by Stan Mitchell
There has been a lot said about “worship renewal” in churches recently. One writer described worship as “a predictably mind-numbing ordeal of little benefit and even less enjoyment.”/1
Others have suggested that worship could be improved by introducing songs with contemporary sounds, “praise teams” and so on. Worshippers, we are told, “long for worship with more theological content and less predictability, more God, and less us, more participation and less rote ritual.”/2
Perhaps our response should begin by acknowledging that our worship could always use improvement. When it comes to honoring God, and uplifting his people, there is no such thing as being over-prepared.
Let’s not reject any new ideas out of hand before we give them some thought. There are, however, some provisos to keep in mind:
* Worship is never improved when something is introduced that conflicts with scripture. The ultimate in “spiritual” worship begins by definition when we follow what the Spirit says in the word he inspired!
On the other hand, our worship should be limited by what scripture says, and not any human tradition or prejudice. The Restoration Movement’s exhortation to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent,” is useful here.
Where scripture has taken the trouble to instruct us, we should humbly comply; where scripture has been silent, we have freedom, as long as that freely taken action is loving and respectful toward all our brothers and sisters in Christ (Romans 14:1).
* Worship improves when worshipers become more spiritual. When a blood-bought child of God finds it difficult to sing:
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty, at Calvary.
Then the problem is spiritual. A Christian who does not fully appreciate the grandeur and glory of God’s mercy might sit with folded arms and grim expression refusing to sing.
* We could put a little more thought into the songs we sing. Sit down, when you have the time, and take one of our hymnbooks out of the shelf. Look at the words. Are they complex, or simple? Do some of the phrases remind you of a passage of scripture, or a Biblical theme?
Try to put the song in front of you into a category. Is it a song of praise? Is it a prayer? Is it directed to God, or to each other? A song such as Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savoir is a prayer, directed to God.
On the other hand, Angry Words is directed towards each other. A good song should teach us either about what God has done for us, or what we should do for God.
One of the best things about some of the songs the young people sing is that many are taken directly out of scripture. As A Deer Pants For Water is taken from the 42nd Psalm.
Is such a song “spiritual”? The Holy Spirit is pretty good as far as lyric writers go! Perhaps our songs would be more meaningful if we took a little more time to think about them. Many songs would do wonderfully as a beginning of a prayer, followed by our own requests and concerns.
* Our worship should have more thought put into it. There is no Biblically mandated “order of worship.” The announcements could be at the start or the end of worship. The offering does not have to follow the Lord’s Supper, even if we say “separate and apart from …”
A sermon could be broken into two, with an appropriate song inserted. The congregation could read together a key passage.
* Remember that by your very presence and participation you encourage those around you. Be mindful especially of the children who take their cues from you. What is your attitude towards the lesson, and the songs? Is it respectful? Is it attentive? Or do you behave as if the whole process is one great drudgery?
* Remember who writes the “Reviews” for our performance in worship. It’s not the New York Times. It’s not the visitors to worship services. It’s not even us. The one vital question is, did God approve of it?
1/ In Search of Wonder, page viii
2/ page ix