THE ministry is a complex calling. First of all, the minister must be an effective preacher of the gospel. In this role he must be well-informed, he must know his Bible, and he must know how to communicate his message. On an equal level with his ability as a preacher, the minister must be a leader in worship. In addition to these two areas in which the minister should be a specialist, he must understand the art of personal service both inside and outside the church, and he must be a competent administrator of the affairs of the church.
This fourfold role—preacher, worship leader, counselor, and administrator—presents a very demanding challenge to the minister. Inasmuch as very few men are equally effective in all four areas, there is a tendency to seek excellence in the field where results are most measurable—administration. In recent years there has been a new emphasis in pastoral counseling. Ministers have always been urged to excel in preaching, but the cost of success in this field is so great that only a minority achieve a high degree of competence.
The fourth area—worship leadership—is a wide-open field. Only a few have given serious study to the philosophy, theology, history, and techniques of worship. Those who have done so have discovered a new richness in the work of the ministry.
Eleven O'clock Impact
The success of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is determined to a great extent by what happens between eleven and twelve o'clock on Sabbath morning. In saying this, I do not discount the importance of our evangelistic and home missionary endeavors. But the eventual success of our outreach is dependent upon the impact of the worship service on the visitor or the new believer who is finding his way - into the fellowship of the church. A person may have been much interested in the Voice of Prophecy or Faith for Today and may have completed a Bible course, but if his first visit to the local Adventist church introduces him to a noisy, disorganized, meaningless service, the evangelistic influence is likely to be counteracted. The transfer from the evangelistic auditorium to the church can be a traumatic one if the new believer is faced with worship amid a chorus of wailing babies in a poorly planned and amateurish service. The Adventist churchgoer should be able to bring any visitor to any church service at any time without fear of embarrassment, either because of the conduct of the congregation, the order of service, or the sermon. The effectiveness of the church as an evangelistic agency may be greatly enhanced if this rule is followed.
What are the important factors governing the work of a minister as a leader of worship?
Planning an Absolute
First, he must plan a service that is truly a service of worship. This will mean that in the service there will be place for adoration, confession, dedication, and instruction; and the various parts of the service will be in some sort of meaningful sequence. The hymns, prayers, anthems, and offerings must be more than mere introductory material to a sermon. As important as the sermon is, it is not the climax of the service—the climax is the personal dedication that closes the service, which may be expressed in a hymn of dedication, a prayer, or an offering.
A large Adventist church is now using the following order of service:
Adoration and Praise
Call to Worship
Hymn of Praise
Musical Selection or Anthem
Hymn of Meditation Sermon
Hymn of Dedication Benediction
This order, with slight modifications, may be used in churches of any size or type. The worshiper is led to see progress and meaning in the service. It is not a mere hodgepodge of unrelated or loosely related activities. The Bible is used in the service in the call to worship, the Scripture lesson, and the sermon. The three hymns are appropriately chosen as hymns of praise, meditation, and dedication, thus harmonizing with the three basic sections of the service. The offering is considered a part of adoration and praise. It could with equal consistency be received at the close as a symbol of dedication. The three prayers—invocation, pastoral prayer, and benediction—fit a familiar pattern.
This is by no means the only good way of planning a church service. Many variations may be employed, but every good church service will have two characteristics —the order will be meaningful, and each part will be well done.
The second important factor in the service is that the leader of worship, whether a minister or church elder, must approach the service in the spirit of worship. This spirit involves adoration, gratitude, awe, and love. One great minister has said that only a redeemed person can really worship God. Real worship is the response of a redeemed individual to his Redeemer.
Third, there can be no worship without quietness. Moving about, whispering, crying babies, drive the spirit of worship from a service. These problems must be solved by education, nurseries, carpeting, or whatever may be needed.
Fourth, the music must be appropriate. Even in the simplest country church with an old piano or a squeaky organ good hymns of worship may be selected. Gospel hymns have their place, but not ordinarily in the service of worship.
Fifth, the Scripture must be read well. The one who reads should have known his assignment several days in advance, and should practice reading his selection.
Sixth, the prayers, though spontaneous, should not be mere collections of worn clichés. Prayers may be planned without being read.
Finally, the sermon should be based on the Word of God, and should be calculated to draw the listener into the presence of God. It should neither be pure instruction or pure entertainment, but it should be a communication of God's message as found in His Word.
God Dishonored by Blundering
There is very little danger of Adventist services becoming too formal. Of course, we cannot follow the current liturgical renewal with its emphasis on repetitious formulas, and its return to medieval symbolism. But we must seek to make worship beautiful. The worship of God deserves the best we can offer, and God is dishonored by blundering and crude worship practices. While esthetic considerations are not the primary criteria of worship, there is no reason why Adventist worship cannot have a beautiful simplicity that is esthetically acceptable to the most discriminating critic.
Education Our Duty
I can hear many ministers say, "We are district leaders. We can only be in one place at a time, so we have to leave the leadership of our services to others. How can we keep the standard high?" You have a problem. But is it not part of the minister's work to educate his church elders in proper concepts of worship? Should not the minister study the order or worship in each church with his elders and see if it can be made more worshipful? Cannot the minister prepare calls to worship, Scripture readings, and other materials that will help the elders in their leadership? Is it not possible, in many cases, for the pastor and the local leader to develop a mutual pride in the effectiveness of the church service? Changes in this area have to be made carefully and tactfully. It is true that many church members are completely satisfied with crude and meaningless services, and resist any effort toward change. It is also true that a growing number of church members are eager for their pastors to develop more meaningful services. We cannot always be inhibited in our efforts toward progress by those who confuse the status quo with spirituality. Neither can we be frightened by those who see something sinister in every attempt to worship God more beautifully.