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People Still Need Jesus


More, more about Jesus,
More, more about Jesus;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.

The more things change the more they remain the same.

Even with all the changes underway in society and in the church, one thing has not changed: people still need Jesus. As worship leaders and pastors endeavor to adjust to the rapidly changing public life that is contemporary society, this fact does not change.

  • Public worship services that are relevant to the lost, to the church and to the Lord, are the result of an increasing focus on Jesus.
  • Worship that revolutionizes individuals, churches, and communities revolves around the Lord Jesus.
  • Public worship should express both the marvelous nearness of the Lord Jesus and His amazing otherness.
  • The arts employed in worship should be rich and varied but tightly focused on Him.

This ever-increasing focus on Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit

More about Jesus let me learn,
More of His holy will discern;
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.*

The greater the role given to the Holy Spirit, the greater will be the emphasis on Jesus. At the last supper, Jesus explained the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit:

  • “he lives with you and will be in you.”
  • “the Holy Spirit…will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
  • “he will testify about me.”
  • “he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:”
  • “the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”

When leaders follow the Holy Spirit, Jesus is both the object and subject of the worship service. Services are about him and for him. The Fruit of the Spirit is seen in leaders and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit operate in the service revealing the Lord Jesus, speaking His will, and delivering His power.

Structure and Flow
In the 20th Century, Classical Pentecostal worship services developed this structure: Worship/Word/Altar.  This enabled the ministry of the congregation in praise and worship, focused worshipers on the Word of God preached, and culminated in the altar service. The altar service went beyond just an altar call. It was a time of corporate prayer. While some have rightly questioned the scriptural basis of high-pressure altar calls, the biblical support for corporate prayer is unquestioned. In the 20th Century, this three-part structure took the story of Jesus around the world. Pentecostal Christianity took root in so many cultures because it was trans-cultural and spiritual. It dealt with the issues of life: love, forgiveness, truth, community, and spiritual triumph. Today, when leaders structure services this way, people worship God, the Word is preached in power, and the effectual, fervent prayer of the church is loosed.

The fitting and orderly way—The way of the Holy Spirit

The flow of worship through this structure needs to be smooth and unbroken. Services should not be random, unfocused events. When led by the Spirit there is a momentum as each event builds upon the last and leads to the next.

  • Services do not repeatedly start and stop and unrelated events or presentations are avoided.
  • Leaders find themes, scriptures, and songs that are all about Jesus. Worshipers sing about Jesus. Preachers tell His story and use His stories to make their points.
  • Like the flow of a mighty river to the sea, the flow of the service is powerful, enriching the lives it touches.
  • At the same time, services never feel hurried or pressed for time. The Spirit moves in a timeless way, as if worshipers had slipped the bonds of time into a moment of eternity.

Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit provides us with a checklist of how services should move. We should be internally led by the Spirit as He reminds us of Jesus’ words and deeds. The Spirit does the convicting, not us, saving us from the need to manipulate others with abusive “altar calls.” The Spirit takes the things of Jesus and makes them known to worshipers.

Two broad elements of the worship service must be carefully planned in order to maintain a focus on the Lord Jesus: the setting and the content. Each element offers endless variation and opportunities for creativity. Each is also powerful in its own right and can compete for center stage. It takes wisdom to keep things fitting and orderly.

The Setting and Atmosphere of Worship

More about Jesus I would know,
More of His grace to others show;
More of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me.*

Culturally Sensitive but not Culturally Driven
In sincere efforts to be culturally relevant, leaders can sometimes be driven by the culture. The church is called to be a holy counter-culture. not a Christianized counterfeit of contemporary culture. The guiding rule is this:

The setting for worship should reflect the nature of the One who is being worshiped.

In a dramatic presentation, nothing should is placed on the stage without purpose. Everything is carefully chosen to support the narrative. In the same way the platform and the room in which worship happens are visual properties used to tell the story of Jesus. For centuries symbols have been used by worshipers to create the atmosphere for worship. The careful use of symbols points worshipers to Jesus. The removal of symbols from a worship hall neutralizes the room.

