Paul’s Blueprint for a Worshipping Church

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience . . . But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them. (2 Timothy 3.10 & 14)

What are our aims for the shaping of our fellowship and for church growth? In every walk of life, whether in the worlds of business, politics, education, or any other sphere, it is accepted that leadership must have a policy or a definite set of objectives. Remarkably, in the work of the Gospel, this is sometimes set aside as an inappropriate or unscriptural idea. Perhaps it is a reaction, and in some ways a good one, from the mechan­istic and worldly methods of the church growth movement. However, pastors and churches cannot be ‘drifters’ on the ocean of circumstances, taking an unnavigated voyage through uncharted waters. We should not just preach the Word and hope that everything else will fall into place.

The fact is that we are supposed to have a policy for the growth and maturity of our churches, and such a policy is spelled out in many ways by the apostle Paul. If we are pastors and church officers, do we have a clear outline of what we are aiming for in the leading and shaping of our church fellowship? Do we have an agenda or plan or framework of desired objectives? Are we pressing forward in its implementation?

If a church member were to ask, ‘Pastor, what is your programme?’ – would we be able to list our aspirations for growth and maturity? And would we be able to demonstrate why these were the right and scriptural priorities for our church? Or would we be among those who could only mumble broad statements, however noble, such as, ‘Oh, our purpose is the promotion of evangelism, holiness and spirituality’?

Paul had a very definite policy, and Timothy knew exactly what it was. This is clear from Paul’s words to him in 2 Timothy 3.10 – ‘But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose.’ The word translated purpose is prothesis, which means a plan, design, purpose or aspiration, clearly set forth, exhibited or displayed. It refers here to Paul’s plan and strategy for the conduct of his life and ministry, which was ‘fully known’ to Timothy, his pupil. Paul did not keep his strategy for the churches locked away in his mind, as if it were a secret or purely personal method. Having received it from God, this wise master builder displayed it before his junior workers, just as a craftsman would teach his apprentices, or a general would share a battle plan with his immediate subordinates.

Unlike some others, Timothy was approved because he carefully observed the methods of the apostle, realising that these constituted the inspired pattern for the churches for all time. Timothy took Paul as his model, and as far as we can see, there should never be any other model for ministers and churches. The apostolic example is our authority, and may be relied upon to give success in the work of building up churches. ‘Continue thou,’ commands Paul, ‘in the things which thou hast learned.’

Timothy was put in possession of a ready-made, prescribed policy. He was not given scope to be creative, ingenious or individualistic in this matter, and nor are we. At the beginning of the writer’s present pastorate over fifty years ago, a well-­intending deacon made the remark that no obstruction should be placed in the way of the new pastor should his methods vary from those of his predecessor. It was to be expected, so this deacon felt, that a new man would have a completely different approach. He took the view that no two pastors were the same, and so the church must expect a different kind of min­istry.

This was certainly a most helpful and supportive attitude, but was it well founded? Should ministers greatly differ? Would we expect great variation in the practice of medicine or surgery? Would we be happy at the idea that every practitioner developed his or her own highly individualistic procedures and techniques? Or do we prefer to trust the existing consensus approach, whereby the best knowledge and experience combine to produce a fairly uniform set of therapies? In the case of the ministry there is a once-for-all policy which should be the approach of every ‘workman that needeth not to be ashamed’. Ideally, if one set of officers passes from the scene and another is raised up, the overall policy should not be interrupted any more than if one doctor replaces another in the local surgery.

Vagueness will not build thriving churches or sustain them. Nor will emphasis on only one or two of the great pillars of church life, such as sound doctrine or passionate preaching, because the right policy is a combination of scriptural aims, and all must be pursued. Paul had a clear, consistent, and copyable set of aspirations and objectives, and these stand today as a pattern for all who are exhorted – ‘be ye followers of me’ (1 Corinthians 4.16; 11.1 and Philippians 3.17).

These ideals, outlined below and in subsequent articles, are all sourced to the Lord Jesus Christ or to the apostle Paul. May these great objectives be an inspiration and blessing to readers, and, by the goodness of God, to many churches.

