DEVELOPING WORSHIP IN THE SMALL CHURCH (Part One)
By Glenn C. Daman
Like a two fingered typist, she hammered out the song, hitting every third to fourth note, hopefully in the same time as the congregation. Whenever the regular pianist was gone, the only other piano player was a lady whose musical abilities were defined by what she could play with her two index fingers. Nevertheless, she gamely did her best for the benefit of the congregation. In the age where quality is the buzzword in worship, how can the small church have an effective worship when it does not even have pianists and the song leader's idea of a flat is something that happens to his pickup tires?
The contemporary literature on worship stresses that the church, to have effective, dynamic worship, must have a worship team with guitars who lead the congregation in choruses sung off an overhead projector. Yet, for many small churches, such worship is not only impractical (it is hard to sing choruses with a guitar when no one knows how), but it can be destructive. This is further compounded by the fact that there are often few within the small church who can carry a tune in a two- ton truck. Many a small church pastor would trade two Sunday School teachers, one building coordinator and three cows for a person who has musical abilities and a feel for worship. Although the small church has limited resources, it can have an authentic and powerful worship service. By developing a worship style that is sensitive to the people and community, and guided by the vision and purpose of the church, the congregation can have a service that glorifies God and draws people into fellowship with him.
THE NATURE OF WORSHIP
Worship begins, not with the selection of songs, but with the leader's and congregation's understanding of the nature of worship.
1. Worship exalts the person of God.
Worship centers the individual and congregation upon the person of God (Luke 4:8; John 4:23,24; Revelation 14:7). As such, the intent of worship is not to entertain, nor is it to provide people with an emotional experience. To make worship merely an emotional experience through moving entertainment shifts the focus from God to man. The paramount concern, is not what man experiences, but what God expects and desires. Is he pleased? Is he exalted? Is he glorified? Is he served? Worship and praise is a sacrifice to be offered up to God (Hebrews 13:15).
2. Worship is personal.
No one can worship God on behalf of another. Worship is the inward response of the individual to the God he has been called to serve. In the Psalms, the psalmist continually expresses his desire to personally praise God in the community of God's people. It is not enough that others honor God, he himself must express praise and adoration (Psalms 27:4; 35:18; 42:4). Worship involves both the public declaration of praise as well as the private exaltation of God (Psalm 34:1; 2 Corinthians 12:3,4). For the congregation to be captured by the praise of God, people must first individually learn to stand in awe of him. Corporate worship is an outgrowth of individual worship.
3. Worship is corporate.
Worship is what the congregation is to do when it gathers together. Just as every individual was created to glorify God (Isaiah 43:7), so also the church exists for the purpose of exalting God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Revelations 1:6). All the activities the church performs, whether its worship services, programs, or extracurricular actives, are to be performed in such a way that God is exalted. If not, the church has failed to fulfill its mission.
4. Worship requires excellence.
The sacrificial system reveals that God does not accept second best. He desires only that which is perfect and without blemish. However, excellence and quality are not determined by how well people perform, but the degree that they utilize their ability, talents, and resources to the fullest. When people do their best, then their worship is acceptable and pleasing to God, no matter how inept it might appear to outsiders. The responsibility of the small church is not to try to emulate the large church in its quality of worship and music, but to utilize its abilities to the fullest. If the best the small church can offer is a two-fingered piano player, than there is quality and excellence that pleases and exalts God.
THEOLOGY OF WORSHIP
Formulating a philosophy of worship requires that the congregation build upon a proper theology of worship.
1. Worship is the celebration of God's character.
For the psalmist, the character of God was the foundation for confidence in his redemptive acts on his behalf. Because God was loving and good, he could be called upon with assurance that he would answer (Psalms 86:5-7). At the heart of praise and worship was the awareness of God infinite character. Worship involves the affirmation and response to the nature and being of God. It is a jubilee, a joyous recounting of the being of God.
2. Worship is the celebration of God's activity.
The God of the Bible is a God who acts. He does not passively watch the affairs of man, but becomes actively involved, bringing salvation and deliverance to all who will call upon him. His redemptive works are so all-surpassing that there is nothing humanity can give back to repay the dept of love owed. The only appropriate response is the public declaration of God works. To be the beneficiary of God's work is to place oneself under the obligation to praise him publicly, so that his works done in secret are proclaimed openly to his people (Psalm 35:18).
3. Worship requires personal faith.
Worship, first and foremost, is an activity not only for the believer, but can only be truly perform by a genuine child of God (John 4:23-24). There cannot be genuine worship without submission and there cannot be submission without repentance. The term worship itself means to bow down in subjection. Worship, without genuine faith, becomes mere entertainment, moving the emotions, but not capturing the soul. Worship, while at times emotionally moving, should never be equated with mere feelings. It is not merely an emotional response to God, but a response of faith whereby one affirms one's belief in God and his redemptive work.
