Madeline Steele Johnston, MA in developmental psychology, is a retired educator residing in Berrien Center, Michigan, United States.

Thinking should be an integral part of planning and leading a worship service. Jesus tells us, “ ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ ’ ” (Matt. 22:37, NIV). Ellen White commented, “God requires the training of the mental faculties. . . . He is displeased with those who are too careless or too indolent to become efficient, well-informed workers.”1

When we gather in corporate worship, we should do so with our minds engaged. Those who lead out should think carefully about each part of the service. Through the years, I have observed words and practices that might benefit from some extra care.

Care with words

Dignity. More and more, “You guys” has become an accepted, second-person plural form of address. Aside from the fact that we are not all “guys,” the phrase lacks the dignity appropriate to the pulpit. We can be serious without being stuffy.

Clarity. One morning at my church, one of the pastors said, regarding a vote on church officers, “All in favor, indicate by saying ‘Amen.’ Those opposed, by the same sign.” Do we really want members to say “Amen” when they are against something?

Consistency. A Week of Prayer speaker at our university church began his sermon, titled simply “Jesus,” by saying, “Let us first communicate with the subject of our sermon: Our heavenly Father . . .” I thought the subject was Jesus.

Addressee. One seminary student prayed publicly, “Our heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus, . . .
In Your name we pray. Amen.” To whom are we praying, and in whose name? We could be praying to the Father, in Jesus’ name, or simply to Jesus.

Accuracy. Someone offered the following invocation to begin a service: “And give us strength, not only for now but for all eternity, until we see You coming in the clouds of glory.” Will eternity bring great hardships that will require extra stamina?

Mastery. If you are unsure of the pronunciation of a name when announcing a person’s death, illness, or other need for prayer, make an inquiry ahead of time. A cavalier attitude toward the names of people may leave an impression of not caring—especially regarding persons with whom the pastor should be acquainted.

Care with practices

Specificity. There is a practice of asking anyone who has a special prayer concern or a special thanks to come forward for the pastoral prayer. One cannot live a whole week as a Christian without thinking of some special burden or something to be thankful for. How “special” does it need to be to bring us up front? And how would a church like mine, with nearly 3,500 members, accommodate the crowd if everyone did press forward?

Entreaty. Another routine sounds like this: “Good morning. Oh, come on, you can do better than that; good morning! Ah, that’s better.” In a public setting, many people accept a formal welcome without responding individually. When you go to a concert or a lecture, and the sponsoring organization’s representative approaches the microphone and says, “Good evening. We’re glad you could join us tonight,” a response is neither expected nor required. “Let’s hear an amen” often feels manipulative to me, but I realize it is enjoyed by many!

God’s representative

I used to work in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. Sometimes mistakes I saw on exams or heard in chapel presentations concerned me as I reflected that souls may be won or lost based on the use or misuse of language. Yet the Holy Spirit does sometimes close the ears of hearers who might be affected.

Thinking ahead would go a long way toward giving our services both theological accuracy and appropriate dignity. That includes properly preparing others who are to take part. It is an awesome responsibility to speak to God on behalf of a whole congregation—or to speak to that congregation on His behalf.

  1. Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), 333.

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Madeline Steele Johnston, MA in developmental psychology, is a retired educator residing in Berrien Center, Michigan, United States.

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