At the suggestion of Mark, I’m going to put down some ideas about upgrading the worship service of a typical Church of Christ. Of course, there’s no such thing as a typical Church of Christ. Some would find many of my ideas doctrinally objectionable. Some won’t be large enough to try some of the ideas. Some will find my ideas too conservative, even a bit stodgy.
Some of these will be borrowed from previous posts, but most (not all) of those posts were written a long time ago, before most of my current readers were reading. And it’ll help to have all these ideas in one place.
Now, a few doctrinal and procedural thoughts before we get down to the worship itself.
* Yes, I said “worship.” I could just as well have said “the assembly.” But “worship” is quite permissible, too, you know.
You see, I’m very familiar with the arguments made by many that “worship” in the New Testament includes everything we do to honor God. I agree. That’s exactly right. But we honor God in the assembly, so it’s okay to refer to that as worship.
The main point of the argument has been to contradict the premise of many arguments that somehow worship is so special that God extends less grace to errors in worship than to other errors we might make. It’s not true, you know. But, in any event, when I speak of “worship” as happening on Sunday morning, I do not imply that worship doesn’t happen at other times. And I certainly don’t imply that God is less forgiving on Sunday morning. (I’ve heard our preaching and singing. Not many of us will earn our way into heaven this way.)
* This whole thing about there being five and only five acts of worship is an entirely bogus argument. I mean, you can’t find it in the Bible. The proof texts largely even aren’t talking about the assembly, and it’s just wrong. I actually count 16 acts of worship.
* I’m going to talk about women participating in worship. We already do that, you know. We let them sing, speak in unison, and confess their faith in Jesus. They are allowed to speak. It’s just that every church has different tolerances for female speech. For those not familiar with the Biblical basis for women to worship God with their voices, see Buried Talents. Moreover, most of what we deny to women the Bible doesn’t — even under the most conservative interpretation of the scriptures. Passing communion trays, for example, is the role of a servant. Why on earth do we deny this to women? To call this “leadership” only makes sense if you see the men as theatrical performers. If you remember that church is a family gathering, a lot of issues will just go away.
* One of the most peculiar doctrines we sometimes teach is that we can only do one act of worship at a time. This was invented because someone didn’t like singing during the Lord’s Supper. But our songs are often prayers, which means we’re singing and praying all at once. And it’s really okay. Many of our songs have an “amen” at the end, and they’re prayers even if we don’t sing the “amen.” (I’ve never known why we don’t. I guess it’s because there’s no “in Jesus’ name” before the “amen.” Ray Walker used to lead songs at the Madison Church of Christ with “in Jesus’ name amen” at the end, so I guess that’s it. But does skipping the “amen” somehow cure the absence of the “in Jesus name”? Why on earth do we worry about such things? I mean, really?!)
* All churches have in them Godly people who hate change. And most have a few people who live for change. The trick is to not cater to either group. Rather, when you make changes in worship, you must always —
— Teach the reason it’s okay first, if you have members who will have scruples over the change. Romans 14 is clear. But the solution to scruples isn’t to never change. The solution is to teach before you change.
— Change at a pace that 90% of the church can tolerate. You’ll never get everyone happy, even you’re just repainting the walls. Don’t let one or two curmudgeons deny everyone else the joy of better worship.
— Once you make a change, keep it. What really drives me nuts is when the staff begs the elders to let them do something new, the elders relent and allow it, the church complains and the elders defend the staff, and then the staff doesn’t want to do it again. It’s not worth the pain to make a change for just one service. If it’s not going to be a long-term change, don’t bother. Of course, if it proves to have been a dumb idea, don’t let pride keep you from killing the practice. But don’t put your members and leaders through the pain of change unless it’s long-term change that matters.
* I’m just so tired of the old rejoinder — it’s not about making us happy; it’s about making God happy! Right. Of course. I’m no idiot. But God loves me and wants me to experience joy in my walk with him. Obviously, we don’t ever violate a command of God just to make us happy — but, quite frankly, I can’t imagine being happy knowing that I’m displeasing God. But God, the God who is love and who passionately loves me — doesn’t want me miserable in my worship. It’s quite okay with God if we can find a way to actually enjoy worshiping him. In fact, he wouldn’t want it any other way.
(Psa 68:3-4) But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful. 4 Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds — his name is the LORD — and rejoice before him.
Last and most important point —
Elders are not the enemy. Satan is. Preachers — if at all possible — don’t try to incrementally change the minds of your elders. You’ll make them miserable. Rather, bring the elders into the planning. Get them to go to other churches and lectureships and experience what you’ve experienced. Get them on the same page doctrinally. And then work together to lead the church to where it needs to go. It’ll be much more pleasant. And the elders won’t have to come to meetings wondering what the next painful demand will be.
Collateral to this advice is — don’t get together as a group of ministers and spend a weekend making plans, and then expect the elders to magically agree to everything as though they were somehow mystically present at your meetings. If you want to talk about the future of the church, changing the worship service, or such, bring them with you. Let them hear the arguments and concerns. Don’t try to steer from the back seat.
Of course, elders, this means you have to let the ministers in. You have to be willing to meet with them, pray with them, experience other churches and lectureships with them, and wrestle with what God’s will for the church with them. Be a team. Talk. Share. Argue. And work it out together.
Who knows? You might actually come to enjoy your meetings together.