Bible Center Worship Services

Dear Bible Center Church family,

Life is all about worship. This includes participating in a worship service (such as listening to a sermon, singing, reading the Bible, praying, taking communion and giving); however, it’s much more than any of these. God also invites us to worship him when we eat, drink, go to work, hunt, fish, cook, read a book, or have coffee with a friend (1 Cor. 10:31).

The word worship comes from an older concept of worthship–to show honor to someone, namely God. In the Old Testament, it usually refers to bowing down with reverence. The New Testament urges us to glorify God–to give the accurate opinion of God to others, to hold him in proper esteem. Theologian John Witvliet defines worship as, “the celebrative response to what God has done, is doing, and promises to do.”

We see worship all the way back in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were tasked with expanding God’s dominion over the entire earth (Gen. 1:28). They weren’t leading worship services, but were farming and building. Had someone asked Adam and Eve, “When do you worship God?” they might’ve replied, “When do we not?”

However, in this article, I want to particularly address our worship services. I love what is happening within our church family, beginning with the growing Sunday attendance and energy! Yet, a few of you have asked great questions about our worship services:

  1. Why do we have a unified worship format in all services? (pp. 2-4)
  2. What ingredients are baked into each worship service? (pp. 5-7)
  3. How is God calling us to prepare our hearts for gathered worship? (p. 8)

Please know that service planning is constantly on our minds. Before Sunday lunch has finished, most of us are already thinking about next Sunday. We pray about it a lot.

Be assured that we strive to be sensitive to the preferences of as many people as possible, including yours, but we also strive to ask, “What kind of worship service will help communicate the gospel to the thousands of unchurched people in the Kanawha Valley?” Of course, our ultimate question each week is, “What pleases God?”

I realize most discussions about worship centers around musical styles; nevertheless, I have tried to address all aspects of our worship services in this article.

For the city,
Rev. Matthew D. Friend
Senior Pastor

We have one worship format in all services because:

1. It shows family unity.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:2-6).

The worship service has always been about the family of God assembling to remember God’s grace through the ages (Psalm 67:1-2; cf. Num. 6:24-26; Gen. 12:2-3). Bible Center has a robust ministry plan for all ages and most demographics (children, students, senior saints, and so on); however, Sunday morning is when most of us come together.

2. It pictures the gospel.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival (Col. 2:13-16).

The gospel story is a worship story. It’s a story that surprises us when we discover that it’s not primarily about us, but about God. Our Sunday worship experiences are beautiful! Where else would this diverse group of people gather weekly? Only the gospel could obliterate so many social, political, ethnic and cultural barriers. Therefore, our goal is to create gospel-shaped worship gatherings that rehearse God’s creation, our sinfulness, Jesus’ salvation and future restoration in the new heavens and new earth.

3. It gives us a better picture of heaven.

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9-10).

In the new heavens and new earth, we will worship with a diverse group of people with assorted preferences. They will not all look like us or be from a similar culture. Attending worship services where not everything reflects my own preferences helps me rehearse for heaven. Pointing to this habit-forming reality, the ancient church recited, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi,” which essentially means, “So we pray, so we believe.” The same could apply to our singing, our giving, our liturgy, and so on.

4. It reminds us that God’s church is multi-generational.

One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts (Ps. 145:4).

Dividing services into traditional or contemporary styles was a trend at the turn of the century, but now churches are returning to a multi-generational worship format. Rainer writes, “Placating musical preferences created a generational divide in many churches.”

What’s our goal? We want to be a church where grandchildren enjoy worshipping with their grandparents. Most grandparents who attend a typical church in Appalachia would love to have their grandkids attending with them; however, many churches in our region sit empty on Sunday mornings because someone made the choice to prioritize a model that spoke to past generations but ignored future generations. We want to be a church where all generations can worship, belong and serve. The young need to be challenged by the faith of the old, and the old need to be encouraged by the faith of the young.

5. God has left us here to reach our neighbors for Christ, even with our church services.

If an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in… they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Cor. 14:24-25).

Thousands in the Kanawha Valley have never known the joy of worshipping God. We must constantly think, “How can we reach them?” In 1 Corinthians 9:22, Paul strived to be “all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” The greatest missionaries in history surveyed their culture and asked, “How can I translate the gospel to the most people within this culture and remove distractions from the gospel?”

Some churches accumulate around smaller worship styles: cowboy churches, classical churches, gospel hip-hop churches, and so on. However, these are most often found in large cities and target specific neighborhoods, some which have populations larger than all of Charleston. We’ll continue hosting genre-specific outreach events (classical events, gospel hip-hop concerts, and more); however, God is calling us to think like missionaries and design our Sundays to reach as many people as possible.

6. It reminds us weekly to defer to others’ preferences, more than we love our own.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom. 12:10).

