Tri-County Bible Church had only existed for around 5 years. We met in a high school auditorium. The acoustics were terrible. The room was designed to kill sound, and it worked so well that every person in the room felt as though he were singing a solo. We had either a comically out-of-tune piano or a less-than-stellar keyboard. We certainly didn’t have an orchestra, or even any special music if memory serves. We had no screen on which to project Scripture or songs—and no projector, for that matter. We used a third-world sound system which, with aggravating regularity, squawked with an ear-piercing, clear-your-sinuses shrillness. Ah, church planting.
Yet, at the end of the service, one of the few for which we’ve had a guest speaker who wasn’t making a missions presentation, my friend Bruce McAllister told me that it was probably the most worshipful service he’d ever attended. It was a profoundly encouraging statement. It still is. Glory to God for what He does through His church (Eph 1:6, 12, 14; 3:20-21).
Looking back, however, there’s a sense in which that statement is very discouraging. The service wasn’t really anything special. I think we had a prayer of preparation, read Scriptures on the theme of redemption, sang songs about redemption (Jesus Paid It All, There Is a Redeemer, and a few others), had our usual corporate prayer of adoration responding to the truths we’d read and sung, then had a sermon. Nothing stunning, really. So here’s the thing that I found to be discouraging: If that service, planned with just a bit of thought and led in a way that simply magnified Christ, was unique to the point that it made an impression on a man who’s been in thousands of such services all over the country, what in the world are churches doing??!!
I share the story—at the risk of appearing to name-drop, which is obnoxious—to highlight a gaping need. The church, starting with her leaders, needs to take the matter of worship more seriously. It’s the reason for which we were made. It’s the reason for which we were saved. Nevertheless, conservative Christians have too often come out of the worship wars thinking of worship as a topic for debate rather than delight. When the term worship sounds like a call to arms rather than a call to prayer, something’s wrong. We’ve lost something, and I’d like to at least help in the process of recovering it.
Toward that end, over the next month or so, I’m going to be sharing thoughts on intentional, fervent worship. Some I’ve posted here before in one form or another. Some I presented at a couple recent conferences. Many have on them the fingerprints of my dear friend and fellow pastor, Joe Tyrpak. Joe arrived at TCBC around 6 years ago and has helped us pursue Christ-honoring worship even more relentlessly. (To be honest, if I was intentional about worship, he’s downright obsessive about it. I don’t know anyone who spends more energy and time planning Christ-exalting worship services than Joe does—weaving in Scripture, hunting for forgotten and new hymns as for buried treasure, and helping to write more to serve our body well. I praise the Lord for Him.)
At any rate, I’ll put out our burdens and suggestions a little bit at a time, allowing for both digestion and discussion along the way. I do so not as a “guru,” and not as someone who has it all figured out, but as someone to whom the issue is vitally important and who has (unfortunately, I think) given the topic more thought than most. (Though I’m glad to see the issue of worship getting more attention in recent years, in sermons, in discussions, and in print.) So read along; chime in; agree; disagree; push back; adapt. The goal of the posts, after all, is to get people to think, and thereby to help us to a time when intentionally worshipful services will be gloriously normal occurrences, not oddities.
Grace to you.