Reflection #26 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 26 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 #26: Churches do well to acknowledge that the giving of tithes and offerings is an important part of our overall corporate worship.

A book that is rearranging how my family and I understand and use technology is Andy 41Vj8HQRNkL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Crouch’s The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  The vast majority of us (everyone but the Amish) are so caught up in gadgets and gizmos that (purport to) make our lives easier, we need periodically to step back and assess the situation.  What is the price we are paying for all this simplicity?  Is life really simpler with this technology?  What does all this convenience do to our souls?  What Would Jesus Do with a smartphone?  Would He even own one?

A tangential question that comes out of this for worship leaders of late is, How do we best collect the offering in the day of online giving, Google Pay, and Venmo?  Clearly, more and more parishioners give online; a concept that would have felt Jetsons-like only a decade or so ago is now commonplace.  I imagine studies eventually will show that folks who give online give more regularly and give greater sums when they do.  More regular giving of greater offerings is good, but is minimizing the act of physically giving in corporate worship bad?

In our visits to numerous churches in the northwest Chicago suburbs, my wife and I have encountered almost as many ways to collect the offering as we have churches.  Rare is the church anymore that brings ushers to the front of the church, who wait for a pastoral prayer of blessing for the offering and then collect cash and checks, row by row, while musicians play an offertory or “special music.”  It still happens, of course, but not all that often in churches pursuing contemporary worship.

Instead, we have seen churches that practice weekly Eucharist put a basket by the elements, and those coming forward to eat at the Lord’s Table drop their offerings into that basket.  Other churches indicate, usually from the pulpit (although not always), that there are baskets in the back of the sanctuary where people can deposit their offering envelopes.  While these methods get the basic job done–collecting the people’s gifts–they don’t often allow for any understanding of the worship involved in bringing a portion of that which God has blessed you–bringing your “whole tithe into the storehouse,” as Malachi describes it–to return to Him each week.

Certainly the job of worship education vis-à-vis the offering is more difficult these days, but I like the way one church we attend fairly regularly has decided to tackle this conundrum.  This church, with a strongly upper-middle class congregation, probably receives more online giving than most, yet they still bring ushers forward to receive the weekly gifts, row by row, where we all pass the bags to the end of the aisle . . . even though a solid half of the attendees probably don’t put anything at all in those bags because they went online and gave the previous payday.

More often than not, as the ushers are making their way down the aisles, the worship leader asks the congregation to pray together a prayer that functions as both sacred liturgical action (the prayer before the receiving of tithes and offerings) and worship education for congregants.  After the prayer, and while the ushers are passing the bags, the congregation sings a song corporately, often one that somehow relates to giving, Christ’s for us (kenosis) or ours to God (out of gratitude).

Here are three prayers that we have prayed prior to the collection of the offering in the past several months at this church:

God, You are the maker and owner of everything.  We give you this portion of our income, but even what we keep belongs to You–our time and energy, our gifts and resources, our heart and mind.  It is all Yours.  Amen.

God, we give because we want You to use these gifts to change lives.  May the lonely find a home.  May the broken be made whole.  May the condemned be forgiven.  May the weak be made strong.  May the good news of Your kingdom be heard near and far.  Amen.

God, we give because You have given us the most exciting mission in the world.  Do not let our gifts go to waste!  Use them to make passionate disciples who are belonging, growing, serving, and reaching.  Amen.

Nothing too theologically profound here, but good reminders of why we bring a portion of our income to church and give it to God.  With our current technology, the strategy this church uses–corporate prayers that help us appreciate the theological essence of the offering–is an important one, especially for those who aren’t body-physical worshipers on Sunday morning because they were mouse-click worshipers earlier that week.

However you decide to navigate this interesting issue, the Lord be with you!

Coming next week, Lord willing: The use of videos in worship.

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30 Minutes with Ian

imageLast week, I had the distinct privilege of contributing to “The Common Good,” a radio show produced in Chicagoland by WYLL, which features two hours of interesting reflections, opinions, and general musings about life, the Church, faith, and whatever else comes, often-unfiltered, to the minds of the hosts, Brian From and Ian Simkins, both Chicago-area pastors.  The latter, a former student of mine at Judson University, has been a friend for 20 years, and some of the most enriching, life-giving conversations I’ve ever had have come while noshing on an omelet or steak and eggs or a meat-lover’s skillet across the table from him.  While Brian was on vacation, Ian invited a bunch of his friends to come and fill some air time, and I thought for this week’s blog post, I would simply link the 36-minute conversation for your consideration, since each of the four segments had its genesis in something written in the past year in this blog space.  If you’ve read any of this blog over the past year, and if you’ve resonated with anything I’ve written, perhaps adding one additional dimension to the experience will be an additional blessing.  Here’s hoping.  The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Back to the reflections on contemporary American worship.

