What does your Sunday morning look like? Recently, I read a line in Iain Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones that caused me to pause and think. In describing the worship service at Westminster Chapel in London where Lloyd-Jones ministered, Murray writes, “The keenness with which 11 A.M., the hour of public worship, was awaited each Sunday will ever remain in the memories of those who were there. In a day in which church-going was no longer fashionable, a certain sense of expectation could be found in the very streets approaching the Chapel as hundreds converged from all directions.” 
As I read those two simple sentences, I paused to reflect upon what’s typically happening in our corporate worship gathering five minutes before the service begins. The countdown is on the screens and I’m typically talking with people near me or rereading the Scripture reading passage for the day. Do you find yourself ill-prepared for worship on Sunday at the beginning of the worship service? As you plan for this upcoming Sunday, don’t overlook the simplicity and the importance of those last five minutes before worship.
Prepare Yourself to Worship God
If you’re like most Christians, you feel rushed on Sunday. The pressure to meet deadlines and to be on time is often discouraging if you travel any distance at all to your church or if you’re like many mothers who juggle many responsibilities related to the preparation of their children. However, it’s essential to not overlook and undervalue the importance of the last five minutes before the worship service begins.
Leaving home a few minutes earlier each week in order to arrive early will take a great deal of pressure off of you and your family. You will be surprised how less stressed you feel as you approach the worship service. Planning ahead and preparing to leave early is the key to making sure you arrive early on your church campus.
It may be that you are already on campus, but you need to plan to be in your seat five minutes early. That will require you to plan appropriately, manage your time, end valuable and enriching conversations, and get to your seat. If you are getting out of a small group or Sunday school class, it may be that you have to minimize your fellowship time during that time leading up to corporate worship.
Arriving early is of no added value if you don’t get to your seat and prepare yourself to worship God. Where does one begin in this process? What better place to begin than prayer? Take a couple of minutes to pray to God and repent of known sins and then delight in the privilege of gathering in corporate worship on the Lord’s Day. In addition, you will want to pray for the service as a whole—from both the congregational involvement to the pastoral leadership and preaching—that everything will bring honor to God.
Read the Sermon Text
Just prior to the beginning of the service, it would be good to open your Bible and read the text of Scripture that will be preached on that particular Sunday. In many churches, the text is found in the order of worship. If your pastor is preaching through a book of the Bible, you should be able to easily locate the next passage from where he left off on the previous Sunday. Reading the text and meditating on it before your pastor expounds the text will enable you to be better prepared.
Teach Your Children to Prepare Themselves for Worship
Such preparation seems like it may require far more than five minutes, but if you get into a groove and manage your time appropriately—you can do far more in those five minutes than you think. If you find that ten minutes would be better for you, make the necessary adjustment.
As we prepare ourselves, we should likewise teach our children and grandchildren the art of preparing to worship God. How will children come to value the solemnity of corporate worship if we as parents and grandparents don’t lead by example? Many theologians and Christian authors lament the statistics of how college students are disappearing from our local churches after they graduate high school. The same authors observe that a growing number of teenagers are playing games and looking through social media networks on their smart phones during worship services. Could such tragic patterns begin with a lack of teaching on the part of parents regarding the need to approach the corporate worship service with a serious mindedness?
Meeting with God for corporate worship should not be downplayed as a causal event. A mind and heart that isn’t properly prepared will not result in a God-glorifying spirit of worship. Consider how altering five minutes could impact your local church this coming Sunday if the entire church approached the corporate service with this same attitude.
- Iain Murray, The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones 1899-1981, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 299.
Recently in our elders’ meeting, we discussed the need to rethink and restructure our order of worship early in 2017. What’s the reason for such a move by the pastors within our church? The goal is to craft the most healthy worship service that makes the best use of the time given to us each week. As we rethink the restructuring of our order of worship, certainly this must be approached with care and doctrinal precision. Some things are certainly optional elements, but other things must never be tampered with. Front and center is the idea that our worship must be God-centered, Christ-exalting, and built upon the firm foundation of God’s sufficient Word. When was the last time you honestly looked at what’s included in your worship service? Why are specific elements included, or in some cases why are some elements excluded?
