8. Is there any place for humor in a service of worship?
Sometimes you cannot help it! A worship leader with a good sense of humor can deal with awkward or embarrassing situations without destroying the atmosphere of the service. However, I would vote against forced or contrived humor that can only call attention to itself and distract from the true purpose of the service. The preacher or musician who “has to tell a joke” before ministering is, to me, definitely out of place.
Having said that, let me define the right use of humor in the service of God. Elbert Hubbard wrote, “A theologian who can not laugh is apt to explode – he is very dangerous.” There is a difference between being serious and being solemn. In his Yale Lectures on Preaching, William Jewett Tucker said, “The humor of one preacher may be as reverent as the solemnity of another.”
Anyone who has watched carefully either at a zoo or a shopping center knows that God has a sense of humor. There is a “holy joy” and even a “holy laughter” (Ps. 126:1-3) that can be born of the Spirit of God. Let it come unsought and it will glorify God. Manufacture it, and it will embarrass you.
9. Ours is a small congregation and there is not a plentiful supply of musical talent. How do you worship God when the playing and singing are less than sensational?
If the players and singers are doing their best, and seeking to do better, then God accepts their “sacrifices of praise” and so should we. Remember, our spiritual sacrifices are presented to God “through Jesus Christ,” and that makes them acceptable (1 Peter 2:5). Whenever I am listening to a below-average presentation, I imagine my Lord receiving it and presenting it to the Father – and that changes my attitude completely.
The worst thing you can do is to measure your music by what you hear at special concerts or through Christian media. Learn to appreciate the best, but (and I have said this before in these pages) do not become a religious highbrow who is above listening to anything but the best. I am afraid that some believers have become religious dilettantes who want to impress us with their highly developed sense of musical appreciation. Without love, however, they are just clanging gongs and cymbals.
10. The Lord has given me a fine voice and I have been privileged to get considerable musical training. I attend a small church where there is not much musical talent. This means that I practice week by week in the choir with people who are really difficult to work with. I am tempted to go to a large church in our city where my musical ability would be put to better use. What do you think?
Imagine what out Lord endured when He, the perfect Man, had to live with people like us here on earth! Even His own disciples often disappointed Him because of their immaturity and slowness of spiritual comprehension. True service must involve humility and sacrifice, according to Philippians 2.
Yes, the larger churches (with their bigger budgets) do attract people like you. But if all of you parade over to the big churches, what will happen to the other churches! I have pastored a small neighborhood church that was in the shadows of large churches, and I have also pastored large churches that cast the shadows. But in both kinds of churches, my policy was to make sure the people were where God wanted them to be so that they might serve and glorify Him. On more than one occasion, I suggested to people that they stay in their own churches and not join our fellowship, because they were needed more there.
I can understand that a gifted musician might want a greater challenge and opportunity. I can also understand how frustrating it must be to practice weekly with less-talented people. However, keep in mind that you have a contribution to make right where you are. If you have a servant’s heart, you will use your exceptional gifts to build up others and not yourself.
Would it be possible for you to join a semiprofessional singing group and in that way find satisfaction? Perhaps you can even start one! There must be other people in your area who face a problem similar to yours.
Robert Murray McCheyne said, “God does not bless great talents. He blesses great likeness to Jesus.” Be a blessing as you use your gifts and God will put you where He wants you.
11. In our church, somebody is “drafted” right before the service to read Scripture. The pastor says he is led by the Spirit when he chooses people, but after hearing the readings and the prayers I have my doubts. What do you suggest?
The public reading of the Word of God is too serious a matter to be left to unprepared people at the last minute. It was said that people learned more from G. Campbell Morgan’s reading of Scripture than anybody else’s preaching of Scripture. It must grieve the Spirit of God when the Holy Scriptures are read carelessly.
If members of the congregation participate in the public reading of the Word, then they should be selected in advance, asked to prepare carefully, and coached in advance by the pastor or an elder.
The Holy Spirit can lead us in our choices a month in advance just as easily as ten minutes in advance.
I recall with embarrassment the first time I read the Bible in the pulpit before a congregation. I was a recently converted teenager, and some of the leaders in our little church wanted to encourage me. One Sunday morning, just before the service, the chairman of the church asked me to read the Scripture lesson, which happened to be Luke 3:1-6. Look it up and note all the unfamiliar names, plus that unfamiliar word tetrarch (which, by the way, is pronounced with either the long or short e). I stumbled through the passage and almost decided never to return to church. Fortunately, I got over it, but ever since I have been sympathetic with people who are “drafted” to read Scripture at the last minute.
