Pastor's Pastor

Worship is a verb

For spiritual growth, doing is more important than watching!

James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

"And worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the fountains of water" (Rev. 14:7, RSV).

As a people who understand the importance of worship in the prophetic context of last-day issues, it is disturbing to note the casual, humdrum manner with which too many congregations approach worshipful interaction with the Creator. Can we really commemorate Christ's creative and redemptive activity with services that stifle participation, perpetuate the ordinary, and elevate repetition to the level of dogma?

Uninvolved and lacking experiential participation, our members vote with their feet to such an extent that in some countries we feel fortunate if more than half manage to attend one weekly service. Even the angels must struggle to stay awake.

Is it possible that we have spent so much time identifying the correct day and proclaiming the appropriate theology of worship that we have missed actual worshiping? Have we become so concerned with the correctness of when we go to church that what we do there no longer matters?

Flexible patterns

Many congregations are not flexible enough in their worship services to attract those who do not attend; as a result, they continue to decline. Others rush to judgment against those who do things differently. In fact, too often we confuse form with function and conclude that if others don't enjoy the same things we enjoy, then something is wrong with them.

Some congregations have split over worship style. Members who once fellowshipped together will hardly speak to those who hold a different opinion. Some invest such terror into a good biblical word, such as "celebrate " that others fear even to appear joyful. This need not be.

So how do we deal with a topic that is so potentially explosive? Should there be a uniquely Adventist experience when we worship? Does our theology impact our corporate expression of adoration and praise, or are we lethargically repeating traditions?

The early Christians typically worshiped in homes. The worship style of early Advent believers was quite expressive, nearly Pentecostal in nature. Our typical order of worship today is neither biblical nor Adventist. Instead we follow a nineteenth-century style that relegates worship roles to platform leaders and spectator roles to the congregation. There is little active, participatory involvement of each worshiper with the Creator. The dynamic and vital encounter between Creator-God and worshiping penitent is too often absent.

Worship and church growth

Renewal of experiential worship can positively affect church growth as well as community outreach. Our previous congregation doubled its attendance in a relatively short period of time. Revitalized worship was an important contributing factor.

Believing that worship is a verb, we combined two words, "creative" and "active" to form our approach "creactive"! Rather than a radically different format, our services became dynamically traditional. Attendees immediately recognized a typical Adventist service, but with a participative vitality.

We focused on attracting non-attenders. We included familiar and easy-to-sing hymns as well as more special musical presentations, even adding 15 minutes. We limited announcements. We increased audience participation in Scripture reading, prayer requests, and testimonies. We provided sermon outlines in which hearers could "fill in the blanks." We turned routine events such as child dedication, graduations, or service recognition into features.

Yes, worship is a verb. We as pas tors must lead our congregations into creatively experiencing worship rather than merely observing! For spiritual growth, doing is more important than watchingl

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James A. Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

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