When I got to church before 8:00 a.m. last Sunday morning, several ministers and musicians were already gathered. Five minutes later all the ministers, sound people, technical and graphics people, and praise team arrived to go over every detail of the upcoming morning worship service. The who-does-what-when had already been thought through days earlier and printed on a sheet. The purpose of this meeting was to iron out any possible glitches and to pray earnestly for the Holy Spirit to be present in our worship time.
The orchestra arrived to tune their instruments, warm up, line up the music, set up earbuds and sound equipment, adjust the volume levels, and rehearse. Thirty minutes or so later, eighty people came into the choir room to rehearse, pray, and get the latest instructions.
I knew that the services I attended at First Baptist in Decatur were well-planned, purposeful, and conducted with excellence, but I got a closer look at what takes place behind the scenes.
I'm not the first, second, or even the third-string pianist or organist at First Baptist, but last week the first stringers were out of town. People were shifted into needed slots, and I found myself playing both the piano (on a couple of songs) and the organ (on a few more). I knew that I had spent a lot of time practicing at home and realized that all the musicians on the stage and in the choir loft had done the same thing. There was nothing haphazard or careless about the service.
And, when I consider the number of hours spent in sermon preparation, the time increases tremendously. I've never had a pastor who went to Sermons.com (if there is such a website) and copied what was there. The ones I know are diligent to pray, study the Scripture, dig through history and commentaries, search for the most meaningful illustrations, and then rehearse so they can present the message smoothly and clearly. I haven't asked my pastor the question of how long he prepares, but my son Matt who is a pastor estimates that he spends about 20 hours on each sermon. After that much time in the Word, I want to hear what he has to say, wouldn't you?
The Holy Spirit WAS present in the service last Sunday, and we were all able to worship with our whole hearts. It was wonderful.
I am 72 years old. I have been in church regularly for 72 years. I have witnessed a lot of excellently-prepared services, but I've also been present for some that appeared completely thrown together at the last minute.
We used to sing a song when I was younger called "Give of Your Best to the Master." It is based on Proverbs 3:9 and other similar verses. The Message translates the verses this way --
"Honor God with everything you own; give Him the first and the best." I believe the concept of excellence is extremely biblical. Throughout, we are instructed to give "the first fruits" of our labor -- in other words, the best. We know for certain that God certainly gave US His very best, His Only Son, Jesus, as a perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we could be saved and have eternal life. God gave us His unconditional love. God gave us life. God created a beautiful world for us to inhabit. Our response must be excellent, don't you think? What if each of us spent 20 hours preparing our minds and hearts before a worship service? I imagine we'd all witness revival, a gigantic, world-changing revival.
I am very grateful for the ministerial staff at my church, and I hope you will express gratitude to the staff at your church for all of the planning, study, prayer, and deliberation that happens before you walk through the doors on Sunday morning.
What Paul wrote to the Philippians in chapter 4, verse 8 is a great reminder to me today --
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me--put it into practice."