"As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." (Acts 13:2)
A couple of days ago, I posted the following on my Facebook page:
"VERY nice service this morning at First Baptist Church of Marlborough where my daughter Amy Baril Julian was guest speaker (sharing about her Missions call and ministry). Great music and worship! My friend Pastor Stafford Trapp looks GREAT!"
To my surprise, when I looked at that posting today, Norman Biagetti, one of my Facebook friends, had left a poignant comment regarding my posting. He wrote, "Just what is a nice service? Except that your daughter was there."
I must say, Norman's comment sparked a lot of thought in me. I suppose we could ask a hundred Christians what constitutes a "nice service" and we'd get a myriad of responses! Some might describe a "nice service" as a "quiet service". Many might describe a "nice service" as a short service in duration which did not make them feel uncomfortable. Some would say a "nice service" is a service in which the sermon was interesting and they "got fed". Many pastors would say a "nice service" is a service in which a large offering was received! The type of Christians who tend to be very excited and exuberant might say a "nice service" included public utterances in tongues with the interpretation of those utterances, as well as Christians being filled with the Holy Spirit.
When I described the service at First Baptist Church of Marlborough as a "nice service" I did not mean it was a nice service because my daughter Amy was speaking there. Admittedly, that was part of it, but I meant much more than that. The group was small. I don't think there were many more than thirty present. The people were pleasant and friendly. The "worship team" who led in music and singing were truly wonderful! The Bible passage which Pastor Trapp read (from the Book of Esther) was a very relevant passage to "where I'm at" at this time. Amy's message was one I'd heard her give before, but it touched me in a special way. Yes, that's what I meant by a "nice service".
The verse I opened with comes from Acts chapter thirteen, the chapter that begins what we call, "Paul's First Missionary Journey".
The chapter opens with, "the story behind the story", (to use a line from the late radio broadcaster Larry Glick) about what caused Paul and his companion Barnabas to embark on that great missionary journey. Paul and Barnabas were very active in a young and dynamic church in Antioch in Syria. At that church, they "ministered to the Lord, and fasted" and then God called them to the great work He had for them. When I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, we called the public gatherings for worship, "masses", or "Sunday mass". Most (but not all) Protestant churches call these gatherings, "services". More correctly, they should be called, "worship services". An important reason we meet is to teach and help and encourage and pray for one another. That's taught in the Book of Hebrews chapter ten. Another reason for holding public gatherings is to encourage friends and family to come and join us and learn about the Lord and His Holy Word. Yes, those are important reasons, and they're part of why we meet and hold public gatherings, but they shouldn't be the primary reason we meet. The primary reason we meet is found in the verse I opened with. We meet to, "minister to the Lord". It's about Him! It's not about us. It's a "worship service" because we gather to "serve the Lord in our worship." And, when we do that, extraordinary things can happen- such as the Holy Spirit dramatically calling someone to serve as a missionary to a foreign land.
It's sad that some "church services" are nothing like what I've described here, indicating what they should be. Sometimes they involve people who are on "power trips" or who want to push a private agenda, or who want to "show the pastor where he's wrong". (Many years ago, a gentleman attending the church I was pastoring told me his job was exactly that- to show me where I was wrong!) Of course,
church should involve practical projects to help the needy and other benevolent actions. That's part of it, too. But I think we often forget; and listen, many times, I've been guilty of forgetting, that the matter of a "worship service" and of "ministering to the Lord" is "where it's at" and will be the action which facilitates all of the other "good things" that a healthy church practices!