MAY I SERVE YOU? – HOSPITALITY IN WORSHIP

Church Greeters My wife and I visited a church last Summer where we walked in, were greeted by someone obviously assigned to the door who was sorta kinda semi-friendly (I’m being generous). We were given a bulletin that was loaded with a collage of ministry logos, a lot of verbiage that really only made sense because of our familiarity with church-dom. There was no service order or explanation of what or who worship was for or about. There was nothing to really help us know what the church was about except a motto phrase implying its mission. There was a typical “visitor welcome” voiced in the service itself in which members were encouraged to “welcome our guests.” Two little ladies in front of us turned around and shook our hands and grinned at us. The room was abuzz with people talking with one another, and we were standing there with that look….you know the “we do not know anybody here and so please hurry up and get this over with” look. My bride is a gentle and quiet person in public, but despises this activity common in many churches. She really does not like it – so much so that she sometimes will latch the death grip on my arm when someone even begins the “we want to welcome our visitors this morning” speech. Hospitality? Well….

Later last Summer we visited another church where our greeting at the door was similar, but had more pointed conversation finding out where we were from, the purpose of our travel, asking about our family, inquiring what brought us to the church, etc. You know….stuff we could actually talk about. Still, there lurked in my wife that fear of the pending welcome” ritual. Instead, however, as we were seated two or three people around us greeted us, asked if we were part of the church family, and upon hearing we were from out of town engaged in conversation about us, our visit, and as the service began we had a bit more of a sense of genuine welcome. When the service began only one of us had a printed bulletin and one of those who had spoken to us before noted that was the case, and got up to go retrieve an additional copy in case we wanted it. We did. In the worship bulletin were printed words and music for every song save a couple of newer worship songs that had only words. Not only was the order spelled out, but a description of the flow of worship’s conversation was given.

You might think discussion of these scenarios has more to do with training church greeters or ushers than it does with a blog about Christian worship, I would beg to differ. In fact, I would like to speak directly to the Worship Leaders. By this I mean not only the musical leadership, but also the senior pastor and those who offer leadership in any capacity for the worship environment, planning, and execution. You see understanding worship leadership to be something of a host in Christian worship offers us an appropriate model of what it means to help facilitate worship. As reference I turn yet again to a mentor, author, theologian, Constance Cherry. She reminds us that corporate worship is not a self-guided tour, but rather involves things we do together. An appropriate worship environment is best evaluated by the participation and engagement of those present. A critical distinction is made between participatory worship and programmatic worship. In the former persons are encourage toward active involvement and engagement, whereas in the latter they are expected to observe. In one they are expected to be actively involved as worshipers, in the other they are free to be passive onlookers. The latter is a seriously unbiblical view of worship. When worship is understood as a program the emphasis is on a design to instruct or entertain about something. God may be the topic of worship about whom we are instructed. We may sing about Him, even toward Him, or as we see more frequently in many environments singers sing about themselves worshiping.  In program worship evaluation comes based on the effectiveness of the speaker/preacher and the band/performers. As Constance says, “it is completely natural to respond to a program by evaluating what one liked and didn’t like, what one learned or didn’t learn, what was of excellent or poor standards. A performance begs our satisfaction.”[1]

In participatory worship God is understood more clearly as the source of worship. In this worship songs are addressed to God by name. We are reminded of Christ’s real presence in the gathered body, and God is recognized as the Audience. In this environment the Worship Leader(s) are hosting and their hospitable spirit is important as facilitators of the worship. They will avoid getting in the way, or distracting from the engagement between the worshipers and the worshiped, but rather will join as fellow worshipers. Leadership verbiage will foster an attitude of “we” whereby the gathered sense that something is taking place in which we are joined together in participatory activity, rather than being relegated to a passive “watch this!” or “listen to this” posture, which sidelines participation of fellow worshipers, and places them as spectators watching platform personalities “do their thing,” whether rockin’ and rollin’, engaging in classic choral splendor, or charismatic preaching. An atmosphere of worship where mutual hospitality is encouraged will likely promote healthy interaction from the time worshipers step foot on the property of the church right through until their departure. What’s more it will foster continued worship as servant in the world.

[1] Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 269.

Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Uncategorized, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

3 Comments on “MAY I SERVE YOU? – HOSPITALITY IN WORSHIP”

  1. Derek Lane Says:

    This is so good! I have been trying for weeks to improve my introduction of the”fellowship” time in our worship service. This post makes me think the key to the fellowship time is preparing the worshippers for it long before it actually begins.


    • Thanks, Derek. Glad you benefited from reading. Hospitable worshipers who defer to others as an integral part of their own worship practice are indeed hospitable.

  2. Ron Thompson Says:

    What a helpful blog. This is what I have been talking to our pastor about. Worship where everyone takes part. This is what God requires of us. Worship cannot be a spectator sport, it take all of us and we must encourage that. Thanks again Paul.


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