Unless you’ve been involved in putting together a worship service, you don’t know how challenging it is. What must be a part of the service? What do you want as part of the service? What do others think must be a part of a worship service?
Should there be singing? How much? Should there be a time opened for people to share? How much time? Should there be time for private prayer and/or corporate prayer? How much time? What about announcements? Greeting visitors? And the question that haunts the hallways of every church, how much time for the sermon?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. Each church has to come up with its own approach and tweak it depending on the people in attendance, the people it wants to reach, and any changing trends in culture. In some churches, no one would raise an eyebrow at a one hour sermon. In another church, no one could keep an eyelid open.
On May 20, 1949, the Church Times published a letter by C. S. Lewis. Mr. Lewis was responding to an article in a previous edition where a comment was made of extending the church service by 10 minutes. The suggestion did not excite him,
”Firstly, I would underline the necessity for uniformity, if in nothing else, yet in the time taken by the rite. We laymen may not be busier than the clergy but we usually have much less choice in our hours of business. The celebrant who lengthens the service by 10 minutes may, for us, throw the whole day into a hurry and confusion. It is difficult to keep this out of our minds: it may even be difficult to avoid some feeling of resentment. Such temptations may be good for us but it is not the celebrant’s business to supply them: God’s permission and Satan’s diligence will see to that part of our education without his assistance.”1
Wisdom sits somewhere between pulpit and pew. Worship leaders (the celebrant) need to be sensitive to the needs of the people. The needs of the elderly are not the same as that of a single mom with three children.
But the individual congregant can’t let their needs dictate either. The needs of a person wanting to hear from God is different from the person who wants to hear from someone else. No easy answers.
“And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour?’” – Matthew 26:40.
- Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1588.