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Reflection #25, part 4, on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 25, part 4, 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 #25: Perhaps the reason so many worship leaders in contemporary American evangelical churches function mostly as song leaders or old-school music directors is that churches greatly underestimate the potential for corporate worship to change lives.

Most bloggers write for themselves as much as they write for any audience; I am certainly no different.  Writing this blog each week helps reinforce my life-changing studies at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies 15 years ago.  And this lengthy series, in particular, in which I’m trying to bring some theological reflections to bear on CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTworship in the contemporary American church, helps me clarify the material I share with my students in Judson University’s Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts.  Moreover, this particular four-part reflection has reminded me again of the significant responsibility worship leaders have–now more than ever–to help their congregations understand and appreciate the power their corporate worship has to transform radically and over time their lives and the lives of others.

I have been using the marvelous book, edited by Alexis Abernethy, entitled Worship That Changes Lives, specifically a chapter written by worship theologian John Witvliet, “The Cumulative Power of Transformation in Public Worship.”  Having digested Witvliet’s contribution, I’m eager to dive into the whole book this summer, especially chapters discussing how the arts aid worship in transformation and what psychological aspects affect transformation in corporate worship.  (Abernethy is a psychology professor at Fuller Seminary.)

But for this final installment, I’ll allow Witvliet to inform our thoughts one more time–although I can’t imagine he won’t appear in this space again.  At the end of his chapter, Witvliet offers four proverbs to summarize his main points (covered in summary fashion in the previous three blog posts).  I will cite each, provide a short quotation of clarification, and add a word of exhortation of my own.

Number one: “Wise is the Christian leader who understands that the Holy Spirit is the agent of genuine transformation and actively prays for the Spirit’s transformative power.”

One of the great temptations we face as leaders is to think that we can bring about an experience of the Spirit, that we can somehow engineer the Spirit’s work.  This ability would be no different from magic, that we can manipulate divine action by “pulling the right lever” with certain words or sounds or moments.

How often, in my younger years as a worship leader (and in my weakest moments even today) I assumed for myself my efforts were the impetus for passionate congregational worship, work only accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Number two: “Wise is the Christian leader who develops an acute awareness of the cumulative power of worship to transform us over time and invests a portion of the creative energy in worship toward this long-term transformative project.”

We need uncommon creativity in explaining the sheer significance of habits. . . . [W]e need to be uncommonly creative about engaging in habits that are poised to sustain us for a lifetime of vital, faithful service.

All our churches are “liturgical”; they all follow a basic outline.  Do we know why we do things the way we do–what spiritual purposes our orders of service attempt to achieve–and, as important, do our congregations understand these motivations?

Number three: “Wise is the Christian leader who is intentional about the kind of long-term growth most needed for a local congregation to express mature Christian faith, who gives careful attention to the implicit meaning of the words, gestures, visible symbols, and patterns of interactions in worship.”

“How can our worship not only express where and who we are, but also form us to become what we are not yet?  How can our worship practices grow in us deeper, more profound, more faithful capacities, attitudes, emotions, patterns of interaction, and convictions?”  Vital, faithful worship always challenges us and grows in us new capacities.

We don’t pursue the new for the sake of novelty; we pursue the new because at no time do we ever have full and total knowledge of or appreciation for God in all fullness.  There is always much more to learn–especially from cultures and worshiping communities who, as Rich Mullins once said, “underline different parts of their Bible than you do.”

Number four: Wise is the Christian leader with the poise to practice vital improvisatory ministry, faithful to ancient patterns, alert to life-giving innovations, aware of the Holy Spirit’s work in each.

[T]he Holy Spirit works in sovereign freedom through both established patterns and innovations, in both dramatic and subtle ways, through both dramatic conversion U-turns and cumulative formation over time. . . . We need to joyfully practice ritual patterns that form us deeply in the contours of the Christian faith while simulataneously praying for the Spirit’s dramatic work in our midst.

