Tap-tap-tap… tap-tap… annoying sounds? No… part of a secret code used by prisoners at the Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war camp during the Vietnam War. The taping was part of a vital communication link with each other. Without this communication prisoners would slowly lose their will to live. “Little by little,” Captain Eugene ‘Red’ McDaniel wrote in his book, Scars and Stripes, “ prisoners would deteriorate as that strange predator… isolation, would suck the very life out of them.”
Last week we learned that worship is our vital communication with God. Without worship, the spiritual part of us will begin to draw inward, deteriorate and die. Now… how should we worship?
Hundreds of ministers throughout Virginia gathered together for a conference about worship. We came with more questions than answers. What is good worship? What is our role as ministers? Should worship be contemporary with modern music and drama or should we focus on preserving the traditions of our past? With so many churches declining… it’s critical that we discover new answers.
The conference fittingly opened with worship and Bishop Joe E. Pennel, Jr., our main speaker read scripture before beginning his message. Here is an excerpt:
Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Parts of Mark 1:23-27)
After a pause, Bishop Pennel said, “The presence of Christ always stirs up unclean spirits. Worship centered in Christ will bother the unclean spirit. Worship will condemn the unclean spirit.” In other words, worship encompasses so much more than the words contemporary or traditional can adequately describe. Worship is about stirring up unclean spirits… What does that mean?
In order to stir up unclean spirits, worship should strive to emphasize:
U Teaching: Worship should always revolve around and teach God’s Word.
U Commitment: Worship should ask for a renewed commitment of our faith.
U Leadership: Worship should offer us direction and a plan of action.
U Variety: Worship should respect the needs and cultural distinctness of everyone, young and old.
U Consistency: Worship should at the same time remember and build on our traditions.
U Passion: Worship should express the passion that comes from a healthy relationship with God.
U Creativity: Worship should make the best possible use of our God-given talents.
U Judgment: Worship should warn of God’s impending judgment.
U Grace: Worship should always offer the forgiving gift of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the conference leaders admitted that the debate over worship is not as much about contemporary versus traditional styles as it is about leadership and passion. All too often churches settle for what is easy and predictable and lose their opportunity to stir up the unclean spirits.
Bishop Pennel ended with a story about an all-white church he served in Memphis, Tennessee from 1964 to 1968, a time of heightened racial tension. One Sunday a group of black students came to attend worship services. The ushers didn’t deny entrance but in silence brought the students down to the front pew of the church. Later that night the room was full for the monthly board meeting… people anticipating trouble. Nothing was said at first but the anxiety mounted. It was just a matter of time.
Finally, the chairman of the board, a very influential member of the church stood up. Many who came to cause trouble assumed he would be on their side. The chairman paused for a moment, cleared his throat and said, “What a great worship service today. Isn’t it wonderful that we can worship together as God’s church? May it happen over and over. Is there any other business?”
No one responded… Such is the passion and power of Godly worship. Even unclean spirits are afraid.