While I am on the subject, let me state my amazement that so many fundamental churches that defend the Word of God use it so little in their public services. About the only Scripture that is read is the text for the pastor’s sermon, and yet we are commanded to “give attention to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13); this refers to the public reading of the Word of God in the congregation. Donald Guthrie claims that the Greek word prosecho, translated “give attention,” means that there has been previous preparation in private.
Before leaving this matter, let me say that I lean strongly toward the view that we ought to have readings from the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles in our worship services. In the Jewish synagogue, they followed a lectionary (an order of selected readings), and this practice was adopted gradually by the church. Pastors who are sensitive to “the times and the seasons” as well as the needs of their congregation, need not feel imprisoned if they use a lectionary to guide them. They can always make changes, but ought to see to it that the Word of God is read in the public services.
One final suggestion: pastors need not always do all the reading. They should use believers from the congregation, people who have been prepared in advance. I recall one service where a father, mother, and teenage daughter shared in the Scripture reading, making it a lovely family affair.
12. Must we always have a public invitation?
No, but we should always let lost sinners know what can be done if God’s Spirit is speaking to their hearts. I like to have the congregation sing a closing hymn in response to the Word. Although it need not be an “invitation hymn” as such, it can be used in that way if the Lord directs. Remember, we are worshiping God; and if our worship has been real and vital, the Spirit will have opportunity to speak to lost people. I have known lost people to trust Christ right in the middle of a service and never let us know until days later. Their experience was just as valid as if they had walked down the aisle.
We must not make the invitation a test of orthodoxy or evangelistic zeal. There is more than one way to draw in the net. Not every baby is born in public.
13. Why must we keep learning new songs? I’m perfectly satisfied with the familiar ones I grew up on.
We might just as well ask, “Why must we keep buying new clothes!” Because we are growing and the old ones do not fit any more! If a church is growing in grace and knowledge, it must express that faith in new ways. This does not mean that we abandon the old songs, because they represent a rich heritage from which we can draw spiritual treasure. But a growing people cannot sing only “Jesus Loves Me” every Sunday and have a full worship experience.
The important thing is to have standards for our music so that whether the song is old or new, we can determine its value. Some songs can he used at an informal Bible study that would not fit into a stated worship service. By having an occasional “singspiration” meeting, you can usually satisfy the members who have their favorites and want to sing them.
Be careful how you introduce new songs, even though the song may have been in the hymnals for a century. Be sure to explain why the song is meaningful to you or to the church, and always tie it to Scripture. Perhaps the background of the song would help to create interest among your people.
A vibrant congregation needs the continuity of the familiar as well as the challenge of the new. It takes both the minute hand and the hour hand to tell time on your watch, and yet one moves faster than the other.
14. From reading Christian magazines, I note that there is a growing trend toward “liturgical tradition” and that some evangelical leaders are abandoning the “free church” worship and promoting ritual. How do you feel about this?
I think that we are going to see more and more people in our fundamental churches do the same thing. They will no doubt give different reasons, and some of them may not even know why they are doing it. My own feeling is that many people have become weary of the shallow worship experience that some churches provide. These people are growing in the Lord and want something with more substance to it. Unfortunately, some of them put esthetics ahead of doctrine and end up in churches whose doctrines may not agree with theirs. Having known nothing but plain “free church” worship all their life, they are impressed with the colorful ritual even though they may not understand the theology or tradition behind it.
Please understand that I am not condemning any particular Christian communion or approach to worship. All I am saying is that when good and godly people no longer feel at home, it may be an indication that something is missing at home. The evangelical churches need to take a new interest in worship and make sure that the worship experiences they provide are biblical, enriching, and satisfying to the whole person.
Each of us has different needs at different stages in our life. As we grow in our knowledge of Christ and His Word, we must have opportunity to express ourselves in more mature ways. We must be sure that, if we do change churches, our move is a mark of maturity, not childishness, and that we are fully convinced in our own mind and not merely influenced by some temporary problem or desire. Worship is a serious thing, and we dare not “choose churches” the way people select stores or restaurants.
(taken from Real Worship, pg. 198-203. © Used by permission of Warren W. Wiersbe. Do not duplicate – for personal use only.)
©2004 Warren W. Wiersbe.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).