Young Pastor—Don’t Overlook Old Traditions
One of the first things I did when I was called to serve a small country church in Kentucky was to change the decorations in the church building. This particular church had many cheap pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls that I immediately removed. Although I had a biblical foundation to stand upon for removing the pictures, I didn’t have as much of a theological foundation to support my removal of the “number” board from the front wall of the sanctuary. This board was used to report the weekly attendance and offering. I felt as if it was a distraction, so I removed it. It was not a popular decision.
I stand by those decisions to this day, but I also made other decisions that I’ve been forced to rethink over time. As a younger pastor, I once looked at the responsive reading as an awkward time in the service because I witnessed it being done in a less than edifying manner. In the same way, we once had a prayer of confession at the beginning of the church that was accompanied by other unhealthy practices that I replaced with Scripture reading. However, I never replaced the prayer of confession or restructured it. Just because it looks like an old tradition, before it’s removed, perhaps a younger pastor should think twice (maybe three times) before scrapping it.
Make Preaching Central in Your Order of Worship
That may seem like a strange appeal, but we in our local church want to continually ensure the primacy of preaching in our church. That should be something that is revisited and evaluated among elders on a yearly basis. Most of the time churches don’t drift miles away from biblical worship overnight. It’s typically a slow progressive trend that moves a church to replace preaching with drama, or at least place preaching on a lower level of importance. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who soon after going to serve as pastor in Sanfields, instructed the church leaders to heat the church by using the wooden stage used by the dramatic society in his church as fuel for the furnace. Preaching, as Lloyd-Jones would remind us, must be central.
Pastor—Music Is Your Business
Worship matters, and singing is a central aspect of weekly worship among the church. Not only is the order of songs important, but the selection of the songs and the number of songs are likewise important for worship. Not all old songs are good songs, so the age should not determine the usefulness of songs. Not all new songs are worthy for use in the gathered worship service of the church. Some songs may be full of sound biblical doctrine, but the arrangement and tempo is not conducive for singing among the church. Pastors should honestly speak to this and exclude certain songs on the basis of doctrinal impurity and congregational usefulness. It is the duty of pastors to think, examine, pray, and make wise choices for the weekly singing of the church.
We Need More Scripture and Prayer
I recall visiting a Roman Catholic worship service when I was in seminary. It was a required subject for my semester. I walked into the building expecting that they would get everything wrong, but I walked away humbled. While they did get worship wrong in many ways in the mass that day, they got some things right. The preaching was not good and certainly not expository. The Lord Jesus was blasphemed through their doctrine of transubstantiation, and I did not participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for that reason. However, they had more Scripture reading and more intentional prayers than we typically have in the average evangelical worship service.
As 2017 begins, we are rethinking how much Scripture we will have read in our worship services and the intentional place of those Scripture readings. We want to establish the primacy of God’s Word in our worship, so the placement matters. Likewise, we don’t want to appear to be using prayer as mere transitional pauses in the worship service. As we rethink and craft a new worship service, we want to have planned and intentional prayers on a weekly basis that will be led by the elders of our church.
As we think honestly about our corporate worship, specifically the order of worship, we must strive to craft the worship service that best honors and magnifies our God. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The foundation of worship in the heart is not emotional (‘I feel full of worship’ or ‘The atmosphere is so worshipful’). Actually, it is theological. Worship is not something we ‘work up,’ it is something that ‘comes down’ to us, from the character of God.” 
- Sinclair Ferguson, A Heart for God, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987), 110.