Today, we have progressed far beyond the “church platform” look of previous generations. Whether in a traditional or contemporary style, the guiding principle should be the Jesus-focus. Does the setting honor the Lord before the leaders say or do anything?

The Worshiping Community
Worship is an intensely personal activity done in community so the building of community is a primary goal. The awareness of the congregation is such an important biblical worship discipline, the Book of Hebrews casts the words of a psalm as the words of Jesus Himself as He leads the church in worship.

“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation
I will sing your praises.” Hebrews 2:12 NIV

Paul makes the awareness of the congregation the guiding principle in the use of the Gifts in public worship. (1 Cor 14:40)

A related principle is the role of artists as servants of the congregation, not star performers. One of the most important biblical themes is the triumph of light over darkness. Worship leaders should express this theme in the lighting they use. They must not emphasize darkness. The lighting we use should contribute to these goals.

Audience or Congregation?
A concert experience is a private meeting of the artist with the observer. Concert-style lighting places the audience in the dark and the performers in the light. This maximizes the impact of the artist on the observer by decreasing the audience members’ awareness of each other. Using concert-style lighting for worship can demote the congregation to the status of an audience while treating the worship leaders as star performers. The service can become a private service held in a crowd.

The Content of Worship

More about Jesus, in His Word,
Holding communion with my Lord;
Hearing His voice in every line,
Making each faithful saying mine.*

Truth Is in the Driver’s Seat.
Worship in spirit and truth is New Covenant worship. In order to follow the Holy Spirit from our human spirits, we must meet in Jesus’ Name—in Truth.

In the worship service, theology, not music, should be in control.

The purpose of worship music is the corporate expression of truth in memorable ways.

  • Songs help us praise, proclaim and pray.
  • Music is a language and we must use the language of the people. While this is cultural and relative, the biblical command for the content of our worship is universal and absolute.
  • Songs must contain praise, worship, and prayer. Paul said it two ways: (1) to stay filled with the Spirit and (2) to experience the working of the Word of God in us, we should sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.”

These words have specific meanings:

  • A “psalm” is “a sacred song with instrumental accompaniment”
  • A “hymn” is “a song of praise addressed to God.”
  • A “spiritual song” is “a song-always used in N.T. in praise of God or Christ-always connoted the ideas of invisibility and power-it is an after-pentecost word-things which have their origin with God-in harmony with His character-songs of which the burden is the things revealed by the Spirit.” (Strong’s Dictionary)

Specifically, worshipers use songs to praise God, to pray to God, and to move with the Spirit of God.

  • Diligent scrutiny of the content of songs is a vital part of leading worship.
  • Do the songs provide worshipers with praise to proclaim and corporate prayers to pray?
  • Does the church sing in the Spirit? Often, this type of biblical song is neglected. “Spiritual songs” may be the key to an increased Pentecostal intensity in worship. When worshipers flow in spiritual songs, there is a greater activity in the Gifts of the Spirit and a greater number of believers will are baptized in the Spirit.

Content must also Flow.
Artistic, spiritual musicianship is required for the smooth flow of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. The musical flow from song to song is also spiritual and must be accomplished by skilled, Spirit-sensitive musicians. This musical flow must support the flow of truth through the song-set (liturgy) the leaders provide the worshipers.

Content Dynamics

Transcendence and Immanence
The Lord we worship is both “Emmanuel, God with Us” and “Lord Saboath, the Lord of Hosts.” He is our personal Savior and our Creator, the architect and builder of the universe and the friend who sticks closer than a brother. When trends in music tilt one way or the other, leaders must keep both transcendence and immanence clearly in focus. Both aspects of God need to be represented in every service, though one may receive emphasis.

In this process, the Jesus Story is central.

  • He is the convergence of immanence and transcendence—from a Baby in a manger to the One-Who-Sits-Upon-the-Throne.
  • His mysterious union of these two aspects of the Divine is the heart of the Christmas Story, the Easter Story, and the Pentecost Story and it is the essence of the “Great Thanksgiving” of the Lord’s Table.
  • The more worship becomes a time to marvel at who Jesus is, the more we will celebrate His nearness in the light of His transcendence.