As with so many matters of our faith, where worship is concerned, it’s almost always best to embrace both/and as opposed to either/or.

Worship leaders, the Lord be with you as you seek to be a vessel through which the Holy Spirit forms and transforms the people of God!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Pursuing worship education.

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Reflection #25, part 3, on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 25, part 3, 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 #25: Perhaps the reason so many worship leaders in contemporary American evangelical churches function mostly as song leaders or old-school music directors is that churches greatly underestimate the potential for corporate worship to change lives.

I have been discussing lately the power of worship to transform lives.  I have, I hope, made the case (with substantial assistance from John Witvliet, of Calvin College) that AlexisAbernethy_400x400most of us in American churches practicing contemporary worship don’t view seriously enough corporate worship’s and congregational singing’s power to transform lives.  In this next section from “The Cumulative Power of Transformation in Public Worship” (in Worship That Changes Lives, edited by Alexis Abernethy), Witvliet sagely and theologically answers objections to the obvious examples of times when worship doesn’t transform lives.

For one, worship is not the only formative power in our lives.  Even lifelong worshipers are formed also by advertising, shopping malls, television, friends, and families.  All these things too have rituals, habits, gestures, and language that form us.

For another, we can be inoculated against the formative power of worship.  One way to inoculate ourselves against part of worship’s power is to think of going to church in superstitious terms, as if we are hedging our bets with God.  If we participate in worship and simply hope that our being there will cause God to bless us, what we are doing in church really amounts to practicing something other than Christianity.  We are practicing superstition, or hypocrisy–in which we sometimes even intentionally learn to say things to God that we do not mean. . . .

Third, some of this formation depends on our attentiveness.  A person who attends worship reluctantly, perhaps with a spouse or parent, and works to avoid active engagement with liturgical action, is less likely to be transformed by the experience.  And some of us are kept from attentiveness by powers beyond our control.  Clinical depression or ADHD, for example, might significantly affect our aptitude to enter into worship.

Fourth, external factors can also turn upside down a lifetime of formation like an earthquake that changes the flow of rivers.  An experience of abuse or injustice in a congregation can lead us (understandably) to turn away from everything that the congregation stands for, possible casting aside years of formation as firmly as we can.

Fifth, some people can use the topic of the Spirit’s transformative power in worship as an exercise of power to restrict the influence of other people.  Introverts who cannot stand exuberant handclapping can speak of this transformative power over time to silence other voices, just as extrovert enthusiasts can invoke an emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s more dramatic modes of work to bolster their own preferences.  Presbyterian and Reformed Christians (of which this author is one) can use all this talk of Spirit-led habit formation to squelch moments and practices of charismatic zeal, just as charismatics can use talk of Spirit-led spontaneous ecstasy to squelch Presbyterian and Reformed patterns of prayer. . . .

Having listed the “Yeah, but” reasons why worship doesn’t always form us, Witvliet finishes the section by providing helpful reminders of God’s sovereignty in this, as in all other, aspects of our faith.

These are important caveats that need to be front and center in the minds and the hearts of all who would speak of the cumulative power of transformative worship over time–just as the converse of each of these statements needs to be prominent in the awareness of those who testify to the Spirit’s dramatic inbreaking.

Such caveats remind us how messy ministry is.  In nearly every community, the deep formative power of worship offers a mixture of good and bad.  Congregational leaders can never be in control of all this formation.  Indeed, the wheat and tares of vital Christianity appear in every facet of Christian living, including worship.

But these caveats need not slow or stop our grateful reception of the Spirit’s cumulative transformative work over time.  Compare them to the complaints of a reluctant physical therapy patient: “Why exercise when my eating habits will only put on the calories I am taking off?”  “Why exercise when I am likely to simply stop in six months and lose everything I’ve gained?”  “Why not go on sinning so that grace may abound?”  As in every other area of Christian life, we gain wisdom when we hold on to vital truth about faithful ministry with open-minded awareness of the dangers and downsides of the claims we embrace.

Worship leaders, as you graciously seek to allow your worship sets a more substantial place at the Sunday-morning table–not necessarily in time, but in substance–the Lord be with you as you hold up the ideal even in the face of counterexamples that testify to our fallen condition.  Worship can be transformative, and we should pursue transformation as we plan.  The fact that not everyone will be transformed is no reason to set our sights lower.