One of the great benefits of attending a Christian conference is undoubtedly the singing. Each year during the G3 Conference, I try to record some of the congregational singing just to file away and remember. This week as I listen through livestream to the T4G conference, it’s impressive to hear 10k people, mostly men, singing hymns of truth with passion and boldness. This past November, I attended the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and as the gathered church lifted voices of praise through a hymn to the Lord, it was impressive. There were no fancy lights, smoke machines, and minimal use of technology in the room. It was simply people singing praises to our God for the salvation that’s ours through the blood of His Son. So, why is the church not singing on Sunday?
One of the most important things a church does is sing the gospel. David penned these words in Psalm 9:11 – “Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Certainly David understood the importance, but sadly the church today doesn’t understand the importance of singing praise to the Lord of glory. At least that seems to be the case since the majority of evangelical church sanctuaries are quiet on the Lord’s day. Below I’ve suggested 6 reasons why the church is not singing.
The Men are not Singing
It’s true, and sadly the case, that men are not singing. Not only do most churches have more women in attendance than men, the men who do attend are often seen standing there silently during the congregational singing. It could be the arrangement or the lack of discipleship regarding the importance of singing the gospel, but most men are not singing in the church today. Something must be done to correct this, but the answer is not centered on pragmatic methods or surveys. The answer is rooted in biblical discipleship and the selection of proper worship songs. When you attend a pastors’ conference and you hear the men lifting up their voices in unison, it’s quite impressive.
The Church has Given the Singing Over to the Professionals
One reason why the church is quiet on Sunday is because the church has decided to hand over the responsibility of singing to the professionals. The choirs, praise bands, and praise teams have largely assumed the responsibility of singing in the church worship service. If you turn off the loud music from the praise band, silence the drums, pull the plug on the guitar, and mute the microphones of the praise team, the result would be quite revealing. On a given Sunday, most of the people mumble the words to the songs while the “professionals” sing. We must remember that we’re not called to mumble the words. We’re called to worship God in song, and that can’t happen with mumbling lips and quiet voices.
The Hymns Have Been Replaced with Lighter Praise Songs
There isn’t anything wrong or sinful in the use of new praise songs in worship. Praise God for the ministry of modern hymn writers such as Keith and Kristyn Getty and others who are writing new songs. Most of the songs we sing from the hymn book were once upon a time considered new songs to be used in worship. All extra-biblical songs are written by pastors, theologians, scholars, and musicians rather than apostles. So, for us to limit ourselves to older songs would be a tragic mistake. However, it can be said that many of our good theologically rich songs that contain both weighty lyrics and an appropriate musical arrangement are largely being replaced by lighter praise songs that certainly don’t have the theological depth necessary for use in a worship service.
We’ve reached a day where “And Can It Be” has been replaced with “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” and Charles Wesley has been replaced by Chris Tomlin. Just because a song is on the top 40 Christian music chart doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for a worship service. We should think critically about the theology we’re communicating when choosing a song for worship. Hundreds of good hymns sit in books as unsung choruses each week while the latest new praise song remains in perpetual use. The selection of songs for worship is a solemn task, and it falls under the oversight of the pastors. Regarding the use of primarily new songs today in worship, T. David Gordon writes:
For nineteen centuries, all previous generations of the church (Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, or Revivalist), in every culture, employed prayers and hymns that preceded them, and encouraged their best artists to consider adding to the canon of good liturgical forms. That is, none were traditional, in the sense of discouraging the writing of new forms; and none were contemporary, in the sense of excluding the use of older forms. So why now this instance that many, most, or all forms of worship be contemporary? 
Families are not Singing at Home
Family worship was once upon a time a common practice among professing Christians. Today, the busy schedules and technological gadgets have crowded out family worship time. Therefore, most families who attend church in an evangelical church on Sunday have not been engaging in family worship through the week. It’s quite simple, families who don’t sing at home can’t be expected to sing passionately in the gathered church. The little league baseball coach asks my son’s team often, “How many of you are playing baseball at home?” The point he’s driving home is that we can’t expect the children to get better by merely going to one or two practices each week. Family worship is essential for building a foundation and respect for congregational singing. Family worship also builds familiarity with the songs that are used during the congregational worship on Sunday, and this not only helps teach theology, but it helps the entire family memorize songs.
