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Worship: Horizontal or Vertical?

Excerpts from new book How to Pastor and Live to Tell About It: Lessons from Nehemiah by Roberta Sarver.

Siblings Karla and Kaylee moved from the conservative Midwest to a city in the East. After settling in, they sought a church family. Several congregations left them perplexed at the styles of worship they encountered. When one pastor appeared on the platform in jeans and a t-shirt, Kaylee said, “Would he would dress that way if he were a guest of the President at the White House?”

They tried another church. It featured people slurping drinks from soda cans during the service. Karla thought, if my boyfriend were trying to convince me he adored me just before proposing, and if he got down on one knee while gulping Mountain Dew and checking his cell phone, would I think he was serious? This was her mental picture of their casual approach to worshipping the God of majesty.

A third congregation featured a worship style they liked—except for one thing. After a few congregational songs, the pastor stopped the service and told everyone to go around and shake hands with others. This meet-and-greet exercise made Kaylee, the introvert, uncomfortable.

The siblings chose the third church but planned on arriving after the song service ended. The meet-and-greet experience felt like overkill when people already greeted one another as they entered and exited the building. Unfortunately, the girls missed a vital component of worship: singing praises to God.

Worship styles vary as much as the people planning them. Older ministers describe services where the shekinah glory appeared so real that people were afraid to move. (The word shekinah doesn’t appear in the Bible, but in Hebrew it signifies God’s presence that dwells or settles over people.)

In parts of the last century, God’s convicting presence in church services was so strong it arrested sinners and caused them to tremble and grip the backs of the pews.

As the social revolution of the 1960s and ’70s grew, churches experienced a decline in the awareness of God’s presence. Some turned to a seeker-friendly approach, bringing people to church on buses and serving refreshments. The goal? Making outsiders feel comfortable and happy.

While community outreach can impact outsiders, what do we, the church, offer them when they walk through our doors?

Today’s pastor faces the challenge of ministering to multiple generations with conflicting views of worship. In Nehemiah chapter eight, we find a comparable situation.

Those who recently returned from the Babylonian exile had been deprived of the complete knowledge of God and His requirements for worship for over seventy years. Some may not have known that the God of the Hebrews even had requirements. Ezra the scribe and Nehemiah the governor had the responsibility of establishing proper protocol.

Pastors in the twenty-first century experienced a similar situation after the COVID-19 pandemic. Churches deprived of the right to gather in corporate worship began congregating once more. But would they need to adjust their approach to public services?

Several years ago, we were privileged to know one of the saintliest men in our circle of friends. His approach to worship was unique and resulted in an awe-inspiring sense of God’s presence in our church.

Rev. Miles was a retired minister with a dignified demeaner and a British accent. Those visiting his home felt ushered into a peaceful, heavenly presence. The man’s deep prayer life made the difference. As a result, we noticed how he chose to worship.

His was a vertical approach instead of a horizontal one. When arriving at church, this saintly man walked directly to his seat, bowed his head, and quietly prayed. If he passed others in the aisle he smiled politely and nodded hello, yet deferred carrying on conversation. One look at his countenance told us he had been dwelling in God’s presence before he arrived. He never appeared unkind or unfriendly, just devoted to fellowshipping with God first.

After the worship service was over, Rev. Miles went back into horizontal mode, pleasantly speaking to those around him in his impeccable British accent. Yet, his prayer life and reverent demeanor helped set the atmosphere for the Spirit of God to pervade time and again.

You can read more in the book, available from Amazon, and soon in ebook form.

Available at: https://How to Pastor and Live to Tell About It: Lessons from Nehemiah: Sarver, Roberta:

What about you? Any thoughts on worship styles you encounter as you visit churches? Please keep comments respectful.


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