Needed: A Renewed Paradigm for Worship
By Donald P. Shoemaker
Grace Community Church of Seal Beach, California
I’ve been an enthusiastic worshipper since I was a toddler (my mother told me I sang really loud). I began planning and leading worship when I was 17. The church’s worship and music ministry was one of my key areas of responsibility during my 28 years as a senior pastor.
Here I want to set forth guidance to move worship ministries away from some tendencies I’ve observed in recent years. I try to be creative on several points but make no claim to originality. In fact, I hope most ideas are quite old and enduring.
A Truly Worshipping Congregation
Give worship back to the congregation. Stop the platform-centered professionalism. Get the congregation singing, not just standing—engaged and not mere passive onlookers. Lower the volume, if necessary, so that people can joyfully hear themselves sing. Make the congregation active participants in worship “with heart and soul and voices” (“Now Thank We All Our God” by Martin Rinkart, 1636). Worship can be high quality without being so orchestrated.
In Touch with Our Christian Heritage
Renew worship connection with our rich Christian heritage even as we also sing good current compositions. Put the people in touch with the saints of the past—their struggles, suffering, spirituality, successes and songs. The Holy Spirit didn’t first arrive with “Jesus Music” in the 1960’s!
The Word of God in Worship
Integrate the Word of the Lord into worship more thoroughly. People need to hear the Scriptures read. If we Evangelical Protestants consider ourselves “People of the Word”, why is there more reading of Scripture in a Roman Catholic Mass than in the typical Evangelical service?
Sometimes “Less” is “More” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2; Habakkuk 2:20)
Musical instrumentation in all its variety is marvelous in worship. But don’t forget places for silence, softness, and quality a cappella singing. Spoken words are not always necessary and, when they are, few are better than many.
The Word Proclaimed and The Word Explained (Example: Acts 2:14-42)
We must see the distinction between Proclamation of the Word to non-believers and Instruction in the Word to believers—both necessary and complementary. As you plan the worship experience, remember that its primary purpose is to instruct and build up of believers in faith and life. While non-Christians should be invited and, when present, not made to feel like awkward strangers, the worship hour should be distinguished from other occasions that have as their primary purpose drawing non-believers to hear the Word of Salvation and confess Jesus as Lord.
Giving in Worship
Don’t forget the giving opportunity within the worship service. Other avenues for giving (payroll deductions, on-line giving, etc.) have a growing place, but must not supersede a time to give as an act of worship in the service.
Technology in Worship—Dine with a Long Spoon
Technology in many forms will continue to grow as a feature of worship. But it must always be the servant of worship, never its lord. People should leave worship thinking, “I’ve met God today!” Not, “Wow!” Ask these questions when using technology: “Does this feature really enhance worship? Does it point us straight to Jesus? Or does it detract and distract from him?”
Expository Sermons as a Work of Art
The Message should unfold and apply the meaning of Scripture to the people so they can see what was there all along. While the expository pastor has training and tools available that the rest of us don’t have, sermons should not create an unhealthy dependence on the speaker to know what God is saying.
Sermons should usually be under 30 minutes—it takes more work to create a tight sermon than an extended one, but it will be a better sermon. Organize the sermon as if it were a work of artistry, and then maybe it will become one!
Humor Has a Place—Keep it There! (Ask those “tech” questions again!)
Lightheartedness and laughter have their place in worship, when done with care and purpose. But the service must never get frivolous and must always lift us above ourselves to God. Humor is one thing, trying to be funny another.
A Real, Live Pastor
John 3:16 doesn’t say, “God so loved the world that he beamed down his son”! Instead, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14 NIV).
The pastor who speaks should be there in flesh and blood, not electronically delivered like a hologram. Pastors, we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. We are not indispensible celebrities! The people need true interaction with the pastor during and after the sermon, not an impersonal non-encounter with someone who isn’t there.
And no fleeing out the side door for privacy right after the benediction! I preached three sermons on Sunday mornings for fifteen years, and I know a pastor can guard his energy without avoiding personal time with the people.
Worship settings don’t need to be extravagant, but they shouldn’t be bland and utilitarian either. The place of worship is sacred space, removed from the “common settings” of the rest of the week. It’s not another “Home Depot”! Worship is a vestibule to the Celestial. In “The Gathering”, we are a holy temple of God, a dwelling place for God’s Spirit.
The visible word should tastefully and purposefully surround worshippers in the worship location through artistic display and symbols, and (yes) even in the windows.
The Eucharist in Worship
The Communion (the Eucharist) should be a regular feature of renewed worship—even weekly. Communion isn’t “fast food”. Enough time must be given to ponder the Cross, God’s grace and our need for repentance. Pastors should declare the good news of forgiveness in the Communion.
Shepherding the Flock in Worship
Pastors should actively lead their people into worship, within worship, and out of worship. This means a pastoral role for the Call to Worship, the Pastoral Prayer, and the Benediction. The people should be led in petitionary and intercessory prayer. Also, consider providing appropriate prayer and anointing of the sick with oil by the pastors or elders of the church.
These renewal points come from my general knowledge—change isn’t needed everywhere. The points are a work in progress, so input is invited.
(c) 2014 Donald P. Shoemaker
(Don has been in Christian ministry for over 46 years, 38 in pastoral work and eight as a theology professor at Biola University. After 28 years, he retired as senior pastor of Grace Community Church in Seal Beach, California in 2012 and now serves the church as pastor emeritus. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)