This is post number 24 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry. These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance. I welcome discussion on any of them.
Reflection #24: So often over the past couple of years, even while visiting numerous and disparate churches in random order, God has seemed to have a specific word for me or a member of my family each time. Have we become immune to the concept of holy expectation in contemporary worship?
I think the answer to the above question might be “yes, more often than not.” I understand why, of course. We live in the age of Planning Center and other often-useful tools that help keep our services flowing smoothly. Those of us in highly presentational churches have producers in our ears telling us how much time we have before we have to cue up the morning’s video, like a benevolent Holly Hunter to our William Hurt in Broadcast News. And the running clock back by the confidence monitor flashes red when we go over the allotted time for any element of the service.
That acknowledged, over and over again these past couple of years I’ve been impressed by the number of times the pastor’s sermon or a transitional comment by the worship leader has spoken directly to a specific concern or issue facing me or a member of my family. It’s been uncanny–especially given that I refer to my wife and me as “free agents” these days, camping at the churches where our children attend and serve with a degree of regularity but also visiting a host of different churches, probably 40 at least in two and a half years.
These small-scale occurrences, too numerous to be the result of chance (even if I were inclined, and I’m not, to view them that way), have caused me to think a bit about the concept of our congregations’ expectations as they come to worship each week. It certainly seems that most churches are programmed so completely that there really isn’t room for much else–even though I’m sure most church leaders would respond in the affirmative when asked if they desired God to move in their midst in worship.
Dr. Jeff Iorg, president of Gateway Seminary, wrote a paper a while back entitled “Holy Spirit Empowered Ministry: A Case Study of the Church at Antioch” that articulates some key concepts from the 1st-century church’s worship practices. The link will take you to the entire paper, but let me excerpt some particularly compelling observations where corporate worship and a sense of “holy expectation” are concerned. As you read, you might consider asking yourself how closely our current worship services mirror those described by Iorg. Even if you subscribe to the notion that much of the content in the book of Acts describes as opposed to prescribes, the question unsettles.
Healthy churches experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their worship services. Healthy churches have a holy expectation something special will happen every time they gather to worship God. Healthy churches have leaders and members who seek God’s power in planning, preparing for, and directing worship services. Healthy churches experience the Spirit’s intervention when worshipping.
How can you discern if the Holy Spirit is moving in the worship services of your church? Simply put–supernatural things happen. Decisions are made and life change happens beyond the scope of human ingenuity. People give gifts, make commitments, and chart new directions because of insight received while worshipping. In short, things happen that can’t be explained by the work of your two hands!
When the Holy Spirit moved in the church at Antioch, the members did something beyond their ability. They responded to preaching, gave money, delivered messages to fellow believers, accepted a call to missions, fasted, prayed, and laid hands on fellow believers (commissioning them for service). When the Holy Spirit is active in a worship service people respond–privately yes, but also openly, definitively, and publicly. Certainly, public response can be manipulated and be too dependent on emotional appeals. But foregoing all opportunity for public response in worship isn’t the answer to those excesses. . . .
Healthy leaders and healthy churches have a sense of expectancy when they gather together. They seek the filling of the Spirit, personally, and the empowering of the Spirit, corporately. These churches create opportunity–spiritual, emotional, and physical–for people to respond to the Spirit’s prompting in worship. They facilitate praying, sharing testimonies, confronting sinful behavior, public repentance and supportive prayer, and expressions of mutual support (laying on of hands in Antioch, often a hug or a handshake today). These churches plan time in their worship gatherings for a response–using various methods but always giving people an opportunity to follow the Spirit’s promptings, urgings, or instructions. Healthy churches expect the Holy Spirit to be an active participant in their worship gatherings.
Read the last two sentences in light of the fact that Iorg is a Southern Baptist; non-charismatic churches don’t get a pass from him.
Worship leaders, consider adding time for planned spontaneity in your services. The Lord be with you as you seek to help your congregations increase the level of holy expectation they bring to corporate worship!
Coming next week (Lord willing): The importance of worship education.