Coming next week (Lord willing): final thoughts on worship’s power to transform.

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Reflection #25, part 2, on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 25, part 2, 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 #25: Perhaps the reason so many worship leaders in contemporary American evangelical churches function mostly as song leaders or old-school music directors is that churches greatly underestimate the potential for corporate worship to change lives.

Last week I argued, based partly on John Witvliet’s “The Cumulative Power of 2017_Witvliet_headshot_359 Transformation in Public Worship” in Worship That Changes Lives (ed., Alexis Abernethy), that, despite numerous indications to the contrary in contemporary worship in the evangelical American church, congregational song has the power to transform lives–as much as any sermon or other liturgical action.  To support the claim that corporate worship can facilitate great spiritual transformation, Witvliet offers five specific areas formed when we worship together.  While not specifically focused on the people’s song, I believe these apply to our worship sets, which surely function as an element of worship.  Of course, for many (at least colloquially), “worship” = “congregational singing.”  Here, then, is Witvliet’s take on what actually is formed in worship.

Part of what is formed in us is explicitly conceptual.  Worship both presents concepts and “practices concepts.”  For example, we hear repeated references–and perhaps an occasional explanation–of the Trinity, but we also experience prayers offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit, prayers that invite us to imagine God as the One who is before us, alongside us, and within us.  We hear the claim that Jesus is God’s Son, who became human for our salvation.  But we also practice this claim when we take bread and wine that are provocatively given to us as “the body and blood of Jesus.” . . .

Second, part of what worship forms in us is a new perspective on life in all its dimensions.  The writer of Psalm 73, perplexed at the success of the foolish, testifies that upon going “into the sanctuary . . . [he] perceived their end” (v. 17).  Participation in worship offered a perspective, a point of view, that helped the writer see life in an altogether different way.  Through the lens of worship, all the idolatries of money, sex, and power–even if only in a momentary glimpse–are put in their proper place. . . .

Third, part of what is formed in us is a set of emotions.  Worship helps to sculpt the emotional landscape of our lives.  The melodies, rhythms, and harmonies of worship evoke and shape certain emotions in us.  They may allow us to experience grandeur or gratitude or lament in ways that will happen in no other part of our lives–affections that, because they are offered in the name of God, become permanently attached to our minds and hearts with our notion of God and true spirituality.  Some churches form in worshipers a deep awe; others shape a profound exuberance.  Others . . . manage to teach worshipers to express genuine and honest guilt, but in ways that allow the grace of the gospel to melt that guilt away. . . .

Fourth, worship forms us in certain relationships–with both God and each other.  Worship enacts a conversation between God and the gathered community.  We learn to hear God speak words of comfort, assurance, challenge, and correction.  We speak [and sing] words of praise, lament, gratitude, and confession.  All these words only make sense as expressions of [a] fundamental relationship.  Likewise, worship enacts relationships with others.  As we gather at the Lord’s Table, worship forms us to consider each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of age, gender, race, or socioeconomic class.  Worship forms us to act toward each other as fellow servants, as fellow saints in patterns of interaction that do not come naturally to us in any walk of life.

Fifth, part of what is formed in us are certain virtues.  Hearing a courageous preacher helps us imagine how we might summon courage to speak the truth.  Speaking a penitential prayer of uncommon honesty might quicken our conscience to perceive our own patterns of personal dishonesty.  And each of these discrete, individual virtues [is] deepened through the fundamental way that worship calls us to take ourselves out of the center of the universe. . . . Or, as Michael Lindvall puts it, “Worship is the weekly practice at not being God.”  In a culture of self-centeredness, worship is one of the few activities that has as its intrinsic purpose to “decenter” ourselves, to see what it feels like not to be the center of the universe in which we live.

In sum, the nature of what is formed in us is wonderfully complex: in worship we practice certain convictions, perspectives, emotions, relationships, and virtues.  This formation is as rich and wondrous as sanctification itself, a wondrously fulsome process by which the Spirit grows new dimensions of holiness and Christlikeness in every aspect of our lives.

Worship leaders, doesn’t this just make you want to let out a shout?  Doesn’t it call all of us to be more than band directors?  What an awesome privilege–what a terrifying responsibility–we have when we view worship and its power to transform lives in this manner!

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): “Yeah, but” thoughts on the transformative power of corporate worship.


