Dr. Terry Pooler, Senior Pastor
Forest Lake SDA Church

Apopka, Florida

Summary: Who is the ?audience? when we worship God? The author leads us, perhaps, to some new thinking regarding this question. How is it that we can judge a meaningful worship service? Read and contemplate this meaningful biblical model.

Introduction. Picture a typical worship service. The congregation is seated in the pews facing the rostrum, waiting to hear the music and the sermon. The focal point is the pulpit and the preacher. Why this arrangement? Because we are a ?proclamation? model church. The Word is at our worship center, and we are to proclaim it with power. Adventists even think of our proclamation in the context of the three angel’s messages of Revelation 14. The angels are ?proclaiming? God’s message through the preached Word.

In this setting, it is obvious that the preacher and musicians are the ?performers,? and the congregation is the ?audience.? The fact that the congregation considers itself to be the audience is reinforced by the member evaluations shared as they leave the sanctuary. ?I thought that was a good sermon.? ?I didn’t like the soloist.? If the preacher and musicians did an acceptable job, then the congregation thinks it was a good worship service. But, if they didn’t like what the preacher said, didn’t like his suit, didn’t like the hairstyle of the soloist or the type of music the musicians played, well then, it wasn’t a good worship service.

Worship in heaven. Now compare that picture with a worship service in heaven:

?At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian ? Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders ? In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back?.

?Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ?You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being? (Rv 4:2, 3, 6, 9-11).

Who is the audience in this heavenly worship service, and who are the ?performers?? Well, it is clear that God is the audience and Recipient of the praise offered by the beings around His throne. It is clear that God’s creatures are not there to critique the worship service. They are there to praise Him!

Can we apply this heavenly model to our worship services? Notice the reason for our calling: ?But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.?(1P 2:9-10, italics supplied). So we are called to praise the Lord in our hearts, in our lives, and most definitely in our worship services.

A powerful model. Perhaps we should understand what the word ?worship? means. In the Bible, the most prevalent word for worship is ?Shachah.? It is used over one hundred times and means, ?to bow down.? The second most often-used word for worship is ?proskuneo? which means ?to throw a kiss toward? or ?kiss the feet.? Combine the meaning of those two words and we have a very good definition of worship, i.e. ?to bow down and kiss the Lord.? It conveys the idea of a king receiving the honor, homage, and gratitude of His subjects.

The heavenly model of worship is a pattern for the earthly. The very definition of worship instructs us to ?bow down and throw Him a kiss.? We do this by expressing our gratitude for His mercy with our words, prayers, and songs of gratitude.

If God is the audience, then the ?performers? are the worshipers. The pastor, musicians, and other platform presenters are merely facilitators helping the congregation to 1) recognize the presence of God and, 2) assist them in responding in an appropriate manner.

Some have suggested that a powerful model for a worship service format is to think of it like the Israelite’s journey up to Jerusalem to worship a God who had done great things for His people, rather than a variety program with an assortment of disconnected elements.

This journey begins with a ?Call to Worship.? An excellent call not only invites people to come and worship, but also gives a reason why we should worship Him; e.g. He has created heaven and earth. I do this with a Responsive Reading found in The SDA Hymnal and other published worship materials. Or I write the reading myself to fit the topic of day.

I then picture the Israelites moving up the dusty roadways, celebrating God’s power and goodness and His mercy in choosing them to be His community. In our worship services we can celebrate our calling into God’s community, called out of darkness to be a people who reflect His character and sing His praises. Community is celebrated in handshakes, baptisms, baby dedications, personal testimonies, and testimony songs that speak eloquently of our love for our gracious God.

Two kinds of songs. There are basically two types of worship songs. The testimony songs are those in which people tell other people what they think about their God and how we should respond to Him. Some examples are ?A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,? ?What a Friend We Have in Jesus,? and ?The Lord in Zion Reigneth.? God is referenced but not addressed. The other kind of worship song is the song addressing God, and includes songs such as ?How Great Thou Art,? ?Holy, Holy, Holy,? and ?I Love You, Lord.?

Next, in the Israelites’ journey to worship, as they approach Jerusalem’s temple, they sense God’s intimate presence and began to direct their songs of praise toward Him. In our worship songs like ?I Exalt Thee? or ?Holy, Holy, Holy,? we express our awareness of His presence. The offering gives another opportunity for worshipers to ?throw a kiss toward? their King. Songs like ?God Is So Good,? ?Great Is Thy Faithfulness,? or ?Sacrifice of Praise? enhance this exaltation.

As the Israelites approach yet closer to the holy temple, their loud, joyful songs transition into quieter, intimate songs of adoration. This is the time when we would fall to our knees in prayer before His awesome presence or sing a preparation hymn such as ?I Love You Lord,? ?Create in Me a Clean Heart, O Lord,? or ?Open My Eyes, That I Might See.?

Another reason to praise. With a sense of awe and anticipation, the congregation now hears the preaching of the Word of God. At this point they do become the audience to His teaching. But a good sermon ought to have as its ultimate goal, the unveiling of God’s character of mercy and love in such a manner that the congregation is given yet another reason to praise God. Thus, the sermon helps facilitate the worshiper’s praise. A good response hymn will reflect the sermon’s insights and give the congregation the opportunity to show their gratitude to God for what they have learned.

Finally, the words of benediction should be a ?sending forth? of the congregation back into their world. They go forth into their world to ?show forth the praises of God? in their daily lifestyle, returning next Sabbath with fresh reasons to praise Him.

Many Adventists have difficulty making the transition from believing that they are the audience to the biblical idea that God is the audience. Why? Because of our ?proclamation? model mentality. This model works perfectly for public evangelism. The evangelist is the ?actor? who uses spotlights, stage props, and a video screen to attract and hold the audience’s attention and bring them to a decision.

Is worship supposed to be a ?tamed down? version of an evangelistic meeting, where the focus is a good doctrinal or prophecy sermon with some preliminaries and a decision? An evangelistic service is not a worship service. They share some things in common, but the focus is entirely different. People are the audience in an evangelistic service. God is the audience in a worship service. In evangelism we proclaim the Three Angel’s message so that people will make a decision to come and ?worship Him who made heaven and earth? (Rv 14:6-7).

Conclusion. So how should we judge a ?good? worship service? The biblical answer is: By how well the congregation bows down and kisses the feet of the Lord. Restated, it’s by how well we recognize God’s presence and sincerely express our praises as we proclaim His goodness and worthiness to be our Lord. Our worship services would be far more powerful and enjoyable if congregations realized that God is the audience of our worship and praise. We come to church to sing, preach, and pray: ?You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.? The right question after a worship service ought not to be whether the preacher or musician did an acceptable job but, ?Is God smiling with pleasure because I worshiped Him today??

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April–June, 2003

Praise