Behaving in Church

It’s been years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.  When our girls reached the age of four or five they started attending “big church.”  Parents of preschoolers know that during those years it’s awfully hard for a child of that age to sit still in a typically grown-up atmosphere like a church worship service.  Since I am a pastor and don’t usually get to sit with my family in worship services, my wife Nan had the unenviable task of orienting our girls to how they should behave in a worship service.  Perhaps in another blog I’ll tell some of the struggles she had in helping our kids learn to act properly in church.

Nan and I just returned from some time away in the mountains of New Mexico, where we spend most of our vacations.  Whenever possible we enjoy attending a local church in the mountain village.  As a pastor I always strive to be a worshipper even when I am leading worship in our church.  On a few occasions each year I get to worship without the weight of the responsibility of worship leadership on my mind. I love pastoral ministry, but I also cherish those occasional opportunities to worship from the pew rather than the platform.  It gives me an opportunity to practice what I preach and teach … to be reminded of how adults should behave in church.

The New Testament prescribes great importance to corporate worship for the Christ-follower.  “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).  Rick Warren puts it this way:  “In corporate worship, we worship in ways we are unable to by ourselves.  As we sing and celebrate together, pray and confess together, share and meditate together, give offerings and commit together, our faith is reaffirmed, our hope is reinforced, and our life is renewed. That can only happen in community.” [1]

For my purposes here I intend to focus not so much on what happens on the platform or stage in public worship, but what happens in seats where the congregation sits.  Worship leaders are responsible for assisting God’s people to engage in authentic corporate worship.  To do that requires prayerful and deliberate preparation and planning.  But the same thing is true for all worshippers who gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day and on other occasions to exalt Almighty God.

On that particular Sunday during our vacation as I worshipped with a local church away from my home church I tried to consciously focus on these aspects of corporate worship among the community of believers … how we’re supposed to behave in church.

I tried to stay mentally engaged every moment of the experience.  It’s so easy to let my mind drift to things that do not relate to the worship of God and the edification of others.  I resisted the urge to look at my watch, even though I was beginning to feel hungry and ready for lunch. I’m coming to focus on the Lord, not on anything or anyone else.  I want to come wholeheartedly into God’s presence.

I tried to respond with the spirit of each song.  A conscientious worship leader will blend songs that reflect the various moods of the human spirit (quiet, upbeat, etc.).  In the case of our worship on this day we sang a celebration song at the beginning of the service; I deliberately rejoiced in the Lord.  Later when we moved into a more contemplative song, I let my heart be moved in that direction.

I tried to stay focused on the lyrics of each song.  One of the songs we sang that day was new to me.  I struggled a bit with the melody at times, but with my mind I could still reflect upon and rejoice in the truth contained in the lyrics.

I tried to silently pray along with those who prayed aloud.   If we are not careful in times of corporate prayer, when another person is praying aloud, our minds can easily drift.  We must resist that tendency.  As another is voicing prayer to the Lord the rest of us should listen carefully to their words and, with our lips or in our spirit, voice “Amen,” or “Yes, Lord.”  This is the meaning of agreement in prayer.

I tried to allow myself to be emotionally moved by the Lord.  Worship is not a funeral; it’s a festival.  In many circles it is acceptable to show emotion about anything but God.  If I truly mean what I am saying when I sing, how can my heart not be moved at times either to rejoicing or to brokenness.

I tried to remember that I was coming into worship primarily to give, not receive.  I have no agenda except to minister to the Lord and His people.  If I get a blessing from it, fine.  But that’s not the point of my coming to worship.  Actually there is only one in the audience of worship … God.  All that really matters is whether or not He is pleased with what we offer to Him.

I tried not to focus on human errors or personal differences in worship.  No worship service goes off without a hitch.  Sometimes the glitches can be distracting, but we must persevere with our focus on the Lord.  I choose not to think critically of others in the worship service today who expressed their worship in a different way than I’m comfortable with.  My focus is not on them but on God.

I tried to listen for the voice of God in the pastor’s message.  God was speaking to everyone in the worship service that morning, including me.  I tried to rejoice in the truth of God’s Word. I tried to think, “Lord, what are you saying to me today through your servant?”

I tried to be responsive at the conclusion of the message.  Like many pastors the Lord’s messenger that day called people to various kinds of commitment.  His particular message had a strong evangelistic appeal to it. I prayed for any non-believers who were present and who needed to put their trust in Christ. I prayed for the man on the row in front of me who remained seated with his headed in his hands.

In each of these instances I deliberately stated that I “tried” to worship in this way.  I fully understand that as human beings it isn’t always easy to behave properly in church.  When each of our girls began to attend worship services Nan carried a little bag of things to help them learn how to behave in worship.  One of the most important items in the bag was a wooden spoon (and it wasn’t for eating purposes!)  I don’t know if Nan ever had to use the spoon to swat the either of the girls.  If ever one of the girls started misbehaving in church, all Nan had to do was pull the wooden spoon part of the way out of the bag.  They got the message pretty quickly.

As you come for worship at your church this coming Sunday perhaps you will see parents trying to help their children learn to worship.  That’s not a bad time to think about how we as adults should behave in church as we come each Lord’s Day to worship.  In the words of the psalmist:  “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).


[1]  Better Together, Rick Warren, p.153

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  • Bio & Introduction

    Dr. Michael Dean has been the senior pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church since 1991, having also served churches elsewhere in Texas and New Mexico. He and his wife Nan are blessed with two married children and three grandchildren. With a keen sense of calling to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to his care, Michael longs to see people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ. His hobbies include long-distance running, golf and hunting.

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