There are no direct parallels in life to a Sunday worship. It is unique. It is not a performance. So throw out the grading system you use to evaluate everything else. Come to worship, sing, lead, preach, learn, be challenged, be encouraged, evaluate your heart for the glory of God. And enjoy every bit of it. We the redeemed should humbly bask in that glory so that the Holy Spirit, the heart, and the craft are placed in their proper order. That order.
This past Sunday Redeemer held our “official” thanksgiving service for yet another one of God’s gracious gifts to us: our new building. We intended on having our official thanksgiving service several weeks into the month of February because it would give us a few weeks to “work the kinks” out. The service was wonderful, well attended with plenty of visitors, and the Spirit seemed to really be moving in folks.
However, the kinks were definitely not “worked out.” Our senior pastor Barret did not have a fully functioning microphone (that’s what he gets for giving me the cheap one!); it gave so much feedback that he preached “unplugged.” But it was OK, and many left encouraged and several visitors have expressed desire to come back.
Here are some reflections on the role and place of Craft, Heart, and the Holy Spirit.
1.) Craft. A worship service is not designed for entertainment or to give off the “wow” factor. However, we do all things for the glory of God and therefore do the best we can to hold a worship service with excellence. For instance, we don’t want people leading us in song with bad voices that can distract (like mine), untrained folks who can’t preach well about Jesus, musicians who can’t play instruments well, sound techs that were English majors, etc…In addition, we pick out songs with intent, place them within a simple liturgy designed to take worshipers through the story of the gospel: God calls us to worship Him, we praise God for who He is, confess sins, hear of the forgiveness in Christ, respond to God’s instruction for us in His Word, sing more praise and thanksgiving, and leave with the hope of God’s blessing. All that takes time, thought, effort. Sometimes it flows smoother than others, but if you look for it, you can see how the pieces fit together.
Music takes practice. If you’re not willing to practice, you probably don’t take into consideration the weighty task at hand: leading people to worship the Holy and Gracious God.
Preaching takes practice. I spend time trying to memorize and practice several hours on Saturday before preaching. On Monday or Tuesdays I usually listen to all or part of my sermons to better the craft: pauses, diction, voice inflection, connection to Jesus, was it challenging where it should have been challenging, encouraging where it should have been encouraging, etc…That is all part of the craft of a worship service.
2.) Heart. More important than craft though is the heart behind it. God doesn’t care as much about craft as he does heart. The heart of the musicians is just as important if not more important than their skill. The heart of the preacher is just as if not more important than his craft. The heart of the sound person is more important than the sound quality. Those who put time into the craft and quality of the worship service in essence waste their time if their heart is not “tuned to sing thy grace,” as reminded by the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. If singers or musicians are “off,” we can still worship.
And for fellow worshipers (everyone who is there), the evaluation should more often be aimed at the individual heart as opposed to the craft of the preacher, prayer, musicians, sound technicians, etc….We are all good at evaluating others, but seldom are good at evaluating our own hearts in worship. That’s because we don’t practice it very much and instead leave the focus on the performance of the preacher or musicians, or whether or not we liked the songs.
The heart behind the worship leader, preacher, person leading in prayer is more important than his craft. Skills don’t pay the bills when it comes to worship. Hiding behind skills and craft is like hiding behind a glass door.
3.) The Holy Spirit. When Jesus dialogs with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), he tells her that God is looking for worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Location is not the main thing anymore (Jerusalem used to be THE kosher place for worship service), because God is Spirit and His Spirit will soon dwell in hearts of believers. Craft is also not the main thing-and never was. The individual heart of the worshiper and worship leader is most important. However, the great thing about The Holy Spirit is that he can trump both craft and heart. For instance, he can move and work when the sound is off, the music is sub-par and the preacher’s craft has seen better days. I’ve listened to my sermons where my craft is embarrassing (and it’s hard to listen to yourself) but people have said, “That sermon spoke to me.” In my pride, I’d like to have done a better job. But much of that is simply because my focus is on the craft-not my heart or the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit can even work when our hearts are in the wrong place. How many times have you come to worship begrudgingly? Has not the Holy Spirit overridden your heart? That’s why you should never make your motivation or lack thereof a reason to skip out on worship. The Holy Spirit can do some great things with not only bad craft but bad hearts. And I’m thankful.
So in the end, if you find yourself disappointed or angry about your craft, simply learn what you can from it. I encouraged someone recently by saying, “You tried your best, but things just didn’t turn out like we’d hoped. Yet the Holy Spirit showed up, so just relax!” But if you become neurotic and driven not to fail again, remember, that God loves you too much to let you “succeed.” He will let you fail until you realize that you are probably emphasizing craft over the heart and the work of the Holy Spirit.