People Get Lost in the Repetition, Progression, and Climax
Many new songs used in worship have awkward arrangements, progressions, and extremely high climactic peaks that make them difficult to sing – especially for men. If the church is distracted by the arrangement and musical expression that points to a climax more than the gospel, that’s a big problem that must be addressed. We want people to sing, but we want our minds involved in the whole process so that it’s not merely an emotional exercise, but also a discipleship and learning tool each week. Mark Dever has written:
These are the hallmarks of good worship songs, whether they’re hymns or choruses: biblical accuracy, God-centeredness, theological and/or historical progression, absence of first-person singular pronouns, and music that complements the tone of the lyrics. 
Modern praise songs have created a new genre often referred to as 7-11 songs. These songs often use the method of repetition to a degree that’s well beyond healthy. If a 7 minute song contains only 2 main lines that are repeated multiple times, it’s most likely not a good song for worship. One of the things lacking in many modern praise songs is the element of poetry. If you read the Psalms in the Bible and if you reflect upon the hymns of church history, they are often using some grammatical element of poetry that enables the song to connect with the congregation. Poetry and well arranged lyrics have a natural progression that enables people to sing freely rather than worrying about missing some transition. Songs full of disorder can’t lead us to worship an orderly God in Spirit and truth.
Progressive media technology provides wonderful tools for use in worship, but if the words are not in sync with the song, it can create a problem for the congregation. One of the major causes for a silent congregation is the misuse of media technology in a church service. If projectors are cutting off or blinking awkwardly, that too can be a distraction that will cause a church to stop singing. In short, media technology and progressive tools can be a powerful aid in the worship of a congregation, but it too can be a massive distraction as well.
The pastors and church leaders are responsible for the selection of good songs each week in order to properly and passionately worship God in truth. We’re called to sing, but if we’re honest, we must address the reasons why the church is perpetually dominated by female voices and for the most part – quiet. The historic Reformation not only gave us the Bible in our common language, but it likewise brought us our hymnal. As the Reformation continues today, it will certainly be visible in the way the church sings to the Lord.
Psalm 67:4 – Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.
- T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can’t Sing Hymns, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2010), 42.
- Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2005), 120.
Years ago, I was one of those college students sitting in the field in Memphis, Tennessee listening to John Piper proclaim his famous sermon, “Boasting Only in the Cross” at the One Day conference in 2000. I remember hearing his voice thunder across the fields warning us of the American dream. His sermon helped me. God was gracious to spare me from wasting my life. I’m thankful for the fact that Piper, along with others, have been used greatly of the Lord to prevent many people from wasting their lives. However, after surrendering to the sovereign Lordship of Christ, consider how many of us waste opportunities to worship God each week.
Any study of worship will certainly lead to you to a spirit of humility. To consider why we worship and who we worship will astound the greatest of minds. The fact is, God is interested in how we worship Him. All of the details of worship are important to God, and this is obvious as we read the revelation of God and the history of worship from the pages of holy Scripture.
After preaching through the book of Exodus over the last 3 years, it has become evident to me that God cares about worship. In delivering the Israelites from the bondage of Egypt, He provided specific details regarding the worship that He required. Following the initial phase of the Exodus, God consistently revealed how He wanted His people to worship Him. The culmination of this revelation is found in the blueprints of the Tabernacle. The tent of meeting and each piece of furniture provide great specificity in the worship demands of God for His people. What can we learn from this?
God Demands Christ Centered Worship
First of all, we must not lose sight of the fact that this text is Christ centered. While many of these details of Christ would later be fulfilled in the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the blood sacrifice of Israel’s history demonstrates God’s plan that spans back before the cross and before the Tabernacle. In fact, it spans back before time (Ephesians 1).
