The main purpose of the Practice Resurrection blog is to anticipate the “why” questions. Why does Waterstone preach the way we do? Why does Waterstone promote the kingdom posture on politics that it does? This piece is the final installment in the why do we worship the way we do (our liturgy, if you will)?
We have said that are three purposes for worship: 1) to encounter God; 2) to be formed by his Word; 3) to proclaim the gospel. Let’s talk about the third purpose for worship at Waterstone – to proclaim the gospel.
The worship service is a primary entrance for people to meet Christ and become involved with his Church. Thus, the goal is “evangelistic worship” (as Timothy Keller puts it). Our purpose is not to make the unbeliever "comfortable" (indeed, in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 or Acts 2:12, 37 they are “cut to the heart”). Rather, we aim to be intelligible to outsiders. We strive to address their "heart secrets" (1 Corinthians 14:25). This means we must remember what it is like to not believe and use strategies that make our worship comprehensible to outsiders.
Here are eight practices that we attempt weekly to make Waterstone worship accessible to all. These are excerpted from Timothy Keller’s superb article Evangelistic Worship (https://redeemercitytocity.com/articles-stories/evangelistic-worship)
- Worship and preach in the “vernacular.” We avoid references, terms, and clichés that mean nothing outside of our Christian sub-group. We carefully explain basic theological concepts such as confession of sin, praise, thanksgiving, offering, liturgy and so on. In the preaching, we anticipate and address the questions that the unbelieving heart might ask (1 Corinthians 14:25). We speak respectfully and sympathetically to people who have difficulty with Christianity. As sermons are written, we imagine a particular, skeptical non-Christian sitting at a table across from you. We enlist people to listen to everything said in the worship service with the ears of someone who has doubts or troubles with belief.
- Explain the service as we go. While being mindful of verbosity, we give one or two sentence, jargon-free explanations of each new part of the service. Something like this, "When we confess our sins, we are not groveling in guilt, but dealing with our guilt. If we deny our sins we will never get free from them." It is good to begin worship services as the African American church often does, with a "devotional" or “call to worship.” This brief talk explains the meaning of worship and instructs newcomers in worship.
- Directly address and welcome unbelievers. We talk regularly to "those who aren't sure you believe this, or who aren't sure just what you believe." We strive to articulate their objections to Christian living and belief. We express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even when challenging them for their self-centeredness and unbelief. As well, we grant whatever degree of merit their objections have so that the unbeliever feels heard and understood: "I've tried it before and it did not work." "I don't see how my life could be the result of the plan of a loving God." "Christianity is a straightjacket." "It can't be wrong if it feels so right." "I could never keep it up." "I don't feel worthy; I am too bad." "I just can't believe…"
- Provide quality aesthetics. The power of art draws people to behold the beautiful. Good art enters the soul through the imagination and begins to appeal to our reason. In other words, art makes ideas plausible. Therefore, the quality of music, aesthetics, visuals and speech in worship will have a major impact on its evangelistic power. In many churches, the quality of the music is mediocre or poor, but it does not disturb the faithful. Why? Their faith makes the words of the song meaningful despite its artistically poor expression, and further, they usually have a personal relationship with the music-presenter. However, any outsider who comes in, who is not convinced of the truth, and who does not have any relationship with presenter will be bored or irritated. In other words, excellent aesthetics includes outsiders, while mediocre or poor aesthetics exclude.
- Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice. We live in a time when public esteem of the church has plummeted. For many outsiders, the deeds of the church will be far more important than words in gaining plausibility. The leaders of most towns see "word-only" churches as costs to their community, not a value. We want to be so involved in deeds of love, justice and mercy that outsiders say, "We cannot do without churches like this. This church is channeling so much value into our community through its services to people that if it went out of business, we'd have to raise taxes." Mercy deeds give gospel words plausibility (Acts 4:32-33). Therefore, we highlight offerings for mercy and justice ministry and celebrate reports of their impact. This brings before the non-Christian the impact of the gospel on people's hearts and the impact of lives poured out in loving the world (John 3:16).
- Present the ordinances to make the gospel clear. We make baptism a significant event in worship by giving opportunity for the baptized to offer personal testimony as well as assent to questions. We explain the meaning of baptism. As well, we explain the Lord's Supper so that the unbeliever will have a very specific and visible way to see the difference between walking with Christ and living for oneself. The Lord's Supper will confront every individual with the question: "Are you right with God today? Now?" There is no more effective way to help a person to do a spiritual inventory.
- Preach grace. The one message that both believers and unbelievers need to hear is that salvation and adoption as children of God are by grace alone. A worship service that focuses too much and too often on educating Christians in the details of theology will simply bore or confuse the unbelievers present. For example, a sermon on abortion generally assumes the listener believes in the authority of Scripture and does not believe in individual moral autonomy. In other words, abortion is "doctrine D" and it is based on "doctrines A, B, and C." Therefore, people who don't believe or understand doctrines ABC will find such a sermon un-convicting and even alienating. This does not mean we should not preach the whole counsel of God, but we must major on the "ABC's" of the Christian faith. If the response to this focus on the “ABCs” is “but Christians will be bored,” it reveals a misunderstanding of the gospel. The gospel of free grace is not just the way we enter the kingdom, but also the way we grow into the likeness of Christ. In Titus 2:11-13, Paul puts it this way: "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all. It teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ." Many Christians are "defeated" and stagnant in their growth because they try to be holy for the wrong motives. They say "no" to temptation by telling themselves "God will get me" or "people will find out" or "I'll hate myself in the morning" or "it will hurt my self-esteem" or "it will hurt other people" or "it's against the law--I'll be caught" or "it's against my principles" or "I will look bad." Some or all of these may be true, but Paul says they are inadequate for transformation. Only the grace of God, the logic and power of the gospel will work. Therefore, the one basic message that both Christians and unbelievers need to hear continually is the gospel of grace. It can then be applied to both groups on the spot and directly. If the worship service and sermon aim primarily at evangelism, it will bore the saints. If they aim primarily at education, they will bore and confuse unbelievers. If they aim at praising the God who saves by grace, they will both instruct insiders and challenge outsiders.
- Lead to commitment. We give space for unbelievers to talk with Jesus Christ in two basic ways. First, during the service. We present a time of reflection after the sermon or give a "prayer of belief" to help people reach out to Christ. Second, after or outside of worship gatherings. In Acts 2:12-13 we see that some folks mocked upon hearing the apostles preach, but others were disturbed and asked, "What does this mean?" Then Peter proceeds to explain the gospel and invite people to become a Christian. Historically, it has been effective to offer opportunity to seekers immediately after worship when their hearts have been stirred. After meetings may consist of one or more persons who wait at the front of the auditorium to talk with seekers who come forward to make inquiry. A second “outside of worship” opportunity might consist of classes like Alpha, which are targeted to specific questions that non-Christians might have.