Last week Shane explored the biblical background and role of a pastor in leading the way in being welcoming (Part 1). Now, he digs into the practical ways to implement those principles. Here’s Shane:
Practical: Love in Leading Worship & Preaching
In many ways, the pastor sets the tone for worship. In Reformed churches we want the pastor to follow Scripture as he leads the service and preaches the Word. Therefore, even the pastor’s pulpit presence should echo the truths of the Bible. The pastor needs to love his neighbors who are in the pews and let that love show in the way he leads worship. If a pastor’s tone and demeanor are stern, robotic, and wooden, it gives the service an unwelcoming and overly formal atmosphere. However, if his tone and demeanor are warm, loving, and personal, it gives the service a more welcoming atmosphere.
There are many ways to show love in the pulpit. For one thing, the pastor can smile and tell the visitors he’s glad they’re there. The pastor (or whoever gives the announcements) can let the visitors know things like where the bathrooms are, where the nursery is, and other information visitors would find helpful. He can also pray for the visitors in the public prayer, thanking God for them and asking him to bless them and help them.
Another way the pastor can show love and kindness to his neighbors in the pews is to let them know why he’s doing what he’s doing during worship. In my context, not many visitors are familiar with Reformed liturgy and theology, so from time to time during the service I’ll explain things. For example, when I read the law (commands/imperatives), I’ll mention that Romans 3:20 says through the law comes knowledge of sin (NASB). Finally I briefly explain from Scripture that we need to repent of our sins, confess them to God, and ask for forgiveness. Then, of course, we hear a word from Scripture about full and free forgiveness through faith in Jesus and respond in praise and thankful prayer. I’ve found that many visitors who are unfamiliar with liturgy appreciate when they learn it is shaped by clear Bible teaching (praise, prayer, law, gospel, sacrament, etc.).
Some might disagree, but I believe that a church’s liturgy should be clear and simple enough for average people to follow. The Regulative Principle, in fact, to some extent demands simple worship. I remember visiting churches where the liturgy was complicated and the bulletin was full of inserts for the liturgy. It was difficult to follow the liturgy, deal with several young kids, and keep the inserts in the right order. I imagine visitors who were unfamiliar with liturgy had an even harder time following along.
The pastor can think of visitors when he picks the psalms and hymns for worship. Of course, it is good to learn and sing new songs, but it’s also good to include well-known tunes and songs for people who are not musically inclined. It’s very hard for people to sing praise to God when they don’t know any of the songs. In fact, I try to make the first song of the service one that is familiar to most and I try to make sure all the songs are singable for everyone’s benefit – visitor and member.
A pastor can also show love to his neighbors when preaching to them. How? First, he can preach in clear, understandable language with a clear, understandable outline. It’s helpful to define terms when necessary and to avoid rambling. Personally, I believe it’s loving for me to preach in a way that is easy to listen to and easy to follow. If I didn’t love the people in the pews, I wouldn’t care if they could follow and understand or not!
Second, a pastor can use illustrations, analogies, and application points that the people in the pews understand. He can speak their language – not the language of a different group of people or of academia, but the language of the people sitting there before him. For example, in some contexts, people can follow long difficult quotes in old English, but in other contexts, they can’t. In some contexts, people would understand a reference to a classic novel, whereas in others they would better understand a car illustration. The pastor’s goal is not to show off his broad range of learning or sound smart, but to help people come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). We can love people in the pews by speaking their language.
A third way a pastor can show love to his neighbors when preaching is by respecting their attention spans. In some contexts, people can easily listen to a 50-minute sermon. In other contexts, a 30-minute sermon is the right length. Again, I’m not saying we should water down the sermons, or only preach for 15 minutes, but I am saying we should empathize with the people when we think about the length of a sermon. Pastors today need to keep the Preacher’s words in mind: God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few (Ecc. 5:2 NASB; see Prov. 10:19; Mt. 6:7). We don’t have to cram everything into one sermon, nor do we have to cram everything into one pastoral prayer or one worship service.
Finally, a pastor can show love in his sermons by doing his best not to offend anyone. That was one of Paul’s goals: Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved (1 Cor. 10:32-33 NASB). Paul wasn’t saying he would compromise the truth or not preach the gospel if it was offensive. Instead, he was saying that in all other ways he avoided offending people for the sake of the gospel. Paul was telling us to not put any unbiblical obstacle in anyone’s way (2 Cor. 6:3). This has many applications. For one preaching example, this means that I must not make fun of or joke about people I disagree with. For example, if I would say something crass about Pentecostals or parachurch organizations in my sermon, I could offend a visitor who has ties to a these things in some way. It’s not loving to offend people in unbiblical ways. It also sets a bad example for the congregation and can drive visitors away.
Other things can be said about leading worship and preaching to our neighbors. My personal aim in leading worship is to have the liturgy and sermon be clearly biblical, easily understandable, not unnecessarily offensive, and appropriate in length. When I’m in the pulpit, I also try to empathize with visitors. That is, I assume they might not be Christians, they might not be Reformed, they might not know the Bible well, they might be uncomfortable, (etc.) – and I speak to them where they’re at. It’s a church planter mentality. Whatever the case, I know everyone needs to hear the gospel preached in love.
Next Up: Welcoming Pastor in Conversation