In The Holiness of God, R C Sproul addressed the problem of large numbers of people leaving church because they are bored. I explained elsewhere that Sproul’s solution is more awe in our worship services. This puts significant responsibility on the pastor or worship-leader. But it also places obligations upon worshipers too if our churches are to be awed by the evident presence of God. Here are six important steps to a powerfully worshiping church:
1. Preparation. Just as the worship leader has to prepare, so do worshipers. If we’re busy all Saturday, get to bed after midnight on Saturday evening, sleep long on Sunday morning, rush to church in mild panic, and arrive with little or no time to get ready for worship, we’re not going to experience awe or much of anything beneficial. If we haven’t met God privately, we’re unlikely to meet Him publicly.
2. Enthusiasm. If we go to church reluctantly, dragging our heels and hearts, with little anticipation or excitement, our expectations are likely to be met. But if we go with eager optimism, prayerfully seeking God and pleading with Him to come down and bless, then God will often exceed our expectation.
3. Participation. Worship is not a spectator sport but one in which all must take part. Joyful singing not only stirs up our hearts, but others’ hearts too. Engaged postures and lively expressions are contagious – as are mumbled songs, slouching shoulders, and sleepy eyes. When the pastor is praying, let’s engage our hearts and minds fully with him. When Scripture is read, let’s listen to it as the very voice of God.
4. Unity. God delights to dwell where His people are united in love of the truth and love for one another. He will not honor churches with His presence where there is disunity and division. But when there is union around the truth and communion with each other, God comes down with His unmistakable presence.
5. Reverence. When we realize who we are, what worship is, and who it is we are trying to worship, there will be a careful gravity and sobriety about what we do. It won’t be depressingly dull and dour, but it will affect what we wear, how we sit or stand, how we listen. It might even make us skip the Starbucks and candy in the sanctuary. Need help with this? Read The Holiness of God,and you’ll never worship the same way again.
6. Concentration. Some of the greatest impediments to awe in worship are distraction, noises, and actions that divert the congregation’s focus and concentration. I’ve been in services where I’ve almost started waving in the pulpit and saying “Hello! Have you never seen a kid walk to the bathroom before?” Or, “Do you all really need to know exactly which kid is crying over there?” Having said that, parents of young children also have responsibilities to ensure that their children are not disrupting services too much or too often. This is a delicate balance requiring much wisdom.
I end where I began yesterday – with the sovereignty of God. Yes, there are things we can do that hinder and obstruct awe in worship services. And, yes, there are steps we can take that God is often pleased to respond to with His presence. However, we cannot create or produce awe; God alone can do that. And when He does, it is unforgettable and utterly compelling.
Many church growth experts tell us that we’ve got to make church more casual, less threatening, more like “normal life.” That will certainly get people in the door. But it won’t keep them there for long. Why should anyone go to church for ordinary normality? They can get that in the mall or at the football; and many bored churchgoers go back to that.
Instead, what we want are churches that are places of the extraordinary, supernatural, different, abnormal, unusual presence and power of a holy God. We don’t want people coming and just saying, “That was nice.” Rather we look for what the Apostle Paul described in the early church:
“An unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).
When was the last time that happened in our churches?