Songs do this well. We sing both, “I Love You, Lord” and “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

Worship and Time
Each worship service is a unique moment in time. Time-awareness is an essential spiritual element of worship planning and leadership. The Spirit flows through time to this moment with a momentum toward the future. True Worship is an act of sacred memory, contemporary experience, and prophetic potential. The Holy Spirit wants to remind us of what God has done, to engage us in what God is doing, and to lead us to what God intends to do.

Carefully chosen liturgy does all of these things.

  • Each generation of the assembled congregation has a part of the story to tell.
  • Worship is intended to be an inter-generational discourse on the glory of the Lord.
  • The components of the liturgy chosen by leaders should honor the past, function in the moment, and step toward the future.

The great temptation for leaders is to concentrate on the moment with music, issues and trends of the moment. Sacred history can be lost and the prophetic future missed. The Lord intends for worship to be in the flow of history as the church continues to write the Book of Acts. To be apostolic is to connect with the past and engage the issues of the moment with an eye toward eternity.

The Arts of Worship
The level of creativity in worship today is exciting. We now engage the artists and technicians of the congregation in worship leading. This brings a pastoral dimension to worship leadership.

  • We must build structures for creative people to fellowship and grow.
  • Their ministry should flow from processes not events. An event-orientation to the engagement of artists in worship involves some of those who can already sing and play and not others. Developing musicians are ignored.
  • The church must be a place where truths and skills are passed from generation to generation.
  • If the church needs singers and players, we must structure the growth of singers and players.
  • To structure for the future, not just for the moment, choirs and orchestras become the ideal.

The biblical record is this:

  • Teachers and students made music together. (1 Chron 25:6)
  • Skillful music came from the heart. (Ps 33:1-3)
  • To represent the full nature of God requires a full instrumentation. (Ps 150)

More than cultural preferences, inclusive artistic ensembles are tools of discipleship.

The Word in Worship

Ironically, sometimes the Bible is almost absent from the worship services of those who believe ardently in its inspiration. In the first centuries of the church, the Bible held a place of prominence in worship. In every service, the gospels were read, the psalms recited, and the apostolic letters were rehearsed. In light of Paul’s instruction to Timothy, (1 Tim 4:13 NIV) we should read more than a text in a service. With all the technology and creativity available to the church today, the public reading of scripture should be one of the most exciting and effective parts of the service.

There are so many ways to read scripture in public:

  • Worship team members are often good readers.
  • Songs taken from scripture lend themselves to combining the source and song.
  • Actors can be cast as prophets, psalmists, apostles and characters in biblical narratives.
  • Video presentations of scripture readings with music and images can bring out meaning and add emotional impact.
  • Responsive congregation recitation is an ancient and still powerful method.

The public reading of Scripture is a largely untapped resource in Pentecostal worship. The Word of God is transformational and should become a vital and substantial part of contemporary public worship

Non-Jesus Content
Yes, I mean announcements. I have seen churches that spend fully one third of their worship time in promotion. I have no great solutions for this problem but I know that the ministry of Holy Spirit is to promote Jesus and not the nuts and bolts of the typical church. When the Spirit wants to reveal Jesus, we shouldn’t be giving out trophys! I challenge worship planners to put a clock on their services to see how much time is spent on some subject other than Jesus.

More about Jesus on His throne,
Riches in glory all His own;
More of His kingdom’s sure increase;
More of His coming, Prince of Peace.*

People still need Jesus so public worship should be all about Him. The revelation of Jesus is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. New Covenant worship should be a meaningful encounter with the Lord Jesus in the power of the Spirit. The fullness of scripture, the completeness of time, the creativity of the Body, and the revelation of the nature of God should all flow in public worship.

To keep this responsibility from overwhelming leaders, they should remember that the simplicity of worship is to keep the emphasis on Jesus. People still need Him and He still brings people together.

People still need Jesus.

The more things change the more they remain the same.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved (Revised March 29, 2023)

*More about Jesus, Refrain Words by Eliza E. Hewitt; Music by John R. Sweney, published 1887 Public Domain,

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