Upgrading the Worship Hour

How we handle the 11 o'clock hour.

SPEAKING at the H. M. S. Richards Lectureship in 1964, Norval Pease raised a challenge for every minister and member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church as he expressed his conviction: "The success of the church to which we are devoting our lives depends to a great extent on what happens between eleven and twelve o'clock on Sabbath mornings." 1

He pointed to the frightening possibility that, although we spend millions of dollars and put forth uncounted hours of effort to lead people to Christ and the church, the results of all this endeavor and expenditure may be dissipated by irreverent and unsatisfying Sabbath services, which dishearten new converts and drive interested persons away. He also observed that even though we as a church have made much of the day of worship, we have given little attention to the way of worship.

Pease, during his years as professor in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, did his part to meet this situation in his course Principles of Worship. For many students it proved to be one of the most profound and helpful courses included in the seminary curriculum. His book And Worship Him, which resulted from his series in the Richards Lectureship, continues to instruct and influence Seminary students, pastors, and church members every where.

Pease is the author of the fourth quarter's Sabbath school lessons for 1976. This authorship presents him with an opportunity to lead the entire church into a careful Biblical study of the subject of worship. These lessons deal with historical, theological, and practical issues connected with this theme. They relate to all types of worship, including personal and family worship, and point to the climax of the experience of worship, which should come in the Sabbath service.

This series of lessons presents us as ministers with a golden "once in a long time" opportunity.

The fourth quarter is an ideal time for pastors, church elders, and all who share the privilege and responsibility for planning and leading out in Sabbath worship services, to make a careful examination of their understanding and actual practice in preparing for and leading in these sacred services.

Thoughtful coordination of the worship services with what will be taking place in the Sabbath school lesson-study hour needs to be planned. In this way every element of our worship services— the reading of Scripture, leading in prayer, singing of hymns, worship in giving, and the preaching and hearing of the Word of God in the sermon—all may come to be understood and experienced in a more profound and meaningful way.

Our worship services all too easily can become a weekly ritual, through which we move with comfortable familiarity but little life and understanding. We need to consider again the bracing challenge of words first written in 1885: "Is it not your duty to put some skill and study and planning into the matter of conducting religious meetings—how they shall be conducted so as to do the greatest amount of good, and leave the very best impression upon all who at tend? . . . God is displeased with your lifeless manner in His house, your sleepy, indifferent ways of conducting religious worship." 2

The divine charter of Revelation 14 puts the call to worship at the forefront of the reasons for our existence and mission. With the worship services this quarter creatively related to the Sabbath school study, we have the exciting possibility for responding in a more effective way to the high calling given us to make our services "intensely interesting. They should be pervaded with the very atmosphere of heaven." 3

Some specific things that might help in moving toward this goal could include the following:

1. A careful reading or rereading of Norval Pease's book And Worship Him.

2. A series of sermons on the subject of worship that, while not duplicating the lesson study material, would build on and be enriched by that study and would supplement and reinforce its impact.

3. A number of informal discussions with the church elders about the actual worship service. By using a tape recording of the service to recall and reflect on what actually happened, the group can recognize in a concrete way the elements of strength in a given worship service and the elements that can be made still more effective.

4. Some tactful experimentation with a somewhat different order of service. This new order should be accompanied by an explanation of the reason and purpose for such change.

5. Informal Sabbath afternoon or Wednesday evening feedback sessions, in which leaders and members can respond to and discuss their church's experience and service of worship.

Above all, let us pledge ourselves never to offer to God in our worship what has cost us little or nothing in time, effort, prayer, or preparation.

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December 1976

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