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Reflection #25, part 1, on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 25 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 #25: Perhaps the reason so many worship leaders in contemporary American evangelical churches function mostly as song leaders or old-school music directors is that churches greatly underestimate the potential for corporate worship to change lives.

Sure, encounters with the audible voice of God can change lives.  Ditto many near-death experiences.  History is replete with examples of lives that changed courses radically via powerful sermons.  And many evangelicals these days would even testify to the notion that lives can be rearranged profoundly at the Table.  But does our congregational singing have the power to transform lives?

Based on the corporate song in contemporary worship services, most honest Christians would have to respond, “Probably not.”  Our worship sets, almost exclusively at the onset of the service, play many important roles.  They signal to the coffee-drinkers in the fellowship area that church is starting.  They set a peppy tone that provides, in some respects, a balm for the stress with which so many of us enter the worship space.  They warm up the crowd before the main event, the sermon–in the same way an up-and-coming or old-and-fading band warms up the headliner at a rock concert.  But, from all appearances, no one really expects the congregational singing to do much more than this.

41KRv1E8l1L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_For the next few weeks, I’m going to reference one of my favorite worship theologians, John Witvliet, whose work has appeared in this space before.  His chapter, “The Cumulative Power of Transformation in Public Worship,” in Worship That Changes Lives: Multidisciplinary and Congregational Perspectives on Spiritual Transformation (Alexis Abernethy, ed.) should be must-reading for worship leaders called to more than alarm-clock or cheerleader status on Sunday mornings.  Witvliet writes of three sets of competencies that show up in corporate worship.  The first he entitles “Gesture and Bodily Competencies.”

Some years ago I attended a worship conference that featured quite different types of services, with music led by organ and choir, jazz combos, and praise bands.  Regardless of style, what struck me . . . was the powerful way in which worshipers’ bodies acted out well-rehearsed habits.  One service began with the processional hymn “Lift High the Cross.”  The organist announced the hymn with a dramatic trumpet stop.  I could not help but notice the person in front of me, clearly habituated to this type of service, who within a second of the organ’s first note stood straight up, grasped his hymnal with two hands, and extended his arms to hold the hymnal in a rather regal position as if he were joining the choir’s well-rehearsed symmetrical procession.  It was a body position of reverence, solemnity, and awe.  Another service began with Michael W. Smith’s “Agnus Dei.”  A worship leader with a guitar began by playing the introductory chords; the drummer added a subtle pulsing rhythm on the cymbal.  I couldn’t help but notice the person alongside me, clearly habituated to this type of service, who within a second of the first guitar chord lifted her hands gently upward, looked up longingly, and closed her eyes in prayer.  It was a body position of intimacy, engagement, and awe.  Both gestures were immediate.  Both had been ingrained through prior worship experiences.  Both communicated to me a powerful sense of affect.  Both, it might be argued, not only reflected but also shaped the worshiper’s emotional life.

Witvliet’s second set he calls “Visual and Musical Competencies.”  For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to reference only the latter.

What more soul-shaping force can we imagine than the songs we sing?  Even when we are tired or depressed, old songs well up within us and dance on our plaintive, whistling lips.  When we are old and can remember little else, we are still likely to recall the songs learned in our childhood.  Music has the uncanny ability to burrow its way into our spiritual bones.

I have written before of music’s power to get into my father’s soul in the midst of dementia that robbed him of pretty much everything else in life.  Might we consider how that power can be unleashed in corporate worship?

Witvliet relates his final set of competencies to language acquisition.

As with every other cultural experience, participation in communal worship gives us a language to say things that we would not have come up with on our own.  We know that a breathtaking sunset evokes a response, but it is the church that teaches us to say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  We cannot sleep after watching yet another dismal news story about hunger, and it is the church that teaches us to say, “Lord, have mercy.”  The church gives us practice in saying things that form in us new capacities for relating to God and to each other–much like parents teachng their toddlers to say “thank you” are hoping not just to help the children to be polite, but also to form in the child the capacity for gratitude.

Worship leaders, the Lord be with you in your role as facilitators of spiritual transformation!

Coming next week (Lord willing): More on spiritual transformation via worship.


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Reflection #24 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

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 planning_centertools 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 Dr._Jeff_Iorg,_President_of_Golden_Gate_Baptist_Theological_Seminary,_speaking_at_the_Missions_Conference_in_Feb_2013key 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.

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