“It’s been a real passion of mine to try to help people think Biblically about worship,” said Ken Pyne as he introduced his workshop topic, “Best Church Practices in Corporate Worship.” Pyne is a longtime veteran of music ministry, and currently serves as chaplain and director of internships at Baptist Bible Seminary. His desire is to see churches think more intentionally, Biblically, and theologically about corporate worship practices.
Pyne proposed three major premises for properly understanding corporate worship. First, “corporate worship” encompasses the entire worship service, not just the song service. Raymond Brown rightly lamented, “‘Worship’ has become a ‘buzz word’ in the contemporary evangelical vocabulary but its meaning is in danger of being narrowly restricted to that aspect of our praise which is expressed in singing.” Second, worship practices need to be guided by Scripture. And third, pastors, worship leaders, and service planners should always ask the question why. Nothing during a worship service should ever be undertaken meaninglessly or flippantly.
Having posited those three foundational premises, Pyne continued to expound upon what he sees as the nine best practices for corporate worship:
1. God has called us to come and worship together, so we do. Worship is neither a contrivance nor a matter of humanly devised rituals and liturgies. Rather, it is divinely mandated and therefore of the utmost importance. We should approach God in worship with an appropriate level of awe and reverence.
2. God should be the focus. It is imperative that we direct our worship toward the Triune God, the creator of Heaven and earth. Failure to do so constitutes idolatry.
3. The interplay of revelation and response should be woven into the service. James Smith defines worship as “a communal, congregational practice that brings us into dialogical encounter with the living God.” Worship, then, is highly interactive in nature; it is not a spectator sport.
4. Prayers should be intentional and thoughtful. They may be spontaneous or scripted, spoken or sung, audible or unspoken, but they should never be flippant or aimless.
5. Scripture should be read publicly. Paul wrote, “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13).
6. The Scriptures should be preached within the greater context of the worship service. Pyne believes this is an area in which many churches could improve. Too often, the preacher develops his sermon in total isolation from the other elements of the worship service. This creates a fragmented and inconsistent worship environment, and often results in sending a mixed, unclear, or confusing message to the congregants. Whenever possible, the preaching should be fully integrated with all other elements of the worship service.
7. Songs are sung that promote the sanctification of the believers. Again, Paul is instructive: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). Note that corporate singing is meant to serve a specific function: to teach and admonish one another. Song selection should be undertaken with this goal fixed firmly in mind.
8. Since unbelievers will likely be present, evangelism should be regularly attempted, but without dumbing down the character of the worship service. While it is true that the church’s corporate worship service was conceived primarily as a time “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), it is also true that evangelistic appeals are both permissible and desirable (1 Cor. 14:23–25).
9. Those who lead worship should shepherd the people, not perform for them. Peter urged Christian ministers to “shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). Likewise, Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to “take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The primary goal in planning and executing a worship service, then, should be to guide congregants toward greater sanctification and greater instruction. Insofar as the impulse to put on a showy performance runs counter to this goal, it should be strenuously resisted.