Worship appears to be programmed into our DNA by the Creator. It seems that all humanity feels a desire to worship. It is as if we feel incomplete without the activity of worship in our lives. How are we to know when we are worshiping, and doing it properly?
In the sinless environment of heaven, worship is a natural response when a created being is in the presence of God (Revelation 5:11–14). In our sinful world, appropriate worship does not necessarily happen spontaneously. In our fallen condition, worship becomes something we must learn how to do. Church leaders need to teach people how to worship.
We define corporate worship as follows: The activity by which a group of believers are connected to the Creator. It is the celebration of the relationship between God and man. It is uniting and resonating with fellow believers and with heaven itself. Song, prayer, confession, the Word, and physical attitude are instruments of connecting a congregation to God.
Ellen White shares her thoughts on true worship: “It is the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit. By the Spirit every sincere prayer is invited, and such prayer is acceptable to God. Wherever a soul reaches out after God, there the Spirit’s working is manifest, and God will reveal Himself to that soul. For such worshipers He is seeking. He waits to receive them, and to make them His sons and daughters.”1
Private worship style is seldom contested, but corporate worship brings strong reactions and, at times, even division. While humans discuss and stress over what constitutes true congregational worship, God leaves us no doubt in His Word:
“Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
“For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; . . .
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth”
(Psalm 96:1–9, NIV).
Congregants have looked at the worship service as a kind of heavenly gas station. They think they can come Sabbath morning and get their tank filled so that they will be spiritual all week long. Their tank is not that big! If your members are to get the most out of the worship service, they should be preparing in advance all week by maintaining their relationship with God.
You can anticipate worship by watching all week for what God is doing in your life, and then respond by offering God your worship. You will then come to corporate worship filled with the wonder of the goodness of God. Celebrate together with your church congregation the great things God has done during the week.
Those less prepared for worship will hopefully catch some of the spirit of being with God. Enhance the total worship service and lift it to a higher level. The quality of the worship experience is a sum of its parts. You are one of those parts.
The worship leaders/ facilitators
On Sabbath morning when worshipers gather in anticipation of meeting God, there are some who minister from the platform. Those with this awesome ministry are to be the facilitators of worship. They are to act as catalysts to make it easier for the worshipers to connect to God. These facilitators must be spiritual people who have stayed in tune with God throughout the week. Then they will be ready to teach worship to the church family.
In a small congregation, the worship leader will often be the pastor or an elder. In a larger congregation, it may be someone who leads worship as their primary ministry. Many others can assist the worship leader. Young, old, male, female, all can become a part of leading worship and connecting people with God.
There are many tools that worship leaders have at their disposal. They should prepare well in advance, contacting potential people who will assist during the worship service. Worship should be well structured and executed with excellence.
We recommend that before Sabbath morning all those who will be a part of the worship service talk through the service so each understands how the different parts will bring the worshipers to God. Better yet, if possible, have all participants do a “walk through” of the service. Wednesday evening around prayer meeting or Friday evening are good times for this practice. Ellen White counsels, “Nothing that is sacred, nothing that pertains to the worship of God, should be treated with carelessness or indifference.”2
Some have expressed concern for this emphasis on a high degree of planning and execution of the worship service. The fear expressed is that it does not leave room for the Holy Spirit to work Sabbath morning. We have found that the Holy Spirit works for weeks in advance of the worship service, and then in a powerful way on the congregation’s individual hearts as they share in the focus and flow of wor-ship. The planning also helps eliminate “static” and dead spots in the service that rob the congregation of some of the blessing the Lord intends.
We recommend that the worship service be thematic. The theme should be based on the sermon and the chosen Scripture reading. The speaker needs to share with the participants the title of the sermon, a synopsis, and the Scripture the sermon is based on well in advance. This will help the participants lead the congregation to the message from God for the day. Sabbath morning participation should move smoothly and seamlessly towards the sermon because big spaces between elements tend to break the focus of the congregation.
The true audience
Those up front are not performers; they are the facilitators to assist the congregation in their worship, helping connect people with and to God. The true audience is God Himself. Each Sabbath, God bends low to our places of worship to accept the praise and adoration from His people that He alone is worthy to receive. He is with His people as He is no other time of the week. God is the audience!
