By John Haley
This special issue asks elders to comment on various needs facing the church today. The great need to develop men who are willing to take part in the public services is apparent. The title of this article correctly implies our anticipation that in attempting to meet that need we may hamper the worship service. Why this concern? Why do we worry that using inexperienced men in our services is likely to cause a decline in the quality of our worship? I’m afraid the answer to that question points us to an even more fundamental need facing us today and that is the need to re-focus on the object of true worship. In my judgment, to a significant degree we have forgotten the design and purpose of worship. It is this lapse of memory that is to a great extent responsible for discouraging untrained men – young and old alike – from a willingness to participate publicly in our collective worship. Furthermore, this forgetfulness is responsible for our reluctance to ask these inexperienced men to serve. Somehow we view their unsophisticated, naive efforts as unsuitable for our worship – surely their incompetence would only hamper our services. The goal of this article is to show why we have come to feel this way, and to help us remember again that what makes worship such a wonderful and unique experience is its object rather than our expertise. In reminding us of this we hope to rejuvenate our worship and at the same time encourage our men to a willing and enthusiastic participation in it.
While worship is nowhere defined in Scripture, its meaning is derived from the words used to describe it. For example, the principal word for worship in the Old Testament is shahah meaning “depress,” “bow down,” “prostrate.” the principal New Testament word proskuneo meaning “kiss (the hand, or the ground) toward.” These words bend the worshiper’s body and point his mind in one direction – towards God! Vine says of worship that it broadly “may be regarded as the direct acknowledgment of God, of His nature, attributes, ways and claims Even the English word “worship” derives from the Old English “weordhscipe” and means “worthship” i.e. worthiness, dignity, or merit, again pointing to the wondrous nature of the transcendent God of the universe. The point I want to make is that biblical worship centers upon Jehovah God and his majesty. The true worshiper is filled with the vision of Isaiah 6, “1 saw the Lord sitting on the throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filled with smoke” (vv. 1,3,4). God is at the.;.center of this vision of worship. Only peripherally does the worshiper see himself and even then only in relationship to the central object of ‘ his worship. This is clear from Isaiah’s vision as he goes on to say in 6:5, “Then I said, Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” The object of genuine worship is not man. It is God.
Today in the modern church, I believe we have lost this focus. Perhaps because of the combined evil influences of sectarianism and secularism upon the church, we have become people oriented in our worship. To be more specific we have enthroned self at the center of the picture. All too often worship becomes a time for us to don our Sunday best and put on smiling faces so that we may show the world what Christ has done for me. Or perhaps a time when I can in fact have my needs met so that I can become smiley-faced and feel good about myself. Quality worship then becomes synonymous with worship that effectively meets my needs. Our central question always seems to be, “How did this worship benefit me? What did I get out of it?” Self-enchancement and gratification becomes an object and end within itself. To be sure the true worshiper will feel good about himself. He will also be edified and up-builded. All of this, however, should be peripheral. Frequently it seems worship today feeds man’s ever expanding ego and exalts his view of himself. This is just the opposite of God’s intention. True worship focuses upon God and confronts man with the stark reality of God’s sovereignty. In consequence of this, man is literally driven to his knees in total self-submission as he considers his own pitiful inadequacy. In reflecting upon the quality of our worship, the central question ought to be: “Did I magnify God’s name to the best of my ability?”
