Why are some church services alive and life changing and others dull and uninspiring? I think there are two kinds of “mystery” when it comes to your weekend worship experiences. One is the mystery of the gospel, meaning the majesty and wonder of what ultimately cannot be explained beyond faith in a loving God and His resurrected Son, whose presence and power has settled upon your service. Or, the kind of mystery that leaves you puzzled and wondering after all your planning and hard work why the service seemed flat and missed the mark.

There is no formulaic answer, but I believe there are some patterns and guidelines that will help you bring new life into your worship services. The result isn’t automatic church growth, but a confidence that God is at work. The following questions and insights will help you determine the guidelines that are helpful to you.

  • Is your heart clear?

Confession is good for the soul. We are saved by grace and it’s not about works, but asking God to grant favor to a worship service when we know there is something not right that doesn’t make sense. If there is known sin, confess and change. God forgives! Or, for example, if there is a relationship that is not right, Jesus says (Matthew 5) that we are to make it right before we worship. As another example, Romans 12:18, lets us know that as far as it depends on us, we are to be at peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. The point is not perfection, God makes plenty of room for our humanity. The idea is to have cleared everything possible that might prevent or block the presence and power of God in your own life and the life of the church.

  • Where is God leading?

As you pray, where do you sense God wants to take you and the church in the next few weeks and months? What do you sense God wants to accomplish amongst His people? Pastors often tell me they just don’t know what to “preach” about next. That’s not so uncommon really, and can be very frustrating if not unnerving. I think knowing what to talk on next starts with the idea of transformation instead of information. The truth of God’s Word is vital, but a somewhat random “pick a scripture and give a talk” method does not always invite God’s agenda into the mix. Stay close in tune to where God wants to take your congregation in a journey toward spiritual maturity.

  • What do you want?

Every leader has a different approach to ministry philosophy and worship style. God sets the agenda and grants the power for your worship service, but you set the culture. It’s important to know and be comfortable with your choice of environment, so you don’t second guess yourself thinking that you may be doing something wrong strategically. When you are not comfortable or confident about your worship environment it’s difficult to be freed up to really hear from God and invite divine mystery into the mix. You may like more formal, even liturgical or you may prefer more casual. You may prefer interactive or polished and precise. Maybe you have embraced a multi-site model with live broadcast that has its own set of requirements. The point is to be clear on your ministry strategy and the vibe you want so it becomes second nature rather than an unclear and competing complication. This allows you to pay more attention to what God wants to accomplish in the moments of your worship service.

  • How do you walk in the divine partnership?

I love the quote: “pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you.” That sums it up well but doesn’t make it easy. What is your part and what is God’s part? Preparation is important but how much is enough? How do you know if you are leading or in the way? These are tough questions that deserve honest answers.

At 12Stone® Church we pray every Saturday morning for God’s favor on the services. It’s not a big program. A small band (maybe 25) of committed prayer warriors meet to ask God for His power and presence in very specific ways. We walk through the auditorium laying hands on the seats asking God to symbolically touch the lives of the people. We pray over the worship team and the pastor. We pray with faith understanding that even though there has been much hard work and preparation, without God there is no life change that lasts. We are not asking God to bless our plan, but help us follow His plan. On many occasions we’ve changed our plans because of the prayer time.

There is a partnership all week of God’s part and our part. It’s important to find the balance between planning and following the Spirit’s leading.

  •  How do you encourage your congregation to anticipate and recognize the presence of God?

The congregation responds to the leader. It’s not “all about the leader” but his or her faith sets the tone. Your expectation for God to lend His power makes a difference. Simply put, if you believe, you help your congregation believe. (I know that is over simplified, but you can insert your own theology.)

This also has very practical elements. How you celebrate baptism is a good example. Baptism is a great opportunity to celebrate the work of God. Baptism is a beautiful representation of the mystery of God. Those moments are powerful. When the people anticipate salvation, and then see it in a response of some kind they are engaging the very presence of God. That in itself is transformational. When people are in the presence of God and His work, they don’t remain the same.

  •  How do you rest in God’s sovereignty?

Attempting to “force” God’s hand is futile at best. You may be in charge but God is in control. That is sometimes difficult to accept when you feel responsible for the outcomes of your church. This is not a position of futility, God does respond to prayer. It’s not a “giving up”, it’s a “resting in”.  It is trusting that God is with you. As leaders we simultaneously work hard and walk with God. Lead with all your heart and let God add what is needed.

There are some things we won’t understand until Heaven, but until then make room for the mystery.