JAC Online

Attention To The Holy
by Major Charles Roberts


All of us, when we hear the word “worship”, have a myriad of images.  We think of our early church experiences, our encounters with God in camp meetings, and maybe, our quiet times at home.  For the sake of this brief and continuing discussion, the term worship will refer to congregational worship.  As you will see, “congregational worship” does not just refer to those activities that take place in the sanctuary or on Sunday morning.  Worship is a lifestyle that permeates all activities and settings.


In congregational worship, we normally expect that God is the prompter, the minister is the actor, and the congregation is the audience.  Often, our people, the “walking wounded" need time to acclimate to the worship setting, and to “de-role” from all the baggage of the week.  Here’s another reality from Soren Kierkegaard:  The minister is the prompter, the members of the congregation are the actors, and God is the audience.


Worship: It is one of the essential functions of the ecclesia, a people scattered in work and mission gather for worship, strengthening, refueling and vision teaching.


We sing our praises to an audience of one.  God is the audience.  Jesus said, “When you pray, say ‘Father.’”  The One who spoke eternity into existence is the One who is listening to our songs, our prayers, our whispers, our longings.  Our ambition is to please Him with all of our worship, which is all of our life.  Jesus Christ is the fullness of the Father, and we have been given every fullness in Christ.  So, in Christ, we resonate with the Father through word, song and deed.  So, in worship we expect the order of heaven to be established in our congregations; “thy kingdom come, thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.”


As the prompter of worship, the role of the minister is similar to that of an usher.  We are to be on the leading edge of heaven, boldly taking our people to new places in the realm of the Holy One. 


Our job is to re-create, to co-facilitate, an atmosphere of grace. 


I recall an illustration shared by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?  He is in a coffee shop, speaking to a “working girl” about why she doesn’t go to church.  She replies, “Church? Why do I want to go there?  I feel bad enough already!”  As the prompter of worship, we are to help everyone sense the grace of God: no one has earned it, no one deserves it, but all can receive it.  We are to help people reach out to Jesus, who is already reaching out to them, if He could…As His body, we are His hands and feet, and we are to reach out to those who are desperate for Him.


We create an atmosphere of grace by:

         Capturing milestones

         Meeting needs

         Using awe-inspiring worship elements

         Practicing holy habits


Capturing milestones

“Milestone ministry” is a creative way to share the grace of God in the important moments of a person’s life.  Birthdays, anniversaries are certain milestones.  Transitions: marriages, deaths, graduations, are others.  What of the transition of moving from a family homestead to an assisted living facility?  What about empty nesters?  When those important transitions are marked with ritual: song, Word, prayer, God mediates grace to people when they need it most.  Those moments also serve as community builders and bank accounts for human capital, for when the community is together and sharing the means of grace, this is how one knows that God places the lonely in families.


Meeting needs

So often, in congregational settings, we professionalize the meeting of needs.  The church bulletin states, “Anyone with needs, please see the deacon of benevolence…”  Or in the case of The Salvation Army, the local ministerium makes their annual donation toward “the transient work,” thereby paying dues, and not making personal contacts with those who face poverty.  Acts 2 tells us that the congregation made sure that no one was in need.  While Acts 2 is not necessarily normative, the idea of members helping members and others is now a radical idea.  Helping those who are poor is an act of worship.  Leviticus 23:22 describes the leaving of the crops’ edge for the people to glean is in the context of remembering the Sabbath.  This is holy work; it is worship.  Why should the social worker have all the fun???  Use of Conspiracy of Kindness-style “hi-grace/low-risk” activities is a wonderful way to serve people and meet human needs in the context of worship.  A car wash, worship?  Yep!


Use of awe-inspiring worship elements

The elements of worship mediate grace.  Song, drama, interview, testimony, Word, prayer, preaching all mediate grace.  The trend now is to rely on technology to provide the awe for us.  Awe is the result of being in the presence of God, not necessarily from being in front of a video screen.  However, technology can help in providing an atmosphere for awe:  A growing trend is congregational worship is the “video café” idea; different salons are outfitted with a variety of worship music combos: adult contemporary, country gospel, urban/hip-hop, alternative.  Then all groups see the identical recorded sermon.  Reports state that the watchers laugh at the video preacher’s jokes and sit pensively during the emotional sections of the sermon.  All café groups report lives committed to Jesus.  However, awe is the real work of the Holy Spirit, and the human elements only enhance the chance for awe: use of themes, music, arts, sight, sound, smell, touch.


Practice of holy habits

All worship activities, regardless of setting or technology should result in the formation and practice of holy habits, which are the beginning of virtue.  Virtue, defined as basically “something good that works” is seen in the fruit of the Spirit.  John 3:21 in the New American Standard Bible says this about works: “Whoever practices the truth comes into the light, so that his deeds will be manifested as having been wrought in God.”


As the congregation assists in the drama recreated in the worship setting, each member, whether in the pew, the open-air, or in the food pantry, is a co-star in the drama, as we “shine like stars” in the presence of a crooked and depraved generation.  Not that the goals of worship involve “drama” in the vernacular, but that God is watching our worshipful activity and is ravished with love for us.  We are the apple of His eye, His treasured possession.  Our work, our worship becomes that “sweet smelling savor” that He loves. 












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