Let’s talk about how to move people into the climate for a God-thing to happen. In ongoing conversation with my wife Norma, who served as a praise leader and then trained others to step into the role, several practical things came to light.
Transitioning people from street to His presence.
Gathering the people together.
Instructing the lacking and leading them to participate.
Focus and Flow toward the Lord.
Life is messy. Throughout the day the preacher may have been meditating on the Lord, but most people have not had that privilege. Think about the stuff they are dealing with.
· John just came from the hospital. His mother’s condition is terminal, but when he gets to church I want him to praise the Lord.
· Sue’s employer declared bankruptcy this week. She is unexpectedly unemployed, but I want her to shout to the Lord.
· The Smiths’ home has been foreclosed on, but I want them to clap.
I just described real-world ministry. People are weary and heavy-laden. One has to give consideration to where people are at in life. Know where people are coming from!
How do we move beyond reality? People have to be transitioned from life to Lord, work to Word, from a broken dish-washer to a fresh awareness of the God of the universe. It is your job to make sure there is a path on which that transition can occur.
This need to transition people is not new. Read Psalms 120-134. In the titles of the psalms, these are noted as songs of degrees. Other translations and historians called them songs of ascent. These particular types of psalms were sung as people were on the way to the temple in Jerusalem. Read them – the songs of ascent were songs of transition moving people from “woe” to “God’s house.” In the transition produced by the songs, God’s place began to loom larger than whatever they had been dealing with.
You can rarely move people directly from the accounting office or truck straight to the holy place, much less the Holy of Holies. Leaders have to transition them toward the things of God.
These days, the transition will happen after people arrive at the church gathering. This need to transition is an added reason for a strong emphasis on pre-service prayer. The prayer helps prepare people for God’s presence. Even with that emphasis, those who lead praise must understand how distant people are likely to be from the things of God. Get people past the mess of their life even as we recognize it as being there.
1. Think about where people are coming from. You don’t have to like it but do understand it.
2. Diversity helps. At times, begin church with Bible reading. Diverse voices reading a favorite verse moves people down this path. Get people thinking about something other than their stress.
3. Start low, go slow, and end high! Starting in over-drive is often a mistake. It does not allow people to make the journey from their life to God’s presence.
Gather the People
Gathering diverse people into a symphony of praise is its own challenge. It requires moving each of them to something bigger than themselves. In the songs of ascent, the focus was on God, God’s house, and God’s permanence. Those joining the throng got their mind on something really big.
In “gathering” don’t ignore reality. Norma observed, “If we had just buried a saint, the first song in the next service was likely to be something having to do with heaven. Then we’d get around to a chorus that brought us back to the here and now.”
In December holiday activities at home, work, and church are foremost in people’s mind. Starting church with a Christmas hymn helps people realize you are aware of their busy pace. Then the worship leader can move on to something else. The season has been affirmed, the fact of Christmas being on people’s mind has been confirmed, and people are brought together. From that point of gathering we could move on to what was felt in the Spirit for that service.
Effective churches will have new people. Become comfortable with coaching newcomers about praise. Your instructions don’t have to be different every service; mine were not. I repeated something like the following:
“I note that to some of you the things happening around you are a bit different. Let me take a minute and increase your comfort. First, nobody is going to insist that you clap your hands or lift your hands. If you’d like to join us, you are welcome. Second, what you are seeing is all Biblical. If it is in the Bible, is must be ok. Let me validate this from the Bible.”
- “The Bible says, ‘Clap your hands all ye people.’”
- “The Bible says, ‘Shout to the Lord with a voice of triumph.’”
- “On three occasions, the Bible speaks of, ’Lifting one’s hands . . . .’”
- “The Bible even speaks of leaping for joy and praising Him with a dance.”
“These things are in the Bible. If it is in the Bible, it must be alright to do in church.“
A few weeks ago I was the evangelist in a young church with several visitors who were uncomfortable with Pentecostal praise. There was almost a sense of relief when someone took time to explain what was happening. Instructing creates a comfort zone.
Focus and Flow
At times it seems we pinball our way through church. Does this kind of service truly have a focus or does it ever establish a flow? If God is moving, move with Him—regardless of what the next song or item on the schedule calls for.
Focus on HIM! Make praise a real conversation about His excellence. It interests me how different David’s praise was to what we do. David’s praise was in complete sentences—our praise is more often phrases or a single word. The danger of “phrase-praise” is that it requires little thought—we can open our mouth and habitual words roll out. It takes time, but you can lead people to flow into praising God in complete sentences.
Putting It to Work
We all want a praising church, and churches can be led there. Practical application:
· Regularly meet those who help lead services or lead praise (quarterly at least) to share your vision and re-energize them. Whether it’s one keyboardist and you as the worship leader or a full team, emphasize the importance of every service and how necessary each person’s role is.
· Review your last three services. Do any of the service elements need to be re-ordered to help the service flow and to maintain a focused atmosphere of praise? Look at the post – Where services get stuck and how to unstick them – http://truth-publications.com/?p=1051
· Train your worship/music leader about starting service with songs of ascent to transition people.
· Make it a point to instruct people in praise at least once every service so they understand its value and Biblical basis.
· If your church meets in your living room, a hotel or some other rented space regularly remind the church God’s spirit is present. Lead the church in focused prayer that the space would become a temple of praise.
Consider new ways you can emphasize praise such as:
Ask a newly discipled and enthusiastic believer to read a passage of Scripture (you’ve pre-selected) to start a service.
Teach a series on praise and how to move beyond “phrase-praise.”
Revival happens in a church who knows how to touch God through prayer and praise.
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Now . . . back to the topic. I am interested in what you have found to work in constantly adding a flow to a service. Please share comment. It will benefit others.