The Ideal Sabbath Service

The Ideal Sabbath Service

What would the ideal Sabbath service consist of?

By J.N. Jones

I am asked to deal with a topic which is of vital importance in con­nection with our work, and one around which there clusters a diversity of opinions. Possibly it would seem that the most logical presentation of this topic could be made by the pastor of the church who is primarily respon­sible for the conduct of the Sabbath service; yet the broadened vision which is developed by the, itinerant executive during years of visiting many churches, and observing how the Sabbath services are conducted in many places, may serve to some good advantage. Let us therefore consider some of the principles which must of necessity have recognition in the con­duct of the Sabbath service which tends toward the ideal.

1.  Recognize the Sacredness of the Occasion and the Place.— The pastor of the church must have a high re­gard for the sacredness of the Sab­bath, and a deep and serious conviction that the church building is God's sanc­tuary, in which He meets with His people on the blessed Sabbath day.

2.  Personal Preparation for Conduct­ing the Service.—No minister should approach a Sabbath service without an abiding conviction that he has been divinely called to enter the sacred place of worship to deliver a message of salvation to the waiting congre­gation. At this point lies a subtle danger of following in the footprints of the Jewish priests of old, which lead into the bypaths of formalism. The Jewish priests became so absorbed in the routine of the sacrifices which they offered on each Sabbath, that they came to regard the day merely as a period of hard work and long hours, with little regard to the benefits the sinner was to receive from God's par­doning grace. To-day there is a tend­ency to face the Sabbath duties with mechanical weariness, which gives ex­pression to such statements as these: The pastor may say, " Well, I have just so many churches to visit to-day, and so many sermons to give: This is my work for the day." Or a depart­mental secretary visiting the church, may say: " I have this definite pro­gram to put through before the Sab­bath is over." Instead of this definite routine outline, there should rest upon the heart of the pastor and his depart­mental associate a sense of the respon­sibility of standing between the people and God and conveying a message fresh from the throne of Heaven. To approach the Sabbath meeting without a sense of our own need and the needs of the people, is worse than mockery, and explains why many sermons are tame and lifeless, and the Sabbath service is so far from the true ideal.

3.  Order and Promptness.A church service should begin on time, and all preliminaries should be cared for in systematic order. A very essential con­tributing factor is to make sure that the Sabbath school closes on time. One hour and. fifteen minutes is ample for the Sabbath school; but when the time is extended to fifteen minutes or half an hour longer, a state of confusion re­sults, and causes delay in beginning the preaching service.

4. Reverence to Be Cultivated and Maintained.An attitude of quietness and reverence should fill the church, and as the minister enters the sacred desk and kneels in silent prayer, every head should be bowed and every heart united in earnest petition for Heaven's blessing.

5. Prayer.The one who is ap­pointed to lead in prayer should step forward at the proper time, and re­quest the audience to kneel in prayer. He should pray distinctly and in a tone of voice to be heard by all. It is a defeating start to a Sabbath serv­ice when the one who leads in prayer speaks so low or in such muffled tones that the people do not hear what he says. When the prayer is of such length as to be almost a sermon itself, this is also a serious detriment to an ideal Sabbath service. The instruction given through the spirit of prophecy is decidedly to the effect that public prayers should be brief.

6. Music.The selection of hymns should be made before the service be­gins, and care should be taken to choose those familiar to the congrega­tion. To start the meeting by using a hymn which is known by only a few persons, selected hurriedly and per­haps not at all in keeping with the theme of the sermon to be delivered, is a poor way to introduce the ideal Sabbath service.

7. Announcements.Brevity at this part of the service is by all means es­sential. Long-drawn-out announce­ments fail to accomplish the desired end, and become a bore to the people. We cannot ignore the fact that an­nouncements must be made. The Church Bulletin (board or printed sheet) is found by some to shorten the time required for the announcements; but this Is not a practical plan for every church. We should study brev­ity, and do everything possible to make the announcements concise, and as few as is consistent with the situation in hand,

8. Introduce the Offering in a Defi­nite Manner.instead of saying, " The offering will now be received," make a definite statement as to what the offer­ing is for, and combine with this state­ment a spiritual appeal to the people for liberality.

9. Junior Sermon.A short talk to the children, just preceding the preach­ing of the sermon for the day, is quite generally favored and is of merit. But this should be well planned for, and should occupy but a few minutes. Be as faithful in preparing for and recog­nizing the " junior audience " as the seniors, and thereby strengthen the ideal Sabbath service by the loyal in­terest and intelligent co-operation of the lambs of the flock.

10.The Sermon.The delivery of the sermon should be in all seriousness and dignity, reasonably short (not over an hour in length under ordinary con­ditions), free from all effort to pro­voke laughter by the weaving in of a joke. The objective of every sermon should be to present Jesus as the Sav­iour of sinners and the One who is able to keep us from sinning. It is fitting on frequent occasions to make a spe­cial call for consecration and recon­secration at the Sabbath morning service.

