Paul relayed to the Corinthians his encouragement that “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Corinthians 14: 40). He said this after describing the truly chaotic worship going on in one of the house churches. Participants got up and talked whenever they wanted and many of them expressed themselves in strange tongues nobody else could understand.
What’s wrong with that? Paul’s overarching concern was what visitors would think. Would a stranger be convicted of sin and salvation? Would a visitor fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14: 25)? He did not object to having several deliver a message or speak in a strange tongue, which he himself also did. But don’t let this be chaos that can overwhelm a visitor. Figure out how to do potentially chaotic worship in a fitting and orderly way. Paul himself thought that tongue-speaking should be done somewhere else than in public worship.
How much damage in congregations has been done by somebody’s interpretation of what is fitting and orderly? Whatever your emphasis would be, don’t make it too hard for the Holy Spirit to empower the participants.
For many traditional mainline congregations, doing things in a “fitting and orderly way” has meant a rigid sequence of activities with every word written out for participants, many of those words repeated Sunday after Sunday, so they are known by rote. This approach is probably the easiest and fastest way to prepare for a worship service, but it is probably also the hardest style of worship for the Spirit to break through and touch hearts.
What kind of worship service would be most welcoming to the Spirit? I suggest it should be engaging, with lots of illustrations and lots of suggested applications the listeners can do. Depending on the educational level of the audience, the message needs to be simplified. Reserve the in-depth explorations of Scriptures for the seminary crowd. When addressing an audience with a mostly grade-school education, keep the words and concepts simple, as you would in a grade-school chapel service. Those with a high school education can process a more challenging message, and it can be even more challenging for those with a college education. Typical suburban churches would have a mix of those with high school education and those who graduated from college. Even there, keep the message as simple and as uncomplicated as possible.
I once witnessed a pastor in a congregation preach an advanced college-level theodicy—justifying how God can love even when bad things happen to his followers. I can’t imagine more than a handful of the audience got meaning out of that sermon, which went way over the heads of everyone else sitting through it.
Why is it important to have the audience be engaged in whatever is going in the worship service? If most are not, it is a waste of their time as well as that of the worship leader. Going through the motions might be a God-pleasing way to show respect, but God would be much more pleased with participants who are actually engaged in worshiping him.
It is a fact that most listeners engage with stories more than with the generalizations in propositional sentences. Where could those stories come from? Certainly from the preacher’s life. Many sources are sitting in the congregation. They can share times when their faith took on more meaning, or they discovered themselves to be living more of a fruit of the Spirit’s work, like becoming more loving or joyful or patient with children.
Testimonies can take a lot of clock time. With video technology, these stories can be recorded on video and edited down to the most relevant parts. With videos, the leader knows how much time the service will be taken in playing this video. With live testimonies, there is always the risk of too much time going into just one part of the whole service.
Why should messages offer practical ways to be applied in the lives of the listeners? Christians have always known they should love their neighbor. Provide the opportunity to do that by arranging a servant event where members can actually go out to homes of the elderly to clean up their yard or garage. Then when you’re pulling weeds in the yard of a widow you’ve never seen before, you will be asking yourself, Why am I pulling her weeds instead my own? Oh, right. That’s what Christians do. Christians help those in need.
Judy Tyreman says
Testimonies shared either in-person certainly impacted me in 2002 when I heard my friend share her Haiti life-changing mission experience during our worship service with our senior pastor serving as the “moderator” who used a Q&A format with her. It was timely, engaging and very impactful. The Holy Spirit spurred me on to consider when and where I would serve on a mission. Since 2004, my husband and I began our 16-years of mission work in the Dominican Republic and praise to God that He has called many others to join us on these Dominican missions. Worshipping our Lord is a matter of our heart attitude towards Him when we join others in weekly worship. Whether we repeat the beautiful liturgical words each week, or praise Him in a contemporary service, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3
David Luecke says
Thanks, Judy. As I shared with you, you and Harold are one of my success stories in my ministry.
Michael Zehnder says
Excellent presentation and points, Dave! I once witnessed some adult baptisms in an LCMS church where the pastor covered all the main points and procedures of the Rite of Holy Baptism in warm and winsome ways using his own heart-felt and scriptural words, still closely based on the Rite itself. That alone was powerful and refreshing. Nothing was lost; nothing unscriptural was added, but it was done in such a way that the “roteness” of the Rite was washed anew in the freshness of the Holy Spirit. I felt like one of the walkers on the road to Emmaus – “didn’t our hearts burn within us as he opened up the Scriptures to us!?”
I was already very touched by this pastor’s handling of the Rite of Baptism – but then he said something so meaningful and profound that I wondered why on earth we don’t do this every time. He asked the adults being baptized, “How did you end up coming to faith? Who shared the Good News about Jesus with you?!”
In spontaneous testimony the participants shared how one of their baptismal “witnesses” told them about Christ at work, invited them into their home, loved on them in Jesus’ Name, encouraged them with Scripture, etc. It was powerful and the congregation had a living demonstration of the Spirit’s work when the Gospel is proclaimed. It was obvious that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of Christ.” We witnessed the importance and fruit of sharing our faith as we go about our daily lives. I was personally both convicted and encouraged to be more intentional in “making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” A thousand sermons couldn’t have moved my heart more powerfully in the direction of living out my faith more intentionally…and I witnessed the dramatic thrill of how God’s Spirit could use my simple words because I saw a living demonstration of how the Gospel is the Power to create faith when God-breathed words come from my mouth.
The testimony was short and sweet – definitely done decently and in good order. It was easy to acknowledge that “God is really among you.” What a lost opportunity it would have been if the pastor hadn’t asked those simple questions. I determined at that moment to watch for those kind of opportunities during worship and life so that the Spirit is not stifled but that His work in pointing to and bringing people to Christ is magnified and celebrated.
David Luecke says
Well stated. Thanks. I am going to think about how to spread your comments, maybe in a blog.
Michael Zehnder says
Awesome. I look forward to it.
Lori Sardiga says
I feel one way to exemplify and reinforce the message is through drama. Drama is similar to a visual testimony except one is a true story of how God worked in one’s life and the other usually is a fictional representation. Dramas or skits can raise issues people struggle with in daily life. They can provide a solution or leave questions unresolved. People learn and remember in different ways but a live, visual presentation almost forces people to pay attention (especially if a friend or family member is on stage). Dramas are also a great way to engage the congregation as all ages can participate. A skit can easily be incorporated within the service if kept to 5 minutes or under. However, for drama to be truly effective, the Pastor has to use it along side his message or it just becomes a distraction. The two need to work together. As a former drama director and writer, I believe drama was an extension of the Spirit working through me to tell people about Christ.
David Luecke says
I remember your drama skill when you took the course on preaching. The professor in Fort Wayne said it was outstanding. I remember your disappointment when Pastor Shanks would not use your skills and wrote his own dramas. I never got much out of them.
Lori Sardiga says
Elaine Schomaker says
Thank you, Dave, for this blog message. I was very thankful and appreciative of the comments of Judy, Michael, and Lori. All very akin to accompanying your thought provoking message. I agree that rituals are what we have been accustomed to having in our services, but so important to let the Holy Spirit be part of that in the way the rituals are used with thought and some accompanying movement whether it be to incorporate a song or a skit, as Lori mentioned, something to really let the Holy Spirit come alive in our services, to touch the soul of every parishioner.
BRUCE RUDOLF says
Thank you for this David. With changes to be made duer to re-opening with the virus it’s an opportunity to try to adapt with some fresh ideas. Always appreciate your blog and especially this one and Mike’s comments.
David Luecke says
I see big changes happening before the election.