“You know what was missing from the worship service this morning? ENERGY!!” That comment came from my family members a week ago when I was in Pennsylvania visiting my parents. On Sunday afternoon we sat together in the living room discussing the Sunday morning service we all attended.
“The 10 minutes of announcements at the beginning of the service were interminable. We felt like taking a nap before the service started.”
“The worship leader spoke poorly. She fumbled around, had long pauses, and didn’t give the impression that she was excited about leading worship.”
“The Advent candlelighting was too long and used archaic language.”
“The praise band did an arrangement of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ that was confusing, way too slow and dull. The original version would have been much better.”
I had to agree. Since July 1, I have attended Sunday morning worship services in 25 different churches, most in the Grand Rapids District, but some while I was traveling. I’ve seen it all!!! I believe that worship is a gift we offer to God, to our world and to each other. But for those of us entrusted with planning worship, that gift should be the very best we can offer.
For me, vital worship is characterized by 3 words: spirit, energy, and excellence.
When I set foot in a church as a visitor, I immediately sense the congregation’s spirit. I can feel warmth or coldness, excitement or boredom, unity or discord. It only takes a few minutes to decide if I want to come back to worship again.
Has the congregation invited the Holy Spirit into worship? Is there a sense of anticipation that God will be present in a transformative way, both personally and corporately? Is the congregation ready to praise and worship God, to learn and be edified, and to be inspired to go out and preach the gospel and make disciples for the transformation of the world?
Are the leaders enthusiastic? Do they engage the congregation through participation, eye contact, style and relevance? Is there a flow to the service? Does the pace move along without dead spots, at the same time leaving space for quiet meditation? Is the music upbeat? Do the leaders have an obvious love for communicating the good news of Jesus Christ?
Without energy, there is no life. That holds true for our physical body as well as for our spiritual life. There is more to our body than what we can see. Our invisible being moves through 12 pathways that guide energy to every part of our body. In the same way, energy is essential to cultivating our spiritual lives through worship.
Excellence has nothing to do with whether worship is traditional or contemporary. It’s not about theological preferences, preaching style, or the size of the church. It has to do with careful preparation. It has to do with thinking through all aspects of a worship service. It has to do with worship done well.
I confess that I respond to excellence. I love to watch people who do what they do well, whether they are athletes, artists, parents, coaches, teachers, physicians or woodworkers. It all comes down to passion. In worship I look for a passion for making disciples, for connecting people with God, for deepening the spiritual lives of our parishioners, for reaching out into our communities with love and hope, for treating all people with dignity and respect, and for planting seeds.
Just hours after our family conversation on worship, my parents were watching a classical music concert on public TV. The conductor’s name was Andre Rieu. As I worked on my computer in the other room, I heard music that was so spirited that I got up and walked in to the living room. I was immediately mesmerized. At one point, I said to my folks, “That’s exactly what we’ve been talking about. Worship needs to be like that concert!”
Andrew Rieu, a Dutch violin virtuoso, was conducting a concert of his Johann Strauss Orchestra in his hometown of Maastricht, Holland. The energy was absolutely electric! To overcome shyness onstage during his early career and bridge the gap between orchestra and audience, Rieu adopted the example of Johann Strauss, who would create a festive atmosphere at his performances and encourage audiences to enjoy the music by getting out of their seats and waltzing in the aisles. Rieu’s warmth encourages the audience to tap its feet and even dance in the aisles. Rieu’s genius is that he has captured and held the interest of the mainstream public with classical music repertoire, a feat rarely accomplished today. He does that by loving what he does and interacting with the audience with spirit, energy, and excellence. Rieu is the best selling instrumentalist in Europe in the last 20 years not because he is a purist but because he makes music fun.
During Advent and Christmas people have a deep desire to connect with the church, so we need to put our best foot forward in worship. It’s not too late to reflect on your own worship planning for the next few weeks. Do you expect the Holy Spirit to be roaming the sanctuary of your church, filling hearts with hope? Will you and your worship leaders devote all of your energy to enthusiastic worship? Have you prepared well enough to offer excellence in the music, prayers, preaching and flow of worship? Have you found ways to encourage your congregation to invite people to experience worship at your church? Find a DVD of Andre Rieu conducting his Johann Strauss orchestra, and you’ll know what I mean. Or better yet, get tickets to see Andre Rieu at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids on May 21!