Reflections on Worship from the Pew
As a follower of Jesus who thinks the worship of the Lord’s Church of necessary and supreme importance, I have found it challenging to worship. Among the challenges is being with a new group of people—it’s not the church family with whom I’m close and with whom I'm accustomed to worshipping. But this is not the greatest challenge. The greatest challenge has been the nature and character of the worship and preached word. I do not want this to be viewed as a rant from a retired pastor, but rather, seek to make some thoughtful observations and issue some constructive challenges, in the light of being a worshipper from the pew. Please understand that we have experienced some great worship and preaching over the last five months. But the troubling experiences of worship have in my estimation been serious.
1 - The Lord’s Church needs to remember and learn again to practice the fact that the true worship of God is to approach, be in the presence of, and bring glory to the Holy and Almighty God. I say this with a heavy heart for how casual and careless worship is seemingly conducted in some congregations. Given the technology that is now needed to support most worship services, to not make certain that everything is working and ready before worship begins, is just carelessness. Music is negatively impacted; multiple people try to step in but are often less than prepared and/or able to do so. No one can hear what is being said or sung. And the poor visitor, or nonbeliever who is in the congregation that day, sees indifference. I’m all for being a welcoming, friendly church, but bantering back and forth with congregants with little to no regard for order and the sacredness of the act of worship is not friendliness; it’s disregard for the holy and awesome nature of God’s presence.
2 - The language used in worship needs to be executed minus the short-hand, abbreviations, and assumptions that give the impression that everybody knows exactly who and what you are talking about. I’m glad to pray for local church members and ministry, but when information is shared as if I know who is being talked about and exactly what the situation is, it is one more way that the visitor is being told that the congregation doesn’t expect anyone to be here other than the regulars. And to think, this happened in a congregation self-described as a “missional church.”
3 - Preachers who rightly handle the word of truth do not need to preach as if yelling at people! I really enjoy an expository preacher who is passionate about the word of God! But yelling does not equal passionate. Continuously high volume does not communicate importance or excitement, especially when the contents of the message has to do with God’s judgment at the last days. Yes, that subject must be preached; it’s part of the whole of Holy Scripture. But to be condescendingly shouted at does not soften the heart and open the mind for a thoughtful consideration of the word of God. It engenders defensiveness.
4 - Lastly, every single worshipper is responsible to extend the shalom of God in the gathering of the church for worship. On one recent Sunday morning, after a wonderful service of worship and faithful preaching of God’s word, I expected to be warmly greeted. I wasn’t. Not one person extended the shalom of God with a handshake or a “good morning.” And it didn’t happen going into the sanctuary either. God’s people are called to faithful worship, gospel preaching, and to extend the shalom of God. It’s the responsibility of every Christian to make a welcoming church. After the benediction, I initially waited for the guy in front of me to turn around and greet me. (It was obvious he was a member.) He didn’t. So, I stuck out my hand and said, “Good morning; I’m Jim.” He then greeted me, inquiring about how long we had been coming. He knew I was a stranger, but said nothing. Don’t say nothing! Extend the shalom of God, all the time, to everyone.
The more I’m out and about worshipping in various congregations, the more I realize how much attention needs to be given by the church when she is gathered for worship in order to faithfully communicate the truth and joy of belonging to Jesus. God is holy and great! So be ready and prepared to worship with your all! Communicate as if you expect strangers in the gathering. Preach truth with grace and humility. Extend the peace of Christ to anyone, all the time.
… and the journey continues, Pastor Jim