As we read the redemptive history of God’s people, it’s extremely bloody. All of this blood is for a reason. It has connection with sin, but it is ultimately fulfilled in the brutal death of God’s Son. There is no way to please God without a blood sacrifice. Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin (Hebrews 9:22). I remember standing before a reproduction of a sacrifice scene from the Scriptures in the Creation Museum in northern Kentucky years ago. As I stood there beholding the detail of this scene, a little girl and her mother walked up. The little girl asked her mother, “Mom, why did they have to kill the animals?” Tragically, the mother had no answer for her daughter. As we assemble to worship each week, we must have an answer for our children and an answer for our church. Our worship must be Christ centered. At the heart of our weekly worship must be a bloody cross!
The Details of Worship Matter
As we read the story of the Exodus, the depth of detail in God’s blueprint given over to Moses regarding worship is inescapable. God is interested in the details of who we worship, how we worship, when we worship, and where we worship. Therefore, as we consider our own weekly corporate worship gatherings, the details matter. There is nothing more disturbing than attending a disorganized worship service where little effort is placed in the planning of the songs, prayers, and preaching.
Have we considered the fact that God has gifted His children with spiritual gifts to be used for His glory? That involves everything from administrative gifts for planning, voices for singing, minds and voices for preaching, prosperity for giving, access to His throne for praying, and the list goes on. Everything about our weekly gathering from the early hours of Sunday to the final benediction on the Lord’s day is for God. Every body part (1 Corinthians 12) matters. God has arranged the parts of the body in such a way as to give Him glory.
Therefore, as we plan our worship this upcoming week, we must not take it lightly. We must gather to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ and refrain from wasting our worship. Every song matters! How we sing matters to God. The words we sing matter to God. The prayers are not breaks in the flow of the service. Each prayer matters to God. The sermon is not a professional speech by a professional Christian. The sermon is a two way street whereby we are all involved and interact together. The preaching goes out from the pulpit and each individual is responsible for what is being proclaimed. Every sentence matters to God. This is humbling for both the preacher and the entire church.
In reflecting upon this truth through my study of Exodus, I have tried to consider how many times I have preached twice on the Lord’s day and been in a sanctuary full of people with multiple songs during each service and completely failed to worship God. I was more focused upon the detail of the worship service. I was thinking about my sermon that I was about to preach. I was talking rather than praying. I was thinking about an earlier conversation or meeting rather than engaging in real worship. I have been guilty of wasting my worship.
What about you? Are you wasting your worship? Do you frequently neglect the assembling of the saints on the Lord’s day (Hebrews 10:25)? Don’t look at the Lord’s day as the Lord’s morning while you stake your claim to the afternoon. Sunday is God’s day and He deserves to be worshipped in corporate gatherings and restful reflection. If you are not in the mood to worship and think there is always next week for real worship, that may not be the case. This coming week may be the last time we are privileged to worship with the gathered church on the Lord’s day before we stand before the sovereign King of the universe.
Let’s make much of God and refrain from wasting our worship! We can begin that process today.
Just as an indescribable sunset or a breath-taking mountaintop vista evokes a spontaneous response, so we cannot encounter the worthiness of God without the response of worship. If you could see God at this moment, you would so utterly understand how worthy He is of worship that you would instinctively fall on you face and worship Him. 
- Don Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, 87.