Everyone has a favorite musical style, dress code, and volume. Instead of trying to find a happy medium and create a blended format, we prefer to describe our worship services as diverse and varied. Food squashed in a blender seldom looks appealing; however, most of us appreciate a full-course meal with a variety of colors, textures and tastes. Likewise, we can each enjoy some aspects of the service, while tolerating others, by remembering we are not the only one in the room. Jesus modeled deference for us (Phil. 2:1-11).

7. We can be better stewards of resources, using them for more than one service.

Moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2).

Coordinating 52+ corporate worship services per year is a joyful–but daunting–task. Hosting two different styles of worship services each Sunday doubles that number to 104 per year. Having one set of instrumentalists, one worship choir, one worship band–all working together on one format allows us to be better stewards of God’s resources. Also, we are convinced our worship leaders serve with greater excellence when they work together. This will also allow us to easily add more worship services as our church grows (perhaps 7:30am on Sundays, later on Sunday afternoons, or on Saturday evenings).

8. We can minister to people between services instead of transitioning equipment.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb. 10:24-25).

Our worship team is now thrilled to have more time between services to love people. We transitioned our second service to begin at 10:30 am instead of 10:45 am. This 15-minute savings encourages more people to stay or come early for an additional hour of ministry service (kid’s ministry, etc.) or Bible study.

Our services include the following ingredients:

  1. An emphasis on the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18-21) – In the Scriptures and throughout church history, the dynamic love between the Holy Trinity has been accentuated because it is the same love that flows to and through us.
  2. Bible-centered, relevant teaching, preaching and music (1 Tim. 4:2) – Pray that your Senior Pastor continues to grow in his ability to mine God’s Word and communicate ancient truth in fresh and compelling ways. All sermons will point to the gospel, for only in Christ can one find eternal salvation and lasting transformation.
  3. Public Scripture readings (1 Tim. 4:13) – Bible Center will always remain Bible-centered. We accomplish this by: asking various members to read the Scriptures prior to the sermon, publishing the Scriptures on the large screens, and doing responsive Scripture readings together as a congregation.
  4. A reputation for excellence (Phil. 4:8) – This stems from adequate preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and logistically. Platform leaders will be well-prepared.
  5. More and more singing (Col. 3:16) – The call to sing occurs over 100 times in Psalms alone. Our worship team is asking more and more, “Is this song singable?” We want to design our worship services to include as much singing as possible in 65-70 minutes.
  6. A wide variety of songs (Col. 3:16) – Paul urges us to sing all types of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We want to grow in our use of ancient and robust hymns. We can expect two hymns in almost every service soon, at least one played with a traditional melody. Likewise, we will utilize modern hymns, written by modern theological stalwarts. We will also utilize modern and popular spiritual songs that can be heard on the radio. Some may employ repetition, as does Psalm 136 (which repeats the same phrase 26 times), the Hallelujah Chorus, or the words “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Isaiah 6.
  7. A wide variety of musical styles (Ecc. 3:1-8) – We will no longer describe our services as Traditional or Contemporary, but will utilize all styles in various ways to accentuate the message and mood of that Sunday’s sermon. A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance, once said, “Popular music is the heart of the people.”
  8. Energy and passion (Col. 3:23) – By God’s grace, we will continue pouring hours and days into the design of each worship service, knowing that God wants us to seek him with all our hearts. All platform leaders desire to exude strength and joy.
  9. Pre-planned pastoral prayers (Eph. 1:17-19; 3:14-19; Phil. 1:9-11; Col. 1:9-14) – The Spirit can often lead us to pray spontaneous prayers. However, we will also seek his leadership earlier each week in order to lead the people in meaningful, prepared prayers that aid in our spiritual maturity and awe of God.
  10. Prayers for community and national leaders (1 Tim 2:1-8) – We desire to be more engaged in our city and county, occasionally praying public prayers for our leaders.
  11. Generous giving (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 2 Cor. 8-9) – We give our offerings in response to God’s grace to us. Our Father is the giver of all things, so our resources do not belong to us but to him. Because we have been given much, and because we believe in the work of the church, we give money to advance the gospel, both locally and globally.
  12. A variation in volume – Because good music is dynamic, we strive to lead worshippers in a healthy ebb and flow, both in decibels and fullness. The Bible speaks of percussion like loud crashing cymbals (Psalm 68:25; 81:2; 149:3; 150:3-6), while the Bible also reminds us that God sometimes speaks in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13; Psalm 46:10).
  13. A freedom for appropriate physical expression – The Psalms are filled with examples of clapping, singing, bowing, kneeling, lifting hands, shouting, playing instruments, and standing in awe. Our worship leaders will recognize these freedoms, so long as they draw attention to God and are authentic to the worshipper. The Next Steps Time at the end is another avenue where some may choose to kneel at the front or at their seat.
  14. Call to worship – A pastor begins each service with a reminder that God calls us to focus on him. As God’s sheep, we are reminded that the Shepherd seeks us.
  15. Celebratory feel – God is far more loving than we can ever imagine. Because of God’s good news in Christ, we want our services to feel welcome and uplifting to all.
  16. Moments of silence – We will continue incorporating times for silent prayer, expression of grief or repentance from sin.
  17. Communion – These symbols remind us that Christ’s death on the cross–his broken body and shed blood–was necessary and sufficient to pay for our sins. Jesus makes a way for us to be right with God and each other. We look forward to Christ’s return just as he promised on the night of his betrayal.
  18. Baptisms – Each baptism reminds us of our association with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. We all baptize together saying, “WE baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This shows that baptism was a rite given to the entire church.
  19. Stories of gospel success – We strive to weave a gospel success story into each worship service, with a balance of global and local emphasis. Some Sundays include a story from a global partner; others involve a local story from one of our staff or members.
  20. Pastoral warmth – Platform leaders will exude warmth and connection, joy and strength. Since most communication is non-verbal, we continually help each other improve in our overall platform demeanor. We want our presence and countenance to say, “Everyone is welcome here–all ages, all ethnicities, all cultures. You are safe. You are among family.”
  21. Participation, not performance – We desire our worship services to feel more like a banquet hall (a communal gathering where everyone participates in and shares a meal), and less like a concert hall (where passive observers critique without participation).
  22. A variation of both emotional and cognitive elements (John 4:24) – Jesus invites us to worship in spirit and in truth. Jonathan Edwards, a Puritan pastor, wrote, “The duty of worshipping God is given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”
  23. A gracious and generous spirit towards people who are not like us (Col. 3:8-15) – Church history proves that division over worship style is not new. Martin Luther, who lived over 500 years ago, expressed strong and insulting opinions about his own preferences. Churches in the American colonies argued over whether or not songs should be sung with accompaniment. British churches debated whether or not only Psalms should be sung, or if newer “liberal” hymns could be employed from men like Isaac Watts.
  24. A variation involving our band, choir, smaller groups and instrumentalists – In an effort to minimize the use of soundtracks (or to keep them in the background), our own band and instrumentalists will increasingly anchor worship services, combining various other components in rotation (choir at least twice per month, strings, brass and more).
  25. A relaxed atmosphere (1 Tim 4:4) – We will point out God’s goodness in the simplest of pleasures, such as people being welcome to enjoy their coffee in the worship center, or to wear whatever is closest to their authentic self (jeans, suit & tie, dress, pants).
  26. Minimal announcements – As our church grows large, other communication venues will become more prominent (colorful bulletin, phone app, website, class/group specific announcements). Fewer announcements will be mentioned from the platform to allow more time for other worship elements. Most verbal announcements will be church-wide.
  27. Volunteer opportunities – We desire our worship services to feel more participatory, engaging, and experiential for all. This begins by creating as many volunteer opportunities as possible for men and women of all ages to serve in our services (musicians, First Impressions, Scripture readers, AVL technicians, pray-ers, ushers, coffee servers, etc.).
  28. Respect of physical limitations – To be mindful of our older saints, we strive to leave the congregation standing no more than two or three regular-length songs in a row.
  29. Visual arts – In the spirit of variety, we enjoy the creative use of videos, art, props, drama and technology–as long as they enhance the Biblical message.
  30. Benediction – This is a traditional “blessing for the road.” As we prepare to go out from the church gathered, we acknowledge that we go out with a mission–to be continually transformed by the gospel and to see that gospel transform the Kanawha Valley.