4. Worship relates to quality of the heart.
Quality is not defined by the outward performance rather it is determined by the inward condition of the heart; the attitudes and motives by which one approaches God. While one can perform the tasks well, it is unacceptable to God because it does not stem from the heart (Isaiah 29:13-16; Ezekiel 33:31; Matthew 15:3-9). Instead of accepting such worship, God condemns it as unauthentic and hypocritical. The reason the small church can have a great worship service is because it does not require a worship team, a musically talented song leader, a dynamic preacher, or a gifted pianist. All that is required is a sincere and pure heart before God. All too often the focus is upon the form rather than the heart. God's concern is for the heart of the worshipper, not the form by which he or she worships (John 4:24).
5. Worship is not related to size.
Size does not make worship more effective. Having a huge choir and a large auditorium does not provide a greater atmosphere for genuine praise. The five thousand in Acts manifested genuine worship, as well as the handful of people who met in a house church in Ephesus (see 2 John). In most cases, the small church does a reasonably good job of worship, for, in an unpretentious way, it celebrates who God is and what he is doing in the lives of everyone attending. A crowd is not required to fulfill the elements of genuine worship; praise, confession of sin, communion with God, and the response of submission to him. All that is required is a genuine heart of obedience before him.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SMALL CHURCH WORSHIP
The small church does not (nor can it or should it) try to duplicate the worship form of the larger church. It worships God differently than its larger counterpart. To lead the congregation in worship, requires that the pastor understand and utilize these differences.
1. The small church worships relationally rather than emotionally.
Within the larger church, worship is conducted in context of celebration and emotional experiences. Within the small church, worship is conducted in the context of relationships and mutual interaction. Whereas, the larger church worships through the power and majesty of a pipe organ, resounding choir, and unison singing of hundreds of voices; the small church worships through the solidarity, familiarity and love of a close knit community. People are lead in worship by Aunt Betty's special, not because she can sing well (she can't), but because they know her love for God and have witnessed her daily life of heartfelt wonder of who God is. They worship with her because they are celebrating the unity they have in Christ and the fact that God accepts them for who they are, not because they possess exceptional talents.
2. The small church worships through participation rather than presentation.
Worship happens when everyone becomes involved. When the small church gathers, albeit unprofessional and unpolished, they celebrate together with simplicity and self-acceptance that God does not just call the great, the powerful, the polished, the talented or the skilled. He also calls the ordinary, the mundane, the average (and below average), the unskilled, the untalented, the uncouth and the clumsy to enter into a relationship with him and worship him in the sincerity of their faith. In the small church, everyone has a place and finds avenues to participate in worship. The children are permitted to take the offering, the untalented are given opportunity to sing, the uneducated can teach, the mentally impaired can run the sound system, and the social misfit can serve as a greeter. To deny them these opportunities is to take the heart out of worship.
3. Place is more important than location.
Within the small church, the atmosphere that facilitates worship is not the beauty of the building or the aesthetics of the location, but the fact that each person has a place. People sit in the same pew Sunday after Sunday, not because it is assigned to them, but because in a chaotic and transitory world, they desire to have a place where security is found, where they belong, where they are accepted, and where they are reminded that God is present with them. Coming to church each week and sitting in the same place serves as a reminder that they are secure in God and that he is present with them in the common affairs of life. They worship God because they belong and they are a part of the church. They worship there because a crucial part of their own life story is written in the walls of the church. They have been married there and they have dedicated their children within those walls, and they have grieved as they buried their dead. The church is more than a building, it is a history book, reminding them of God's activity within their lives and their place in the people of God.
4. Singing the song of the heart.
Music is not an artistic performance, but the song of the people in response to God. It is not how well the church sings that determines the extent of its worship, but the attitude in which they sing. In the small church, one learns to measure the music by the spirit with which people sing rather than the sound that comes forth. The danger for any church (big or small) is that the music can be reduced to a performance or time filler, rather than a response to God. The purpose of musical expression is not to move the person. The object of the service is not to provide an enjoyable service (that may be the by- product). The focus of the music is to lead the people into a response to God. This happens when people stop listening to how their neighbor is sounding and when their focus is completely devoted to God, so that the person singing sings to God (Psalm 40:3).
5. Worship in the small church is authentic.
The small church does not need to focus upon worship that is grand, rather it must strive to have worship that is authentic. Authenticity is easily spotted in the small church, for it is achieved when one's life matches one's worship. The small church has an advantage for the close relationships continually challenge superficiality.