……….when the pastors delegate more and abdicate less !!!!
By Rev. Bryan Shirley
My own observation over the last 30 plus years tells me that we as leaders of Baptist churches in Australia have not been very successful in transitioning smoothly from the ‘old way ‘[traditional] of corporate worship to the “new way”[contemporary]. It seems that so much attention has been given to the style and presentation of our corporate gatherings that we have glossed over the real purpose of our time together and that in the words of Isaiah 1:12; “when you come to appear before me”……. After all, what is worship? It is drawing near to God, entering into His felt presence. It is significant to point out in the time of Isaiah that although lots of attention was given to the multiplicity of ways God’s people might worship him, God was not really interested. In fact He got to such a stage of sheer exasperation with their outward forms which they prized so deeply that He says in Isaiah 1.11… ‘I have had enough….of your sacrifices…..burnt offerings of rams…..the fat of well-fed beasts…the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats’. Why was God so ‘sick of’ His people’s worship?
Why is such worship unacceptable to God? Because the form or forms of worship have claimed a greater urgency over the quality of their lives, over what was going on in their hearts. Isaiah refers to the hollowness of the worship in his day as being related to the way Gods’ people were treating each other and in particular the vulnerable in society [1:16/17]
What is going on in our hearts [in the real world] at the time of corporate worship….our character assassination, our criticism, our sense of superiority, our back-stabbing, our hostility, our selectiveness… all create a life-depleting social atmosphere rather than the life-enriching environment God wants.
The problem with worship is-that however the more enjoyable, the more beautiful, the more emotionally uplifting, the more professionally excellent its form becomes, the more useful it is as a mechanism for evading honest dealings with God and the more plausible as a substitute for repentance. What makes worship acceptable through Christ is repentance——that means ‘cleaning up our lives’ with compassion towards people and tenderness towards God.
How do our present worship experiences lead or facilitate that kind of ENCOUNTER with OUR GOD?
Why did I refer to pastors at the beginning? Because I believe that we were both called by God and trained theologically [biblically] and practically, to understand what are the contributing elements that make the corporate gatherings of God’s people to be a real experience of the ‘felt presence of God’.
Such elements include:
- Adoration of God;
- Confession of sin [a praise and worship culture without corresponding confession seems to me to be unbiblical];
- Thanksgiving to God;
- Prayers of Intercession for local needs and for the world at large [Global crises are our crises] and
- An appropriate Response to what God has been speaking into the congregation. [What shall we do?]
These themes can come either through the songs chosen or the prayers prayed. Sadly some church gatherings have a very narrow coverage of these elements.
Regarding the choice of songs chosen, it seems to me that this should be a matter of serious consideration between Pastor [preacher] and Worship Leader, with the Pastor having the final call, particularly as he should have the discernment in his heart from God which way the Spirit is both leading the service and what kind of response God is wanting from His people that day. That is not to say that a worship leader is not to be recognised for their musical skills and abilities, nor that they should not be trained to be also just as sensitive to how the Spirit is ‘leading the worship along the way’, which may require a change of direction or emphasis.
I can think of a time when it was my practice to meet with my worship leader every week to both debrief from the previous week [‘what worked and what did not’] and to discuss at great length the subject material for the following week….where I thought God was leading and the unfolding theme so far, and what songs, inclusions , prayers would be appropriate.
I can’t help but get the feeling that in many situations today the pastor has just given over the role of worship input to the worship leader recognising their musical abilities and skills, with very minimum equipping. In the areas of voice projection [so that their words can clearly be heard] and in pastorally encouraging the congregation to sing [it is usually an out-front performance], training needs to take place. Training is also needed in being able to discern what songs need to be extended as heart felt worship to God, rather than repeated for the sake of it, or being copied off a CD. Finally, at the conclusion of a service the ability to select songs that fit the theme of ‘God’s message or momentum’ for that day, and the freedom on occasions to even dispense with songs because they are not really needed to bring the congregation to an appropriate response.
I believe there is so much more that God wants us to celebrate and experience of His Greatness, and Majesty and transforming Power and Grace during our times of corporate worship. This requires active participation involving the whole person:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song Psalm 95:1,2
This is again contrary to modern day passive ‘concert ‘culture.
This requires leadership to make sure that all the elements in our corporate worship enhance an ‘open-hearted’ approach to God, eager to repent of our sins and to become more like Jesus. [Refer to song’ “ I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship”]
This article was prompted by the inclusion of the subject “Selecting Songs for Sunday” in the TOGETHER magazine by Ryan Day, for whom I have a high regard for his vision for corporate worship.