How can I prepare my heart for our worship services?

A unifying prayer for many decades to come…

“Dear Lord. Give me a heart sensitive to your Spirit. Help me love the gospel and the unity of your church more than I love any particular preference or style. Make me a mature Christian who’s easily edified, not one who’s easily offended.

I also pray for my pastors and worship leaders. As they shepherd a diverse group of people in a small community like Charleston, keep them sensitive to your Spirit. May the comments and preferences of other people pale in comparison to the assurances of your love for them.

During a song that doesn’t resonate with my favorite worship style, while singing, also remind me to pray for someone to whom God has sent this song.

Lord, I realize my church may not be the church for everyone. Wherever my next door neighbors attend on Sundays, may they grow more into the image of Jesus Christ. However, please help our church to be THAT church for as many people as possible, especially for the generations that are coming after me. Oh God, be gracious to us and bless us. Please make your face shine on us. I want your ways to be known throughout the earth, and your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth. May all the peoples praise you.

Oh God, bless us in greater ways so all the ends of the earth will fear and love you. Amen.”

Books To Understand My Pastors’ Hearts:

  1. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Gospel Story by Mike Cosper
  2. True Worshippers: Seeking What Matters To God by Bob Kauflin
  3. Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper

More Books For Deeper Study:

  1. Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin
  2. Desiring the Kingdom – Worship, Worldview, Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith
  3. Imagining the Kingdom – How Worship Works by James K. A. Smith
  4. Contemporary Worship Music – A Biblical Defense by John M. Frame

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