By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
My home church was the First Baptist Church of Midland, Texas. We had a piano, electric organ, a choir, and a minister of music. It was a rare thing when we had any other musical instruments, and we never had an orchestra. I’m not against the majestic orchestras that lead us in music worship along with fine choirs and excellent sound systems. But let me give you an example of response in worship.
Getting singing out of the congregation. B. B. McKinney led one of our protracted meetings known as revivals. My dad wasn’t in the choir, but he loved to sing; and he whistled all the time. After McKinney led music the first Sunday of the revival, Dad had an opinion — which we Godwins tend to always have. Dad said, “You know, that ole man got more music out of the congregation than I’ve ever heard anybody get out of them before.” That congregation was already a singing congregation, but they got better during revival.
Dad and Mother grew up during the era of singing schools and singings. Some of Mother’s old diaries I own tell how their dates were to go to a singing school or a singing. Since my boyhood days in a congregational-singing church with parents that sang, it seems to me we’ve become more of a performance-oriented worshiping church — more so than an involved worshiping church. Some say God wants us to be engaged in the church. No! God doesn’t want us to be engaged; He wants the church to be the bride of Christ and participate in worship with full love and praise of God (John 3:29). As I look around me today — wherever I worship — it seems like the congregation doesn’t sing as much as it used to. There are exceptions, but we seem to have lost some participation and response in worship.
Psalm 100 shows God wants our participation. Psalm 100 reads, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye land. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before his presence with singing. … Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; be thankful unto him, and bless his name” (Psalm 100:1-2,4). You see, the folks on the pulpit or podium weren’t the only participators; and participation is a key in worshiping God as He wants us to.
How does your church involve the congregation to respond in meeting God in worship? Besides hymnals that had both words and notes, our old hymnals had responsive readings for the leader to read a section of Scripture and then for all the people to respond in the next section. Quite biblical! Our hymnal had a church covenant in it, which indicated what a member of the bride of Christ, the church, could expect the church to do when he joined it and what was expected of him as a covenant member in Christian living. The covenant started with, “Having been saved and having been baptized, we do now enter into covenant … .” But I seldom ever hear about church covenants or even confessions of faith today. I do hear sometimes about mission and vision statements. Whatever it means to worship and be a church member, it ought to mean most of all what God wants it to mean. And God wants us to participate. I’m not saying churches and congregations don’t do this together today in worship! But I testify that I see a great decline of congregational participation in worship since I was a youth. When I was a pastor and we received new church members, I led in the reading aloud jointly with the church and new members the covenant of faith of our local church. And, yes, we sealed it with a vote or amen.
Pastors, staff, and others are to lead/train us to respond in worship! Today, we have more than 40,000 Southern Baptist churches of all sizes and makes. But from smallest to largest, we are called to respond as a total congregation to God in worship. Laypersons need to lead in prayer from time to time and do other leading roles in worship. On Wednesday nights in my home church, pastor L. L. Morriss called that worship service “The Hour of Power.” We had all the usual things of meeting, greeting, fellowshiping, singing, and Bible study. But we also had a testimony time, and the pastor would say, “The Bible says, ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.’ ” And folks stood and gave testimony or praise and thanksgiving. The pastor wisely didn’t let someone run away with the service. But my, what power we had in testimony from God’s actions! The pastor preached or taught from the Bible. And then he had a question-and-answer opportunity. As a first-year ministerial student home on holiday, I remember challenging the pastor in his belief that Paul wrote Hebrews. I was one of his sons in the ministry, and he told me I had the right to be wrong; but when I got to heaven, I would find out that he was right: Paul wrote Hebrews. I’ve still got that challenge in mind. But I did get to speak my piece.
Conclusion: No church is perfect. Each God-called pastor has to lead the church as He feels God would guide him to lead the church. The same is true of the minister of music and other ministers. Read I Timothy for what Herbert Lockyer cited as the ideal pastor and II Timothy for what he cited as being the ideal church (from Lockyer’s book, All the Books and Chapters of the Bible). You won’t find a perfect pastor or a perfect church, but both pastor and church should respond in worship to God as the Bible and God’s Spirit leads us. In conclusion of Part II on “Worship Is Not a Spectator Sport,” that’s all I’ve got to say. Oh, I would add that the chair of criticism is easier to occupy than the place of service — as someone said. I love my Lord, pastor, and church!
— Copyright 2016 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write: firstname.lastname@example.org