By Randy Bloom, US East Regional Director
As I write this article my wife, Deb, and I are experiencing the joy of getting to know our new granddaughter. She is beautiful and we love being with her. Prior to her birth, our son and his wife went to great lengths to prepare for her arrival and we were blessed to have a small part in the preparations: buying clothing, diapers and all the paraphernalia that are helpful with newborn infants. We went all out to prepare for her arrival and share life with her and we go to great lengths to enjoy our time together. This is an exciting time of life.
Every week Christians have the opportunity to share in an exciting and life-changing time of life. I’m not referring to experiencing life with a new child, but the weekly time of gathering with our great God of love and grace – our Sunday worship services. How do we prepare for these priceless opportunities? This is a huge subject that could fill libraries. I’ll simply address a few tips on the subject of preparing inspirational, transformational worship services. In this article we’ll review some of the concepts and practices that flow from our Trinitarian theology. The next article will deal with some of the nuts and bolts of worship preparation.
Sunday gatherings are times when we are blessed to enjoy being in God’s presence as we participate in worship with other beloved sons and daughters. It’s not that we aren’t in his presence in every moment of every day, but where two, three or more are gathered, he is with us in a special way. It’s a momentous family experience we share with the Triune God. Shouldn’t this reality inform the way we prepare for these priceless occasions?
This is an important question and it’s worth asking it with all seriousness and sincerity. After all, our worship gatherings are more than just another social event. We learn from Trinitarian theology that when we gather, we are coming into the presence of the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth; worthy of all honor and praise. We gather to exalt HIM. In our culture, and with our human inclination toward familiarity, casualness and personalized concepts of freedom, it’s easy to lose this perspective.
Worship is always about God, and not about us. Trinitarian theology also teaches us that “our” worship is about entering into the eternal flow of Jesus’ ongoing worship of the Father, through the Spirit. Take a moment to ponder that statement. We aren’t just in a room somewhere, surrounded by other mere mortals—we are in a “place,” surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), that is indescribable. We are in the presence of God, and worship is God centered.
Healthy, vibrant churches place worship at the center of all they do. They aren’t as focused on personal preferences, feelings or needs, as they are about God. When worship is focused on meeting our needs and wants more than on who God is, it ends up being shallow and leaves us hollow and disappointed. With the primary focus on praising and glorifying God, we will be motivated to prepare better for how we participate with Jesus in the great commandment and the great commission.
Considering these foundational truths, it’s important that pastors ask some challenging but essential questions:
- Do we and our worship leaders understand what worship is?
- Are our worship leaders gifted and capable of leading inspirational worship?
- Does our congregation understand what worship is?
I realize these are sensitive questions and they need to be asked with grace. But they need to be asked. Perhaps, as pastors, we need to spend some more time with our worship leaders and worship team members to review the nature and purpose of worship.
There are a multitude of resources available to help worship leaders serve more effectively in their ministries.
- https://resources.gci.org/worship is a good place to start.
- Sponsor your worship leader(s) (if affordable) to attend your regional celebration. There they will see inspiring worship services modeled. It won’t be perfect, but it will give them some ideas to help them improve your worship services back home.
- Ask your RD to sponsor a worship seminar for the region. We have experienced worship leaders who can teach and train.
- Do an internet search on worship resources. Some sites specialize in small churches.
- Take a field trip on occasion to visit a vibrant church or two in your community to see how inspiring worship services can be done.
Preparations certainly include prayer—prayers focused on asking the Spirit to guide us and inspire us as we select songs that follow the sermon theme (we highly recommend following the Revised Common Lectionary). Just as we are thrilled to prepare for the arrival of a new baby, special dinner guests or other special celebrations, we should take time to pray and think about what we are going to do. We want to make our guests comfortable; we want them to enjoy the experience. And we want the Spirit to guide and inspire us as we help people enter worship.
Healthy, vibrant churches prepare weekly worship services that help people lead transformed lives. True worship is transformational. People cannot help but be changed when they enter God’s presence and experience his love and grace in worship. Inspiring, hope-filled worship helps people lead lives of worship – lives with worship at the center of all they do, all the time. With this in mind, we want to try to create a sense of expectation in our worship services. We want people to expect something to happen – an encounter with Jesus, encouragement and inspiration by the Spirit, a closer relationship with the Father and a stronger desire to participate in Jesus’ mission through the church.
As we can see, there is much to consider when we prepare our worship gatherings. In the accompanying article we’ll discuss some basic nuts and bolts for worship planning. Let’s continue to grow in our ability to develop worship experiences that are inspirational and hopeful for the people God brings to our fellowship.