Did we succeed in worship this Sunday? At first this may seem like a very silly question. But those who planned and led worship will probably be asking themselves this question on Monday morning. Did we succeed? It is not always easy to answer this question!
The strange thing is, landscapers know when they succeed in putting in a yard right. Businessmen and women know when the succeed in putting out a new product. Basketball players know when they succeed—the put the ball in the net! So how do worship leaders know when they’ve done a good job? Did they succeed this Sunday? They’ve got to evaluate, just like everyone else.
For that matter, what does it mean to “put the ball into the net” when it comes to worship? When Sunday is over, how do they know if they’ve done a good job or not. What criteria should they and we use to measure what we’ve done or not done?
Here’s the surfacy criteria we sometimes use. It’s not that all of these are bad. In fact, some of them are necessary. It’s just that they are not fully adequate to measure worship success.
- You feel good about the service (the problem with this is that at times I felt good about it and others felt bad! Or I felt bad, when others felt good)
- There is positive feedback at the door as people are leaving (unfortunately, this is very selective, since people who think you bombed will seldom come up to you)
- Your mother-in-law liked it (not a reliable measure—she’s too biased)
- “God showed up” (I am never sure what this means. It’s great to feel his presence, but the cross reminds us that sometimes God does his greatest works when he feels absent)
- Numbers were up, (who doesn’t like this, but not an infallible measure)
- No one screwed up (that makes a liturgist happy, but….is it enough?)
- The band was tight, the choir was together (that makes the worship leader happy, but….)
- It flowed (so do rivers….)
- The theme was evident (helpful, but….was it a good theme?)
- Someone was baptized, commissioned, prayed for (surely good signs, but still not telling)
- It was done with excellence (this is important, but excellence on its own is not enough)
- It was intelligible to believers and non-believers (this is good too, but still not enough)
All of these things tell us something, but do they tell us enough?
Okay, then what is missing? How else might we measure success on a Sunday morning? Here is deeper set of criteria that might help us.
- People caught a vision of who God is—his holiness, his justice, his wrath, his love, his mercy and his beauty. The sermon, music, readings and prayers gave us a full picture.
- The worth of God was extolled—people realized the bankruptcy of life without God and re-centered their lives on him. People treasured him as the one who has ultimate worth.
- A heart switch took place. People pulled their affections off of their idols and put them back on God. Their lesser fears were shrunk by a holy fear of God. They found deep satisfaction in God–enjoying him, even if they are sorrowful.
- The Word of God was proclaimed. As it was preached, God’s truth exposed the deceits of our hearts and the world. It purged our minds and did that strange and amazing work of both afflicting and comforting.
- The gospel was heard and people worshiped Jesus on the spot. As my son James said to me, “If we’re not preaching Christ who lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, took upon himself the wrath of God we deserved & the fact that he fully satisfied everything the Lord requires and that now we are credited with that by faith, then what are we doing?
- The grace of God was seen in his sweeping redemptive plan culminating in the cross and resurrection. People not only confessed their sins, but reveled in God’s pardon through the blood of Jesus. They even looked forward with hope to his return and the promise of a new heaven and earth.
- This service drove the congregation to act out their gospel faith. If we are just going to church and that’s it, then we are missing the whole point. Faith without works is dead. But if the service caused people to grow in faith and love, and gave them a new resolve for gospel interaction with the least, the last and the lost, then something good happened.
- The service brought the body of Christ closer together in love and maturity. It challenged them to walk with one another in joy and hardship and to see the importance of our life in Christ together.
- It created a desire for more of God so that people want to dive more deeply into his Word, to pray more diligently, and to use their gifts to serve God.
- The service set their hearts on pilgrimage, creating an even deeper desire for our homeland.
Success may be difficult to measure in worship, but it is not impossible. We need to sharpen the way we evaluate what actually took place. Excellence, flow, theme, and good feelings are fine, but let’s never make them the final criteria by which we evaluate how we did. There is something deeper to aim at.
Thank you for helping us focus on the things that really matter in worship!
Recently, in one of his sermons, Sinclair Ferguson had a thought provoking answer to whether or not Sunday morning worship was “really good”: people come back for more on Sunday evenings!