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Protection From Tangents (excerpt from Ministers' Guide)

This chapter is to help give you guidance in leading the worship service. At the time of this writing, there is an ongoing clash of generations in the church. People drive by churches and they wonder why they have two separate services, since the membership isn't large enough to really warrant more than one service. Traditional and Contemporary don't mean much to the passersby. But it certainly means something to you. It means double work.

Let me offer some suggestions on your Contemporary Worship Service. I do so because there is a real danger of just going off on all sorts of tangents and ending up in trouble. Contemporary services have materialized because worship has stagnated in many churches. Congregants, especially the younger ones, want an outlet for their God given creative juices.

I was in Cuba some years ago and attended church services. There was no need for a bulletin or for any interpreter to tell me what was coming next. The services, in their entirety, were exactly as the American missionaries had demonstrated to them decades ago. Only a short distance from the church was a bar from which came the most "divine" melodic music I'd heard on the island. Everything about the melody, the rhythm, and the singing was distinctively Cuban.

I felt a tinge of sorrow for the church. Somehow all things Cuban had been prohibited or deemed "worldly," while all things nineteenth century America were "holy." There is a similar phenomenon in the American Christian Churches today. Only music at least a century old is "holy." Only orders of service devised by pioneers of the church are "acceptable." Heaven forbid that the congregation should respond to the worship service in a different manner in which their parents and grandparents did in the past.

Leaving the reasons for our present predicament to the scholars who wish to investigate those prime initiators, I would like to suggest how you may keep your focus and keep your congregation from the slippery slope of following unreliable and feelings.

The overriding principle that will save you some serious migraines is this: Make sure the worship service is built around the sermon. For example: If your topic is Christ the Bread of Life, you should give the topic in advance to your worship committee. (Note: If you have no worship committee, form one.) Having the Biblical topic in hand as a guide will focus the energy and creativity of the service. The person responsible for the music will know to choose music, either contemporary or traditional, that will speak to the Biblical topic. The individual who sees to the decorations in front of the pulpit for the week will have some guidance to help them. The person telling the children's story, the drama team, the special music, all those involved with the service will be in coordination with one another.

This lays a little responsibility on your shoulders. Your sermon must be Biblical. It can't be about a nice book you read and you're trying to make the Bible agree so you may convince your congregation that you're studious. Your sermon needs to have its origin in your study of the Bible. The kernel of your presentation must come from those trusted pages.

Secondly, you must sit down with a calendar and decide on your topics for the coming weeks. Don't fall into the trap of thinking God can't possibly bless you if you're organized. Remember, if God weren't organized there would be no such thing as prophesy, or DNA for each species. He always has a plan and you should have a plan. God can use an organized person very well. I found it extremely helpful to look to the future and declare my topics in advance. Some of the weeks were naturals, such as: Mother's Day or other holidays. For example: July 4 became Patriotic Day. One of the retired military men in the congregation invited the commander of the nearby Army Post. A state senator attended. All the veterans in the church were encouraged to wear their uniforms. Each veteran was presented with a pin. Their wives or family members were given a flower. The service was followed by a luncheon. The tables were decorated by patriotic bunting. There was a large cake in the form of the American flag. I spoke in my Marine Corps uniform. "Old Glory" was abundantly displayed.

If you're following my reasoning, you'll know that I didn't do all that myself. The children's coordinator, the head deaconess, the worship leader, the decoration committee, and all the others who participated to make it a "high Sabbath," knew in advance the topic of the sermon.

Can you imagine how the people felt when they given the opportunity to use their particular talents to make the day a success? From the cake-maker to the Colonel who led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, they all exercised the gifts and passions God had given them.

I also liked the discipline this strategy demanded of me. It made me get my head in the Book and to find topics in advance. There weren't any night-before-the-sermon panics. Far in advance I had chosen the text I would need to study.

Some of my most memorable services were a result of implementing this strategy. As another example, I did a series of sermons on the sayings of Jesus. One Sabbath, people came into the church to the aroma of freshly made bread permeating the sanctuary. Instead of the usual flowers, in front of the pulpit was a huge loaf of bread and stalks of wheat and oats with an assortment of various other grains. The entire church service was coordinated around Jesus the Bread of Life. At the conclusion of the service every worshiper was presented with a miniature loaf of bread to take home.

I hope these examples have given you some idea of the possibilities for using the talents and creativity of the people of your church in worshiping the Lord. Your one protective shield, the single protection God has provided for you, is the Bible. If your sermon, around which the entire worship service should revolve, is completely based upon a Biblical truth, your church will never stray long into the ambiguous netherworld of unrestrained creativity.

The Bible will be an anchor in a very literal sense for you and for your church. This, I know, is what you want and it has also proven to be exactly what the Christian Church has needed.

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