Through our joining in the songs, prayers, readings, and sermon, we join with the hosts of heaven in what they do spontaneously in God’s presence. Worship lifts us above our present reality to see things as God sees them, in the light of the great controversy and His plans for our ultimate rescue.
When we come to worship on Sabbath, every element should focus more on the greatness of God and less on the evils of this world. The Psalms, the worship book of the Bible, has God as its focus. We should do the same.
While we should build our best worship houses for God, worship can happen no matter the setting or the shape of our building, because God is there. Abraham could successfully worship outside in a chosen place because God was there. The children of Israel could successfully worship at the sanctuary and later the temple because God was there. The synagogue became a great worship place because the people met God there. The New Testament church could meet in a home, in a building, by the river, or in a field and successfully worship because God was there.
Today, wherever your congregation gathers, you can worship if you will keep your focus on God. He will be there, bending low in eager anticipation to receive your worship. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). God awaits, He is worthy, He is the audience.
When we worship God in Seventh-day Adventist churches, the central core of the worship service is the sermon. It takes a larger portion of time than any other element of worship. The sermon is to be our word from God for His people in a particular place and time. The sermon must be based on the Scripture, not our human ideas. We place the congregation in danger by neglecting the Word of God.
When a preacher begins to prepare a sermon, he or she should begin by preparing himself or herself. With prayer, and praise for God, the preacher then studies the Scriptures from where the ideas for the sermon must come. While the Spirit of Prophecy should be researched and you will find Bible commentaries and dictionaries helpful, all sermons should begin their life in the Word.
While topical preaching can be an effective form at times, this calls for the most caution. The preacher must constantly guard against taking a text out of context in an attempt to support his or her own point of view. The message is in danger of becoming the thoughts of the preacher rather than the message from God. We recommend that you should safeguard against this by creating the sermon in an exegetical form. This means taking a full passage of Scripture and expounding the sermon from its words. We suggest that 80 to 90 percent of your sermons be exegetical.
We believe that the preparation of the speaker is more important to God than the preparation of the sermon.3 Someone with a personal agenda and not in harmony with the Seventh day Adventist Church should never be allowed to speak to our church family. The congregation should not see a person, event, agenda, book, or even an organization in the sermon; they should see God, their personal God, calling them to salvation and service.
The sermon should be planned well in advance and information given to the participants. The question should be asked of each element, “Will this assist in focusing the congregation on God and His Word?” God still speaks to and through His people today.
Preparing for worship during the week
When the majority of the people have prepared properly all week for worship, the Holy Spirit can work might-ily on behalf of all. We must build a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior by spending time together. Ellen White wrote, “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”4
As you read and contemplate the Word, the Holy Spirit will bring home to you the message God wants for you personally. The Word is a major part of your preparation for the Sabbath blessing you can receive.
Whether you are a family of one or a dozen, set apart a special time to bring the family together for praising God. Children growing up under your care will especially need your guidance to begin to learn how to worship and prepare for worship. Make the family worship a joy for all ages, and they will anticipate with eagerness the corporate worship experience on Sabbath.
Our attitude can be one of worship throughout the week. Day by day as you walk with your Lord, you should watch and note the many places where the providence of God is present. Some even do this in a written journal. Fill your private and family worship with this awareness of God. Bring your heart filled with a knowledge of God to the worship on Sabbath.
This week, full of preparation, will bring you into the presence of God with thanksgiving. Those around you will be uplifted by your overflowing joy and gratitude to God. The Lord waits to send people to such a worship gathering so they will sense and feel what it is like to meet Him. Soon many new people will be connected to God each Sabbath because you took the time to prepare well for worship.
As Creator and Re-Creator of our lives, God is the center of our worship. Coming together for corporate worship week after week to honor Him begins a habit that will be continued throughout eternity. “ ‘And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the LoRD” (Isa. 66:23, NKJV).
In our churches today, we can pray and plan to bring a people close to their God in a way they cannot achieve individually on their own. The hours of preparation worship facilitators and participants spend getting organized and even practicing for the worship experience are worth it. The hours the congregation spends preparing to come together on Sabbath to meet with God and praise Him for His greatness facilitate a higher level of praise to God. We are preparing and training for even greater worship services to come in heaven, in the very presence of God.
1 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 189.
2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 491.
3 The book by E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer, has a great study on this, especially chapter 1.
4 Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1999), p. 93.