service. We believe that the Bible is “Godbreathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). During the sermon, the Holy Spirit moves among the congregation to speak in many ways to address a variety of needs. In the sermon, God addresses the congregation through the words of His servant, the pastor. It is a matter of supreme importance that preachers preach only the Word of God, not the wisdom of man. To fulfill this goal, the sermon must be prepared with the utmost care. A text may not be used merely to introduce a sermon; the text must be painstakingly explained. In the sermon, the preacher should explain the Word of God to the congregation and then apply it for their exhortation. Care should be taken in preaching that Christian duty not be divorced from Christian truth. It is critical that the gospel of salvation by grace be proclaimed without any adulteration or compromise, so that the unsaved may rely for salvation only on the grace of God, to the exclusion of their own works or character.
The Holy Spirit is present in your church during every worship service, and He is ready to change the lives of the people who encounter Him there. You can either cooperate with the Spirit by prayerfully creating an excellent worship service, or you can hinder His work by pulling together something uninspired just to meet your weekly deadlines. Choose to work with the Holy Spirit by seeking His guidance well in advance of every worship service you plan. Make it your goal to do much more than just present information; aim instead to help people encounter God in ways that change their lives.
Consider how you do things now. Why do you do what you do when you organize your worship services? Don’t make decisions simply because of tradition; instead, be open to receiving new insights and fresh guidance from God. Keep in mind that your worship philosophy will drive the way you plan your worship services and will help you measure how successful they are.
1 Seventh-Day Adventist Minister’s Handbook.
2 Seventh-Day Adventist Church Manual, 117.