"A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was that they found it boring. It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience." - R C Sproul
“'How awesome is this place!' This was Jacob’s response to being in the house of God. People do not normally feel that way in church. There is no sense of awe, no sense of being in the presence of One who makes us tremble. People in awe never complain that church is boring." - R C Sproul
The two quotes are from The Holiness of God by R C Sproul. The first identifies boredom as the main reason people stop going to church, and the second identifyies awe as the antidote to boredom.
Summary: More awe in church services = less boredom in church = less people leave church.
If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we create more awe in our church services. Is this something only God can give, so we have to just wait for it to happen? Or is it something for which we are also responsible?
Obviously, it’s God’s presence alone that can create awe, and therefore, ultimately, we are entirely dependent upon Him to choose to honor our worship services with His presence. However, there are important elements of human responsibility here too. God usually works through human means, and that puts obligations on the worship leader and the worshipping people.
The Worship Leader
In my own tradition, the preaching pastor is also the worship leader, and it’s that worship model I have primarily in mind here. However, most of this can also apply where the role is divided between two or more people.
1. Preparation. The worship leader should be prayerfully preparing for worship just as he prayerfully prepares his sermons. Far too often the pastor gives 15 hours to his sermon, 15 minutes to choosing songs, and 15 seconds to thinking about public prayer. He may pray for hours about his sermon and not at all for the singing, praying, and scripture reading. I’ve often found it helpful preparation to sing or listen to some Psalms in my office in the last few minutes before going to church.
2. Integration. The worship leader must ensure that the songs he chooses, the scripture reading, the prayer, and the spirit in which he conducts all this, fit the sermon theme. For example, there’s no point in having all praise songs if the sermon is about confession of sin. The prayer should also reflect at least some of the sermon content.
3. Organization. There should be a regular and recognized order to the worship so that the worshippers know what’s happening rather than just a haphazard free-for all, jumping from one thing to another without any rhyme nor reason. The Apostle Paul said that one of the ways to ensure that visiting worshippers are awed and stunned by the church’s worship is by orderliness and regularity (1 Cor. 14:23-32), not by novelty and unpredictability.
4. Conviction. No one is awed without conviction of sin. Look from Genesis to Revelation – from Jacob to Job to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Daniel to Peter to Thomas to Paul to John in Patmos – and you won’t find one example of any awed worshipper apart from them being first convicted of their sin. We’d love to go straight to doxology but there’s no shortcut past the valley of humiliation. Through song, prayer, and Scripture readings, worship leaders must remind people of their sin and sinfulness and lead them in confession.
5. Passion. Although some worship leaders sometimes take this way too far and the whole worship experience ends up in artificial emotionalism, which is more fleshly than spiritual, many in my more Reformed world take this to the other extreme and lead worship like a robot. If we look and sound bored, little surprise if those we are leading look and sound the same. If we’re not enthused, excited, and expectant, no one else is going to be.
6. Education. Perhaps the greatest need today is re-educating people about worship. We assume far too much. Do most people really know what worship is? Who’s it to? Who’s it for? Who is the God we are worshipping? A great start would be to give every worshipper Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God.
Next time, we’ll look at the responsibility of worshippers for creating awesome worship services. Meanwhile, what else do you think we can do to make our services more awe-full?