Restoring biblical worship in churches within a culture given over to various forms of narcissism, sentimentalism, consumerism and amusement is an uphill struggle. If a man is more concerned about retaining or attracting a minimum level of tithers, he is at the mercy of parishioners’ tastes, preferences and stylized worship choices. However, if he is more concerned about offering worship that is pleasing to God or, as a pastor, offering back true worshipers to the Father, then he will be guided by principle, and not raw pragmatism. For such men, I suggest a further three practical suggestions for restoring biblical worship.
First, there ought to be pastoral oversight of the corporate worship of the church. There is a strange practice among evangelical pastors of delegating responsibility for corporate worship to the musicians of the church. This, to me, is like delegating the planning of the Lord’s Supper to the kitchen staff, simply because they are involved. As important as musicians or kitchen staff are, it is the pastors of a church who have been called to provide spiritual wisdom, maturity, and leadership in all areas, worship being the chief. Kitchen staff may be very involved in the preparation and clean-up for the Lord’s Table. Musicians may be very involved in providing music in the public services of the church. But why ought they select what hymns and songs are sung (and how many times), make comments before or after hymns, settle on the order of service, or choose the offertory? Surely this is the role of the appointed spiritual leader(s) of the church. If hours are spent by the pastor on the sermon (which is the bulk of corporate worship), who better to determine what hymns, Scripture readings, prayers and so forth ought to be offered?
This is not to say that there is never a musician who is also a qualified spiritual leader. Several ordained men serve as pastors with a special focus on music, which can be very beneficial to the church. Nor is it to suggest that pastors ought to micro-manage and personally lead every element of corporate worship. What needs to be redressed is a tendency for pastors (particularly those with little musical knowledge) to feel an obligation to ‘stick with what they know’ and hand over the general direction and composition of worship services to others. Pastors without competent musical knowledge can still become competent to judge a good hymn from an inferior one, an appropriate tune from an inappropriate, an ordinate atmosphere of worship and its opposite. Indeed, spiritual maturity ought to be the ability to perform this kind of discernment (Heb 5:14). Increasingly rare is the musician who possesses a sound theology of worship, who understands the Regulative Principle and other issues surrounding corporate worship. While enlisting the gifts and abilities of others, the pastors of the church ought to plan, structure, oversee and review the public services of the church.
The corollary to this suggestion is that pastors ought to train faithful men in the skill of planning, executing and evaluating corporate worship. Too often a church which has traveled a better-than-average path regarding worship loses all the ground it has gained with the change of one pastor. As pastors, we want to leave legacies of ordinate worship after we have gone. It is understandable that a church changes character when its leaders change, but one can ensure more continuity rather than less through the training of men in the area of corporate worship. This could take the form of a few Sunday-school type lessons in which each element of corporate worship is considered, hymns are considered and evaluated, and basic practical lessons are given in leading corporate worship. If pastors conduct post-service evaluations, the men being trained ought to sit in on these and listen to each element of the services being evaluated for its appropriateness, execution and usefulness. These are tremendously helpful training times. Finally, there is no better way for people to learn how to lead and plan worship than to be placed into the situation of having to do just that.
Third, pastors ought to settle on a philosophy of worship, and preferably put it in writing. A philosophy of worship can become a mini ‘systematic theology of worship’. It needn’t be more than a few pages long, but it can summarize a church’s approach to worship. It serves as an up-front statement to those inquiring about the church. It guides present and future leaders, particularly when navigating areas of controversy. My church has made an attempt to summarise its music philosophy, and it can be found here.
Once this philosophy is worked out, the leaders will constantly be working out the application of this philosophy. Scott has already written helpfully on the difference between philosophy and application here , so I needn’t rehash that. However, it is important for leaders to explain the reasoning behind certain applications. My church has tried to explain some of our worship methodologies in a booklet called Why Do We Do It That Way?, which is also reproduced on our website. In this way, we as leaders try to explain how our philosophy has been worked out in practice. This becomes an important form of discipleship for believers.