How does this relate to the subject at hand? Simply in this way. To the extent that we thrust ourselves into the centerfold of worship, we magnify the importance of our doing things well. Now, whereas it is true that we magnify God when we honor his request that we sing, we magnify self when we pride ourselves in how good it must sound. Whereas we magnify God when we humbly approach his throne on bended knee, we magnify self when we pride ourselves in how correctly or elegantly the prayer was worded. Prayers should edify us but where is our emphasis? How many times, for example, has someone thanked you for “that prayer that uplifted me” as opposed to thanking you for a prayer that exalted the name of God Almighty. Quality worship, it seems, has come to be defined by how well we have mastered the art of making one another feel good. Our traditions, then, have determined the model preachers, prayer leaders, song leaders, public announcers and waiters behind the table who will best accomplish this end. There is a technique to be learned – a role to be filled. The extent to which we approach the “ideal” in each of these aKeas is the extent to which we feel good about our worship. You can readily see the pressure this puts on one who is inexperienced in any or all of these areas. With the focus upon man and the emphasis upon how he performs there is a great pressure to make a good showing. When one stumbles or doesn’t measure up to the standard, he is responsible for a deterioration in the quality of our worship. This kind of pressure arises from a carnal,.sectarian spirit among us and ought not to be. It greatly discourages men from making a genuine effort to serve God through leading in the public worship today. We need to remove that kind of pressure. As we have said, this can be done by de-emphasizing the im~ portance of how well we perform in worship, and focusing again upon the object of our worship – God himself. We need to regain the perspective that recognizes our very best to be nothing more than filthy rags before the majesty of him who reigns supreme. In doing this, I believe we will not only have done the single most important thing towards encouraging a willing public participation in the worship but at the same time we will have done that which is most needful in restoring the spirit of true worship. By way of reemphasis we could re-title this paper, “How To Encouarge The Development Of Men While At The Same Time Services.”
Improving The Public
Although the above is to me the central issue of this topic, there are in fact some practical matters to be considered. For example, even as we have seen, the very best we have to offer God in worship is pitifully insignificant; nevertheless the spirit of true worship requires that we give our best (Mal. 1:6-14). The principle of good stewardship requires that we develop our abilities as best we can (Matt. 25). Each of us in our individual congregations has the responsibility to encourage one another in this area (Eph. 4:11-16). We can do this by providing special classes for the purpose of instructing ourselves in the purpose and design of worship and some practical ways in which we might strive to achieve this end. In these classes we must help individuals find their talents and then encourage them to develop those. I think it is an abuse of the stewardship principle to encourage one to spend time attempting to develop a talent that he does not have. For example, if a man has no ability to lead the singing why waste time in that area when he could be spending that time developing a talent he does have? He is discouraged from attempting to lead singing, not on the grounds that it would hamper our service, but rather on the basis of his responsibility to develop the abilities he has. One of the advantages of these classes is that we find which of us is best suited to serve in each area. We must also be willing to provide these inexperienced men with the opportunity to use their talents in the assembly. And, when they do that, we should encourage them by telling them how much we appreciate their willingness to serve the Lord in that way.
As I think back on my growing up days at 77th St. in Birmingham, I can remember several classes I attended to encourage me to participate publicly in the worship service. They were all helpful but none was as encouraging to me as sister Thelma West. When I would take a public part in the worship she, without fail, would quietly tap me on the shoulder and say, “Thank you, I appreciated that.” She and I both knew that my effort to serve God in that way as feeble and unpolished. I think she understood and was trying to teach me that God’s power was being perfected in my own weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9). Engaging in true worship will make us aware of our own contingent nature while impressing us with God’s preeminence. Thank God for women like Thelma West. May each of us strive to encourage one another in the way she encouraged me.
In summary, how may we develop men without hampering the public worship? First and foremost, recognize worship for what it is. Put the spotlight where it belongs – on God. Quit trying to impress God and one another by our outstanding performances. Do the very best we can and then recognize that as the insignificant accomplishment it is. Remember that God’s power and his praise is perfected by our own weakness. Within that context, encourage our men to develop and use their abilities to magnify God’s name in worship. May I encourage you to lead a public prayer next Sunday? Let me remind you of the Pharisee and the Publican. Please read Luke 18:9-14. Remember the Lord’s admonition in Matthew 6:1-14 and refer to the Psalmist’s advice in 51:15-17. Finally, meditate on what the wise man said in Ecclesiastes 5:2: “Do not be rash with your mouth, And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; Therefore let your words be few.” Listen to and heed all these instructions and you will be well suited to lead a prayer in the presence of Jehovah; for you will indeed have recognized that the Lord, he is God, the Holy One of Israel, the Incomparable One! After all, isn’t that what quality worship is all about!
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 1, pp. 10-11
January 5, 1989