A Worshipping Church

Every congregation should be a true worshipping church, and this must be the highest aim of all church planters, pastors and leaders. The language of worship pervades all the epistles of Paul, and in 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle provides the clearest picture of God’s people at worship to be found in the New Testament, together with vital practical instructions. We must build worshipping churches.

But what is worship? Never have there been so many ‘forms’ of worship within Bible-believing churches as there are today. First, there is pleasurable worship, which puts the believer’s enjoyment in the chief place, whereas it is God’s pleasure that comes first. Secondly, there is worldly-idiom worship, which borrows and adapts the current musical tastes of the secular world, with its rhythms, instruments, actions, and showbiz presentation, whereas the Lord says that whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Thirdly, there is informal worship, in which casual, relaxed, often jokey, trivia-injecting worship leaders turn churches into sitting rooms, whereas God demands dignity, order, reverence, grandeur and glory in his Temple.

Fourthly, there is aesthetic worship, which imagines that music, instrumentation, dancing, vocal rendition (and even craftsmanship) are all valid expressions of worship in themselves, so that God is worshipped by and through these things, whereas the Saviour said that ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.’

Fifthly, there is ecstatic worship, in which people work themselves into highly emotional and semi-hypnotic states, as though worship consisted of achieving an out-of-this-world, mystical connection with God, whereas Scripture says we must pray and sing with the understanding (1 Corinthians 14.15).

Sixthly, there is shallow worship, which reduces the hymns to choruses containing just a few elementary ideas, whereas the Psalms – the model for hymns of worship – deal with solid themes to the glory of God.

These distortions and perversions of worship have swept in over the last fifty to sixty years. They ruin churches and dishonour the Lord, and we should want to train our people to love worship which is grand and glorious in character. True worship is words, a fact that was bedrock knowledge to all Protestants until a few years ago! The Saviour’s term ‘in truth’ means that correct worship must consist of intelligent sentiments flowing from a rational and sincere mind. ‘In spirit’ means that worship should have no physical rites, ceremonies or bodily actions.

Much of what has today become so common in worship fails this great definition and standard laid down by the Lord. It is not true worship, but a mixture of entertainment and emotional self-indulgence. Worship is words, whether said, sung or thought. It is intelligent. It is certainly not the experiencing of strange ecstasies with the rational mind switched off.

Ministers who lead true worship must be careful to ensure that all the biblical aspects of worship are included in services – in prayer, song and preaching. These are awe, reverence, adoration, thanksgiving, rejoicing, repentance, affirmation of Truth, learning, intercession, and obedient dedication. Ministers must say, ‘He must increase, but I must ­decrease,’ putting away vain self-projection, exhibitionism, superfluous interjections, and levity. They must have a worthy sense of occasion, and behave as though the King of kings is present.

The ideal service must be a time of privilege, awe, and wonder. Joy will most certainly be a major feature, but joy not put in a context of awe and not accompanied by times of serious repentance, with ­earnest submission and supplication, becomes inappropriate joy. If the one who leads in worship is a chatty, flippant, wisecracking person, any sense of the awesome presence of God will be inhibited and even forfeited. Worshippers, too, must avoid chatter, and trivialised domestic notices should find no place in the service, only a sincere greeting and simple announcement of main meetings for adults and children. Lightweight informality has its place in human relationships, but not in the worship of the ever-glorious, almighty Lord.

If we can build thoughtful, worshipping churches, the people will deepen in outlook, increase in spiritual enjoyment, and be greatly strengthened in humility. It is a fact that informality in worship produces unhumbled, ­­un­awed, proud Christians. So does aesthetic worship (in which any offering of, for ­example, instrumentalism is like Cain’s offering – something the worshipper has done, and can be proud of). Ecstatic worship produces pride in imagined spiritual accomplishment, and pleasurable worship induces selfishness and self-importance, as the worshipper (the ‘customer’) gets what he wants to enjoy.

True worship is what God enjoys; what he commands; what he is entitled to. At the same time it produces humble, unselfish Christians who are wholly submitted to God in deep appreciation and trust. In other words, true worship sanctifies, whereas false, phoney and shallow worship is hostile to all that we long to see in Christian lives and in churches.

May the aim of every pastor and leader be to build a truly worshipping church.