Today, I read an article posted on the Church of God Ministries news website. This article is entitled “Turning Hearts and Minds Toward God in Worship,” and it explains the approach to worship taken by one large Church of God congregation in Scottsdale, Arizona. There are some incredible stories coming from that congregation: many people being baptized as believers, many people engaging in mission projects in that community, worship attendance doubling over the past four years.
But what I find fascinating in this article is how they describe their approach to worship.
The pastors there say that their goal in planning and leading worship services is to “[create] an environment where people can turn their hearts and minds back toward God.”
Think about that for a second. What would a church gathering look like if the people who gathered really, honestly turned their hearts and minds back toward God? Now think about this: what if the people who gathered were in the habit of turning their hearts and minds to God on a daily basis? What would a church gathering look like if that were the case?
I appreciate the work being done by our brothers and sisters in Scottsdale, Arizona. But we, like many congregations in our movement, live in a very different world. We are not a large church (this Arizona church has over 700 in attendance). We are a rural church (they are located in an urban area). We have one full-time pastor and one part-time pastor (their website lists at least five pastors).
While we are very different congregations, I believe we can agree that our worship of the Lord is to be done in an environment in which hearts and minds can encounter the living God. And whether large or small, I believe that the responsibility for preparing for worship should be shared among everyone involved, leaders and worshipers alike. Worship is not a “production” that must please the eyes and ears of those sitting in the pews. Worship is the effort of the faith community to please the Lord, who is the recipient of our adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.
And that, my friends, takes preparation. Everyone who comes to worship should prepare beforehand for an encounter with the living God.
Consider these passages of scripture:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:9-10 NIV)
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24 NIV)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:12-16 NIV)
I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” (Psalm 122:1 NIV)
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV)
What if we were to prepare ourselves for worship before leaving home on Sunday morning? What if we read Psalm 103 before entering the doors of the sanctuary? Would that help our worship be successful in the Lord’s eyes?
I think it would.