4 simple ways to transform your church worship services

August 22, 2018

When I speak at churches, I am constantly amazed by how many services are designed and executed in a way that excludes everyone but the 20 percent of members who are the most active. Worship services in the local church are rightly designed for the gathered community of believers to grow in the gospel and exalt the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—by declaring the supremacy of the crucified, risen, and returning Christ. Nevertheless, even within a given local church there are differing levels of involvement and awareness among those who are active.

We should also always want and expect there to be unbelievers present and listening in our services. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul deals with the misuse of tongues in the gathered worship services. Paul complains, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Cor 14:23). Notice that he is urging the church to function with the awareness that unbelievers are present. He certainly is not advocating changing the message to accommodate the unbeliever. Rather, what he desires is for the unbeliever to understand the message so that “the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Cor 14:25).

The bottom line is that unbelievers are expected, and the believers gathered in worship must want them to comprehend and hopefully be convicted and converted by the gospel. So, are church worship services for edification or evangelism? Yes. Those facts should shape all that we do in worship and the way we do it. So, here are a few ways we can transform our worship services:

1. Stop using insider language

Too often, church announcements sound something like, “We’ve got that Good Sam meeting over on the Beulah room, right after the Sonlight club, and don’t forget the Together Fund 5th Sunday Offering.” That way of talking in a public worship service communicates that there are insiders in the church, and those insiders plan on making it as hard as possible for anyone else to join them. This problem is easily corrected by using non-jargony explanations of things, providing clear directions, and always presenting multiple concrete ways to sign up for things and to get more information. A first-timer should easily be able to get up to speed with what is going on.

2. Quickly define technical terms

I am referring to technical theological terms and to any other terms that might be difficult for someone to understand. Of course, no biblical term should ever be discarded in the life of the church, but there is a great deal of technical categorization and terminology that would rarely be helpful to use. This adjustment is as easy as providing a simple explanatory phrase. In fact, most good doctors do this every time we visit them. I have often wished that the preacher who fills his sermon with high-sounding theological terminology would see a doctor who only speaks to them using medical jargon. Think about what you need to say as a verbal parenthesis:

3. Do not talk as if all Christians are morally superior to all non-Christians

This is first of all a theological matter. We are not. The dividing line between the church and the world is not morality, it is Christ. Talking in this unhelpful way breeds self-righteousness in Christians and an adversarial relationship with those we are trying to reach with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cultivating an adversarial us-versus-them mentality from the pulpit or the platform is detrimental to both believer and unbeliever. The truth is that we are all sinners, the fallen children of Adam. The only other category is the saved, children of God, redeemed by the last Adam—Christ.

One example of this is how we confront a sin like homosexuality—a sin people in our cultural context are attempting to normalize. We can say something like, “Homosexuality is a sin, and we are going to fight the homosexual agenda every step of the way!” Or, we can say something like, “The Bible is abundantly clear; homosexuality is a sin. Have you ever wondered why people fall into the sin of homosexuality. Why do you sin? Do you look for joy, pleasure, and contentment in the wrong places? After all, when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6, that those ’who practice homosexuality . . . will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (v. 9-10), he then says, ‘And such were some of you’ (v. 11).”

The first approach takes sin seriously—other peoples’. The other takes all sin seriously, but it takes the gospel seriously, too.

4. Climb up and down the ladder of abstraction

People tend to struggle with understanding biblical truth in two directions. They tend to have a hard time seeing how the concrete realities of life have anything to do with God, and they have a hard time seeing what God has to do with the concrete realities of life. Thus, we must never assume the congregation is making the connection between the two realities. This fact should be obvious to a people who believe the incarnation—a people who confess that God took on human flesh and dwelt among us, died on a cross for our sins, was resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father.

When you say something like, “God is sovereign,” do not assume that the worshippers have a sense of how that truth should transform Monday. Show them concrete ways that ordinary people make different life choices because God is sovereign. Likewise, when you talk about Vacation Bible School, don’t assume that listeners think about anything more than a kids’ activity. Show them how it is a part of spiritual warfare because Satan hates children and has raged against them since the first gospel promise of the birth of a child that would crush his head. Climb them up and down the ladder. Proceed on the assumption that people will not automatically see the connection.

I hope you understand that what I am suggesting is greater gospel clarity for the good of all who gather for worship. It is an attempt to apply comprehensively what we say we believe about God, the gospel, image-bearers, and worship in the way we design and execute all of our activities in corporate worship. This approach is not watering things down in the worship service so nominal Christians and unbelievers will think our services are cool. It is the opposite of that. This approach cuts through all of the ways we build artificial barriers between biblical gospel truth and those gathered for worship, whether they are believers or unbelievers. Applying this approach means not letting people off the hook by making what’s going on comprehensible enough to be confronted with the truth that calls them to repent, believe, and follow Christ.

This post originally appeared here.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24