11.  Dismissing the Congregation.—The sermon being ended, the closing hymn is sung and the benediction pro­nounced. Then the best results are seen when the congregation is seated and every head bowed in silent prayer, until a signal from organ or desk indi­cates that the service is ended. All should then proceed out of the church as quickly and quietly as possible, re­fraining from laughing, joking, or boisterous talk, but with the decorum and dignity which is appropriate in the house of God.

These suggestions represent my ideas of an ideal Sabbath service, which are based upon methods I have seen worked out with good results during a somewhat extensive period and cover­ing a wide field; but, as stated, this is a topic concerning which there is justifiably a wide range of thought and operation, and to which continued study should be given.

Union Springs, N. Y.

Discussion of the Paper

The delegates at the Atlantic Union Conference session entered into a lively discussion of the various suggestions, and the leading points particularly touched upon follow:

Reverence

One speaker said: " It is impossible to bring about a better state of things in our churches, along the line of rev­erence for the house of God, without providing and adopting a thorough system of education. Our people must be taught the principles of reverence, and the propriety of due reverence in connection with the church services. Some of our good people have the idea that we are becoming worldly when we seek to establish the ideal standard of reverent worship. I know one pas­tor who received an anonymous letter from a brother who said he was sorry to see the devil coming into Adventist churches, as evidenced by the fact that the members of the congregation follow the plan of bowing the head in prayer at the close of the service. This good brother saw nothing in that but an attempt to imitate worldly methods. Our people must be taught the true meaning of worship, and keep in mind all that the Lord has told us concern­ing the sacredness of the place in which He meets with His people."

Another worker said: " Every effort should be made to impress upon the children that the church is the house dedicated to God, and that it is a sa­cred place always, whether the service is going on or not. And as ministers we must show due reverence for the house of God and for the sacredness of the pulpit. The pulpit corresponds to the altar which was used in the taber­nacle service; it is the spot where the Holy Spirit encompasses the minister as he breaks the bread of life to the congregation, and therefore it becomes ' holy ground.' It grieves me to see the common way in which the pulpit is many times used. I do not think the pulpit should serve purposes other than gospel ministry, and I think it is a serious mistake for the minister to use the pulpit as a sort of punching bag, as I have witnessed more than once. I do not think that children should be allowed to run over the ros­trum and around the pulpit."

Still another minister said: " The degree of order which we find in our churches is typical of the order found in the homes of our people. We must begin the campaign of education in the home."

A union conference executive called attention to a matter involving the underlying principle of reverence in its specific application to ministers, and that is, the bad example set by ministers' whispering while in the pul­pit. He stated the situation this way: " I have observed a tendency, particu­larly at camp meeting, of whispering and talking by the ministers in the pulpit. Oftentimes there is quite a line-up of preachers on the rostrum, and while the sermon is being deliv­ered, these ministers carry on conver­sation among themselves, behind the speaker, and sometimes it becomes so embarrassing that he is about ready to stop preaching and turn around to see what is going on that creates such confusion and attracts the attention of the congregation. It is most unfortu­nate when preachers so disregard the sacredness of the place of worship as to indulge in whispering and even talk­ing, which would be out of place at any time, and particularly while on the rostrum and at the time preaching is going on. I wonder what can be done to stop this quite general and very inappropriate practice."

The remedy was promptly suggested by Elder 0. Montgomery, who said: " The only thing to do in order to stop this habit is to STOP IT. As indi­vidual preachers, we must resolve to stop it. The reform lies within our­selves."

Announcements

" I have observed a good plan in operation," said an experienced worker, "and that is to have the-announce­ments made before the beginning of the service. While the announcements are being made, the ministers are en­gaged in prayer in the pastor's study or anteroom, just before entering the pulpit."

" If I were pastor of a church," said a General Conference worker, " that would be my program. I believe that the church clerk can make practically all the announcements, and I prefer that all announcements be made be­fore I go into the desk, so that the service begins as a period of worship."

The sentiment of other speakers urged brevity in announcements when made as a part of the opening exer­cises of the service, as is the general plan. One minister referred to his experience of being in the desk for one hour before he had opportunity to an­nounce his text, because of the heavy encroachment upon the sermon hour by preliminaries. A balance in the adjustment of all necessary details in connection with the Sabbath service must be maintained.

The Offering

Preference was indicated for the plan of having the deacons come for­ward for the offertory prayer before the offering is taken. After the prayer, the deacons pass through the congre­gation and take up the offering, and properly dispose of it while the inter­lude is rendered. One worker called attention to the fact that prayer preceding the offering should not only be in behalf of liberality, but should give expression to praise and thanksgiving for the gifts to be received. Such a prayer at such a time meets a twofold purpose.

(To be continued)


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By J.N. Jones

December 1928

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