Most Christians would say that corporate worship is critically important to the life of their congregations. Yet, in church after church, the worship service is woefully underdeveloped. To be more frank, this centerpiece of the Christian community is often dull and lifeless. As a result, worshipers check out. They either leave the service mentally, filling their minds to pass the time, or they look for a church where God actually attends. The tragedy is this: It does not have to be that way in any Christian church!
Every local congregation can have dynamic celebration services if leaders are willing to make serious investments in worship. Obviously, this means directing prayer, planning, and resources to this ministry. But, in addition, pastors may discover that training is a critical ingredient for effective worship. It should not be assumed that people become knowledgeable in worship simply because they attend church services. Leaders should develop a format for teaching believers to be effective worshipers.
There are several key concepts that pastors would do well to teach church members regarding corporate worship.
1. The priority of worship. According to the Bible, humanity’s highest calling is to glorify God. Therefore, worship must be the top priority in the local church. Worship is serious business that deserves a congregation’s greatest investment.
2. The purpose of worship. Worship is primarily an activity of declaring the attributes and glory of God. As worshipers learn to magnify God’s name and declare His mighty deeds through songs, prayers, testimonies, words, and praises, they do battle against the evil one and usher people into the dynamic presence of God.
3. The principles of worship. Worship services should seek to glorify God, focus upon Jesus Christ, edify believers and appeal to visitors. I have discovered that instructing people in these principles of worship leads to a better understanding of and participation in a corporate service of celebration.
4. The practices of worship. Because they see their congregations participating in the celebration service, leaders wrongly assume that believers understand the meaning of worship forms. By instructing worshipers in the background, meaning, and purpose of worship forms, leaders equip men and women to wholeheartedly engage in the activity of praise. 5. The power of worship. The activity may be engaging apart from God’s presence, but it is never life-transforming. Only God’s Spirit heals the broken and redeems the lost. As such, the Holy Spirit must be a congregation’s most welcomed and honored Guest. Practically, this means instructing worshipers to pray for His infilling.
Pastors, elders, and worship leaders should make maximum use of a variety of media formats to instruct believers in the concepts discussed above. There are at least five specific ways in which this instruction can take place within the context of a local church:
1. Prepare a philosophy-of-ministry-and-worship document. Every church should develop and distribute a philosophy-of-ministry document. It will serve as a guide regarding the theological priorities of the congregation. The five concepts of worship should be included, providing a knowledge base for further worship training.
2. Develop a visitor’s guide to worship. Most visitors approach the worship service with a certain degree of anxiety born of the unknown. Relieve their minds as much as possible by developing a guide that clearly defines the purpose and practice of worship at your church. It will enhance their participation by increasing their understanding.
3. Discuss the five concepts of worship in membership classes. Membership classes are very important to the health of a congregation. Newcomers are able to learn, understand, and embrace the priorities of the body before making their membership covenant. If worship is in fact the top priority, be sure to address it during at least one session of the membership instruction series. The two points already discussed—the philosophy-of-ministry document and the visitor’s guide—will provide preparation for this focus.
4. Instruct worshipers during the weekly celebration service. The church I pastor regularly experiences dynamic celebration services. At least once a month, the worship coordinator includes “Words of Worship” during the service of celebration. This highlights one particular form or practice of worship that may require more understanding or application within the body. This consistently leads to new freedom and participation in the service.
5. Develop a series of sermons on worship. Each pastor and elder have the opportunity to strike a serious blow for worship if he or she will preach on worship. Great weight is placed on what is said from the pulpit. A spiritual leader would do well to develop one topical sermon on each of the five concepts of worship.
No responsible corporation would encourage its employees to participate in their industry without proper training. The more critical the area of responsibility, the more vital the preparation. How much more should the local church invest in equipping men and women to be effective worshipers! Of all the activities of the local church, worship is the top priority.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.