Jonathan Edwards once said, “Every Christian family ought to be as it were a little church.”If you’re like myself, you have heard of the importance of family worship from the pulpit through the years of your Christian life. However, the subject of family worship is rarely taught from the pulpit in such a way as to describe the practice, disciplines, and challenges of such intimate family time.After the birth of our daughter Karis, five years ago, we decided to make sure that each night we would pray together as a family before going to bed. It has been said, “The family that prays together stays together.” This practice developed into prayer and Bible reading as Karis grew. Two years ago, our family was blessed with the addition of our son, John Mark. We continued our Bible reading and prayer time with Karis after putting John Mark to bed. However, in recent days, we have started gathering together as an entire family each night and allowing John Mark and Karis both to be part of our prayer and Bible reading time. Our son, although usually full of energy, has responded well to this intimate time of worship.In recent days, we have added another aspect of worship to our family gathering. We have started singing together after the Bible story. At times it will be a song such as “The B-I-B-L-E” or even Amazing Grace. Our desire is to teach our children the importance of sound theology through song from an early age. Therefore, we will not limit our songs to “children songs” in our family worship. I remember when we first started singing together, John Mark’s face was priceless. It was almost as if he was thinking, “we’re not supposed to do that here at home – only at church.” It’s that idea that we desire to overcome in our home. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once said, “I agree with Matthew Henry when he says, “They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all.” We want our family to worship together at home before worshiping at church each week. The public gathering of our church family should be the climax of our week of worship in our home.We will have a new addition of a little girl added to our family in October. That will be a blessing from the Lord as the Buice family continues to grow. With growth we will experience another set of challenges in the early days as we seek to continue our family worship without interruptions. We will make necessary adjustments in order to continue gathering together for prayer, Bible reading, and singing! While it takes a little time and patience to work through the challenges of getting the family together, the results are worth it! In fact, my good friend Brad Walker likened it to herding cats. Although he doesn’t have cats, he considers the process of getting overly active children together for worship in the home as a similar experience!The children that God has blessed us with are nothing less than precious gifts from Himself. We as parents are entrusted with the responsibility of raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord – all for His glory and praise. How can I honestly claim to be obeying God in this great task He has given to me if I neglect worshiping with my family at home? As the leader of my home, I desire to teach my family the importance and joy of worshiping the God who first loved us! As a pastor, I desire to share the need for families gathering together to worship the God who is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory! May our homes and our church family be saturated with joy as we worship our great God who has showered us with abundant mercy and love.Psalm 29:2 – Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.Pastor Josh Buice
The human soul, by nature, has a desire to worship. However, due to sin, that worship is directed toward idols. A person may begin by worshiping self, money, power, or anything that satisfies the flesh. After the point of conversion, the direction of worship is changed from idols toward the true and living God. However, being crafty and scheming, the Devil will often twist people into perverted worship that does not bring glory to God. It has happened all throughout history. The nation of Israel battled with that problem as they worshiped false idols. They even battled with it as a nation in Malachi’s day as they brought perverted sacrifices to God. They were more interested in taking care of their own desires than they were in bringing God their best lambs for sacrifice.
In the church today, we have people who are well meaning, but they are misguided into a perverted type of worship as well. Many people worship music rather than God on Sunday mornings. Some people worship their own “style” of worship. They are most interested in having their type of music, drama, or even their own most preferred translation of Scripture – to the point they are actually “worshiping worship” as opposed to God Himself. In some cases, on the average Sunday morning, people are gathered in churches worshiping false gods that they have actually elevated to the place and position of God. Can a person elevate the Bible to the point of idolatry? Can a person elevate the song “Amazing Grace” to the point of idolatry? Can a person elevate prayer to the point of idolatry? The sobering answer to such questions is – yes! Therefore, we must guard our lives, our worship, and our motives in worship to the point that all of our affection, love, and joy is directed toward our God. If we worship the Bible, music, the choir, the preacher, drama, or any other aspect of our worship services – we have committed idolatry and we should repent immediately.
Thanks be to God for what He accomplished through His Son on the cross of Calvary. To Him be all praise, honor, and glory!
Galatians 6:14 – But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Exodus 20:4 – Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness [of any thing] that [is] in heaven above, or that [is] in the earth beneath, or that [is] in the water under the earth:
Pastor Josh Buice