[I am indebted to my professor, Steve Korch, for shaping my thinking on this topic in The Theology and Practice of Worship.]
The second part of preaching and teaching that is essential is the fact that after we experience God on a personal level, we have to take others there. I’ve sat in many worship services where the closest we come to acknowledging God’s presence is a short prayer. In reality, those prayers are often just an easy way to get the band up on stage without the awkward transition.
We learn in Theology 101 that God is omnipresent. He’s everywhere, even in the walls of your church. We not only have the pleasure of painting a picture of God that people can long for, we can bring them into his throne room so that they may experience him, too. What if instead of offering steps to take later, we gave people the opportunity to interact with God, right in the middle of our service? What if we thoughtfully crafted the services to take people from the busyness of life to the heart of God? You might already do this (in that case, I want to visit your church), but I think a lot of us might not be as intentional as we’d hope. Just a few questions to prayerfully consider:
1) Do we expect people to turn on like a faucet as soon as they step into church? Do we sing songs responding to God at the beginning of the service? If you’ve been in church leadership for a while, sometimes it’s easy to forget that people aren’t putting as much thought into church during the week as you are. The bottom line is that people are not ready to respond to God having just stepped in to church out of the craziness of life. They need to see God before they can respond to him.
2) Do I paint a picture of God in my service? Are people seeing God or simply hearing motivational steps for the Christian life? Telling people how to live the Christian life is useless if they never see God. God inspires and changes us from the inside out. Spiritual steps without God simply make us feel guilty and add weight to our already broken backs.
3) Where do we want people to end up spiritually? What do we want them to know, experience, and feel? How has the order of service moved them in that direction? Every piece of a service is an opportunity to introduce people to God. When we thoughtfully chart a course, we will be amazed at how well people respond. This doesn’t mean we have to add gimmicks and “cool” elements like moving backgrounds, videos, or candles. Those things aren’t bad, but neither do they necessarily move people towards God. Sometimes we make more of a statement with the things we choosenot to do than those we include. The point is to be thoughtful either way.
4) Finally, are we glorifying God, really? This may seem like a repeat of the second question, but what I’m really asking you to consider is whether our message points people to worship our church and its programs, ourselves, or to worship God. Do people talk about your church in their testimonies, or do they talk about Jesus? Do your follow-up/application steps point people to a class, program, or opportunity at your church or do they point to God? Is your preaching asking people to live like you do or to live as Christ is calling them to live?
[side note: I do recognize that Paul urged people to follow him as he followed Christ and that we ought to be leading lives worthy of imitation, but I don’t think that our faith journeys are entirely uniform. I would much more advocate telling people, “Follow Christ!” and cutting out the middleman.]
When we glorify God, we’re not putting him into our box. It’s not about us. Even as leaders, we can continue to be surprised and delighted at the myriad ways God reveals himself and works in the world.
My hope with these questions is not to give you the practical steps of crafting worship services, but to cause you to think through why we even bother to gather together on a Sunday morning. It is all too easy to get caught up in the desire to craft a polished production that will somehow “wow” seekers into loving God. Things don’t work that way. The more thoughtfully we craft our messages and worship services, the more we will give people what they really ache to see: God. He is what people need to see and experience. That’s why they really walk through our doors.
On my last trip to Disneyland, I was visiting an exhibit about the history of the park when a friend pointed out a quote from Walt Disney, “Give them more than they can see, and they’ll keep coming back time and again.” When we reveal to people the God who is intimately moving in our souls, while still being the God who is bigger than our church, our nation, and our generation, they’ll keep coming back time and again.