Pastoral Perspectives

Not Ministered At But Ministering Together

           Today we work longer hours so that we can have a better lifestyle than we need. We feel the need to be a part of all the latest and most popular events. We don’t have time, are too busy, and too tired to go to church. In my many years as a pastor, I have witnessed members coming and going, moving from church to church. It is a mixed feeling. Joy to see new comers becoming members but sadness to see older members leaving. Often, I ponder in my mind: “What went wrong?” Generally the reason is “I don’t feel ministered to.”  I guess some good hearted members would have given the advice to stay on in church and not worry about whether one get anything out of it.

            Frankly, I struggle to find answers, searching very hard my calling and ministry, and asking where I have not done best to minister and keep members from leaving the flock. As I search the scriptures and seek the Lord, I am sure that if Christians have the right concept of God and worship, everything else should fall in place. Someone said: “Understanding God’s original intention for corporate worship can mean the difference between experiencing God’s power or just falling asleep in the pews.” Our problem is that church today is designed to be entertaining and with not much opportunities for social interaction. We sit through Sunday services in collective isolation. Most Sunday services are designed such that the ministering happens only by a few and the rest are there to be ministered to. The truth is worship is not a presentation by a select few, but rather an activity and effort of the entire congregation. In those settings where the minister presided and choir responded, now all worshippers join to participate in prayer, singing, ministering and speaking. The members are affirming that worship is what we do together, not what they have done for them. Worship is active, not passive. It is the “work of the people.”

            In the book of Hebrews the writer presents a striking contrast between Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, between the experiences of the people of God under the old the new covenant. In Exodus 19 after the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, God gathered his people and made a covenant with them. In Mt. Sinai there was fear but in Mt. Zion was hope. What a contrast:

Mount SinaiMount Zion
Chasm between God and his peopleAll come boldly into God’s presence
Scene is frightening- fire, darkness, gloomA gleaming city, the New Jerusalem, the place where God dwells with his covenant people
Sounds are frightening- whirlwind, trumpet blast, unutterable wordsSound of exuberant and celebratory praise
A solemn gathering filled with fearA joyful assembly of those whose names are forever written in the Lamb’s book of life
A picture of the unapproachability of God’s holy presenceA picture of full access into the presence of God through the mediator Jesus Christ

            Before, God who is a consuming fire, we don’t shuffle in casually. We don’t demand our artistic preferences. We don’t merely gather with our friends. We don’t merely sing together. As the people of God, we enter into the very presence of God.

            Amidst our busy schedule when we choose to put the activities of the world ahead of activities for God, we are saying, “God, I don’t have time for you.” We may even come to worship regularly, but have a “worship hour” mindset and why do we insist on getting to worship “on time”? When you enter the church and the music begins, what are you more aware of? Is it the song? The musicians? Does the worship band wow you? Does the routine bore you? Or do you perceive something beyond all this? Some thinks that worship is the acts that we do when we come together. There are things we do as “tools” of worship, but simply doing them does not constitute worship. Many even leave as soon as the Sermon is finished as though that was all God wanted of them. How sad! What a warped view of Christian worship. Worship is bowing down before the Almighty God. (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2) God never meant corporate worship to become drudgery. Worship times are intended to connect us with God, to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and to realize the purpose for our presence in the earth as His hands and feet. True worship is regardless of how we feel, who leads worship, what songs we sing, or how we think worship went. Whenever Christian gathers together to worship, we create the opportunity for a miracle to occur.

         Even though we use the term “worship services” to describe our corporate gatherings, corporate gatherings in the New Testament are never called “worship services. ”Worship is not a song service; it’s a way of life. It’s not something we do but who we are. Do we realize that the church is one authentic manifestation of the entire people of God and when we begin to wrap our minds around that, there springs to mind a thousand reasons to rejoice, to praise, and to sing; and to renounce flippancy, self-display, selfishness, superficiality, sloppiness, and thoughtlessness.

            Hebrews 10:25 teaches us to worship together in order to encourage the saints. Notice the word is “assembling” not “assembly.” The purpose is to exhort one another. In this age where everything from food to entertainment seems to come pre-packaged and ready for our consumption it is all too easy for us as Christians to come to worship and leave it all to ‘those at the front.’ This is not what God intended for His church. As brothers and sisters in the Lord we are to build one another up and encourage each other. (Colossians 3:16)What does it say when we miss worship services? Not only does it fail to exhort one another, but can even be a “stumbling block” to others. It encourages them to have the same lackadaisical attitude about worship as you have.

         Matt Redman, a worship leader in England, tells how his pastor taught his church the real meaning of worship. To show that worship is more than music, he banned all singing in their services for a period of time while they learned to worship in other ways. By the end of that time, Matt had written the classic song “Heart of Worship:”

I’ll bring You more than a song
Because the song itself is not what You’ve required
You search much deeper within
Than the way things appear
 You’re looking into my heart.

            People ought to come starved for God. They ought to come saying, “As a deer pants for the flowing springs, so my soul pants for thee O God” (Psalm 42:1). God is mightily honored when a people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God.

Pastor Cheng Huat

September 4, 2011