“I could actually hear the congregation singing last Sunday morning!”
“Did you see Frank* closing his eyes during the last song?”
“Couldn’t you feel God’s presence this morning?”
Or in case of Fallbrook First Baptist: “They were actually clapping on beat this morning!”**
These are typical things people on the praise team will talk about after a Sunday service. They are our gauges. These are the factors that we use to decide whether or not a worship service was, in fact, worshipful. Are these valid ways of measuring worship?
My answer: no.
And, though I could go into great detail why I believe that, I will give you a brief defense of my answer and give you a chance to respond.
Leading in worship is much like talking to an unsaved person about the gospel. You can present the truth in a tasteful way, but whether or not it sinks in and affects the heart is not in your hands.
That being said, this is how we gauge success– Did we accurately proclaim gospel truth in a tasteful, non-distracting, God exalting way? If we can honestly answer yes, then we are successful. Even if Frank didn’t close his eyes.
* I chose the name Frank because I’m pretty sure no one in our church is named Frank. And if there is someone in our church named Frank, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t know how to find this blog.
**That actually never happens.
One of the least likely men to attend the Itinerant Evangelists’ Conference in Amsterdam sponsored by the Billy Graham Association was a Masai Warrior named Joseph. But his story won him a hearing with Dr. Graham himself. The story is told by Michael Card.
One day Joseph, who was walking along one of these hot, dirty African roads, met someone who shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him. Then and there he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. The power of the Spirit began transforming his life; he was filled with such excitement and joy that the first thing he wanted to do was return to his own village and share that same Good News with the members of his local tribe.
Joseph began going from door-to-door, telling everyone he met about the Cross [suffering!] of Jesus and the salvation it offered, expecting to see their faces light up the way his had. To his amazement the villagers not only didn’t care, they became violent. The men of the village seized him and held him to the ground while the women beat him with strands of barbed wire. He was dragged from the village and left to die alone in the bush.
Joseph somehow managed to crawl to a water hole, and there, after days of passing in and out of consciousness, found the strength to get up. He wondered about the hostile reception he had received from people he had known all his life. He decided he must have left something out or told the story of Jesus incorrectly. After rehearsing the message he had first heard, he decided to go back and share his faith once more.
Joseph limped into the circle of huts and began to proclaim Jesus. “He died for you, so that you might find forgiveness and come to know the living God” he pleaded. Again he was grabbed by the men of the village and held while the women beat him reopening wounds that had just begun to heal. Once more they dragged him unconscious from the village and left him to die.
To have survived the first beating was truly remarkable. To live through the second was a miracle. Again, days later, Joseph awoke in the wilderness, bruised, scarred—and determined to go back.
He returned to the small village and this time, they attacked him before he had a chance to open his mouth. As they flogged him for the third and probably the last time, he again spoke to them of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Before he passed out, the last thing he saw was that the women who were beating him began to weep.
This time he awoke in his own bed. The ones who had so severely beaten him were now trying to save his life and nurse him back to health. The entire village had come to Christ.
This is one vivid example of what Paul meant when he said, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body.”
There is something profoundly freeing and stabilizing to know that Christ calls us to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel. It stabilizes us from being thrown off guard when it comes. And it frees us to choose it when love beckons us. And it begins to free us from the incredible seduction of American prosperity.
***this excerpt is taken from John Piper’s sermon called Called to Suffer and Rejoice: To Finish the Aim of Christ’s Afflictions, found here.
“It may seem incredible to us now, but during the sixties and seventies, missions was commonly presented as an all-or-nothing issue for evangelicals. The mission decision seemed simple: either God was calling me to a high calling of being a missionary overseas, or God was calling me merely to support missionaries by giving and praying. The Perspectives course introduced the amazing notion that God was calling every Christian to live with the same level of commitment, fulfilling diverse but nonetheless critically significant roles in pursuit of one great global church.”
–Steve Hawthorne, found of Waymakers, co-creator of the Perspectives course