Is There a Formula to Successful Worship?

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At some point during this week, I will get an email from my Senior Pastor with his sermon title and the scripture that he plans to use.  If I’m lucky (I know, I don’t believe in luck either), this email will arrive on Monday and quite possibly at least the songs and maybe even the choir anthem might coordinate with what he has handed off to me.

Realistically, the email arrives on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday and I will take what time I can squeeze together as the week comes to a close, attempting to choose music in the vicinity, writing a call to worship for the traditional services and praying that all these elements,  as well as the soloist, will somehow not detract from what he will preach.

Believe it or not, he doesn’t do this to purposely keep me in limbo.  This is the way he functions best as he prays for the leading of the Holy Spirit and what God would have him to preach.  I’m willing to bet that some of you work under similar challenges.  There have been other pastors who kept me clueless regarding what they were preaching until Sunday morning. One would even change the hymns I had chosen, most often to songs unfamiliar to myself and certainly to the congregation.  Upon his departure, I breathed a large sigh of relief.

With almost three decades in music ministry, I have heard most of the seminars on how to design a particular style of worship.  We’ve both heard, “do this” but “don’t do that” talks from nationally known worship leaders.  I would love to say I have implemented all this and now have the perfect formula to give to new church musicians;  buy my book for $29.95 and you, too, can have your congregation worshiping at the snap of your fingers and leaving each weekend, divinely inspired from your time together!  The truth be told, there is no formula.  Just as challenging, what works for your church family many not work at any other church.

On the other side of the coin, there is a distinctive prescription that I believe will work…. and when followed, I have seen God bless it time and again.

Seek God through prayer and reading His word.  Do this for yourself.  Also read the scripture to be used at your weekend worship services.  Re-read it.  Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to more than just the words of the scripture but to the meaning He intends to reveal to you and those you will lead in worship.

Live a life of integrity; choose openness, honesty and even the appearance of wrong-doing.  The devil is out to kill and destroy you and your church. Even the smallest choices you make in your personal life will affect you, your family and those in your community.

Use every resource possible to choose elements of worship that will glorify God, removing obstacles to your worshipers (spiritual and physical), and coordinate with the scripture/topic.  God can–and will–speak to our congregations without the accoutrements that we hold dear in worship.  The music, the prayers, the offering–every element should move individuals closer to God, because they have participated in corporate worship!

Do not stuff more into your worship service than the legs or the seat can bear.  Your congregation may be wanting 30, 45 or even 60 minutes of Praise and Worship prior to the sermon, all standing and exuberantly waving hands and crying out to God.  Others have 12-15 minutes and struggle to get a dozen people to clap to one fast paced song;  if someone actually lifted their hands in worship, eyebrows might raise!  Is one style better than the other? No. Our challenge is to worship God and to bring the congregation along with us as we praise Him.  The music and other elements of the service are not to entertain but to praise the One, True, Living God who is risen from the dead and gave Himself as a sacrifice that we might live!

Do not judge those who do not sing in the worship service, no matter the style.  I’ve already written on this, and some of the responses are better than my original blog post.

What we anticipate or evaluate as successful is by our own human standards.  God judges by observing the heart, not by what the human eye observes.  Did that time help His beloved children grow closer to and more like Himself? Did we offer our very best gifts in the music, preaching and other elements of the service so as to be vessels of that love, rather than obstacles?

For me, it comes down to obedience and openness to the Holy Spirit.  A very personal example:  the sermon was on unanswered prayer.  One of the songs we sang was “Blessings” in our contemporary worship service.  Time was tight, as usual, but I felt the undeniable leading of the Holy Spirit. I shared briefly that despite my most fervent prayers, my handicapped husband, himself a pastor, had never been healed of a debilitating birth injury.  In fact, his condition had worsened over time! God used my obedience to share those few words to open the doors for some who had been struggling with unanswered prayer. That person needed honesty, not a lecture on having enough faith or getting rid of unconfessed sin.

What does worship boil down to? Not a formula, per se, although there are worship elements that are vitally important.  When I give to God the very best of my music, my time, my energy and myself in prayer, study and obedience, that’s the prescription.  That’s the key!  This opens the door for the Holy Spirit to move, and I prayerfully ask that He does so in my life as well as the lives of those He has given me to lead.

2 COMMENTS

  1. A view from the UMC pew: There was much I was not taught about Christianity growing up, but in my Mother’s family, worship on Sunday morning was an intentional act to be approached with reverence; it was very much God’s time–not ours. Worship was never about anybody’s preferences it was what it was and the fact that it contained things rooted in the long history of Christianity became crucial to my spiritual survival. Whatever I learned about God was grounded in the act of worship; it turns out I was not too far off in my assessment of who God is and who I am. Overall, the time of worship was unlike any other hour I spent during the week. I was taught to be prepared and attentive and be ready to participate at the appropriate times. What I sense is that this is no longer how the person in the pew is approaching worship. But I am beginning to sense that this is representative of a deeper problem. Over the last 10 years or so, at the local UMC I attend on Sunday mornings, worship has become something that blows in the wind with the next new pastor and is more focused on the new person that might walk in the door than the person who shows up week after week. Communion has degenerated into an act of accommodating individual preferences as we are free to choose whether or not we dip the bread in a common cup or step over to the communion rail and get our own individual cup; and then there is the gluten-free option which creates a whole other dynamic for the individual. Bottom line, you are right, there is no clear cut formula per se and things will vary from congregation from congregation but, as Methodists we no longer have a clear cut understanding of why we gather for worship and in a denomination with itinerant pastors, this is a huge problem. I recently read about a church in another denomination who has a theology of worship and a philosophy of worship and they were looking for a worship leader with the same understandings. The problem in my church is not the style, or whether or not the preacher engaged the Holy Spirit in choosing his sermon topic, it is a lack of understanding of why we are doing what we are doing on Sunday mornings. After a time of questioning on my part, I have discovered that I am able to weather this interesting time because I was taught how to approach worship; the minute I step into the sanctuary, certain inherent things kick in, the main thing being that, for me, this is God’s hour–not mine or anybody else’s; no matter what else happens during worship, this is still true.

    • Hey, Ella—thanks for your thoughtful reply! I feel your struggle and am glad that worship is not about what is seen or done but living a life of worship. It can still be tough. Reach out to others and dialogue—which hopefully can be a wonderful and non-threatening way to learn. I apologize that I did not respond sooner as I guess I missed that that they were putting the submission on “live”. Keep seeking God, my friend!

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