Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lord's Day Worship "All the Day"

The Presbyterian Church in America, at its General Assembly in June, rejected an overture which proposed to amend the historic Westminster Confession of Faith’s chapter on Sabbath observance. The overture sought to strike prohibitions against “recreation” on the Lord’s Day on grounds that so many pastors take exception to that element of the confession when seeking licensure or ordination. But the overture also proposed removing language that calls for resting and worshiping “all the day” and “the whole time” of the Sabbath Day. Those phrases have been the foundation for centuries of the practice of holding morning and evening worship services in Reformed churches.

For many churches, the historic practice of holding two worship services each Sunday has fallen by the wayside. Some churches have maintained the two-service practice, even if attendance is diminished; and some others are newly rediscovering its virtues and potential for church growth. The following are excerpts of comments by pastors of churches that find great benefits, both spiritually and in the communion of the saints, in morning and evening services. GPTS commends these comments in support of the two-service worship tradition.

Dr. Steven Simmons, Fifth Street Presbyterian Church, Tyler, Texas

Evening worship has more and more become unpopular even with the churches that have a high view of worship and God’s Word. So, it seems like a useful thing to remind ourselves why we find this service important.

I realize that this is not the trend, but I am very much convinced that this is one of the areas that the current trend is more about accommodation and compromise than anything else. Everywhere we look in history where God has moved in great ways, from the revival under Nehemiah, to Pentecost, to the Reformation, and to the First Great Awakening in our own country there is a constant—the ordinary means of grace are there in abundance. Our hope for our church and even for our country must include a zeal for worship, a passion for preaching, and a delight in prayer… all in the context of the fellowship that is found in Christ.

…[B]ecause I am convinced that God works through His ordinary means of Grace, I am encouraged by the addition of the evening service to our schedule. And because there is nothing more important for the church than gathering around these ordinary means as we worship and fellowship, we have reason for extraordinary hope.
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  1. It is another opportunity for the whole church to gather around God’s Word for edification and fellowship—a doubling of our time together as a body which by God’s grace may become the means of the development of our corporate identity as Christ’s church as well as a means to our growth as saints.
  2. This service has proven to be a great opportunity around the Word of God and in a setting where we are able to address issues and answer questions that the Sunday morning service does not afford. While it is impossible to look into the minds and souls of God’s people to see how they are growing, it is clear to me that many of the Sunday evening group are very much engaged in the study as we make our way through various texts of the Bible.
  3. The evening service typically provides a more relaxed time for fellowship before and after worship as well as allowing for an opportunity to incorporate some aspects of worship (such as more singing) than the morning service permits. The additional singing of hymns has been one of the great joys of the evening service and it is a part of our worship that is greatly enjoyed by all.
  4. The fellowship time after the evening service around a meal or snacks is a wonderful place to build community. This building of community is a great area of need in the life of the church of our time—members are scattered not only geographically but by busy lives as well. Having a set time where we are able to fellowship around the ordinary means of grace is a context of growth. This is the kind of place that love and unity are nourished…. This time together has become the hot-house for the development of close Christian friendships. I honestly do not think anyone can be regular at these times of fellowship and long feel like an outsider. If you long to get connected with the church body in a meaningful way, these times of worship and fellowship provide a place to start.
  5. The evening service is also a great place to introduce others to the life and ministry of the church. The context of the service and the fellowship is an excellent place to introduce non-Christians to the Christian church and a good place for believers who are looking for a church home to get a good look at who we are and what we believe…. This service has proven itself to be a place where all kinds of people are welcomed, and our goal is that it will remain so inviting.
  6. Not only will two services allow more preaching time, it allows for a greater balance in the pulpit ministry. It is difficult to deal with both Testaments when preaching is limited to once a week. Two services would allow for the pulpit ministry to include studies of Old and New Testaments at the same time or a mixture of verse by verse teaching along with studies of specific areas of doctrine.
  7. Finally, I do think this is a biblical pattern for worship that we see in the Old Testament with the morning and evening services, as well as being the practice of our early Church Fathers, the Reformation fathers, and almost all of the evangelical church until about the last 50 years. I am always a bit suspicious when our culture finds better ways of ordering church life than our Fathers did, especially when that change happens to fit so well with the mindset of our own culture. I fear that the recent changes in the evangelical church in regard to this practice have much to do with interests of lesser value.

Dr. Carl Robbins, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Greenville, S.C. and GPTS Trustee

When I went to our little mission plant in Las Vegas in 1995, they did NOT have an evening service. We started small: an evening Bible study. We added Youth group and children's ministries. Finally, after 3.5 years we moved to a full-blown Evening Worship Service. When we added this service our growth SPED UP! What we found (much to our surprise) was that NOBODY in Las Vegas had an evening service. So, a lot of people began to visit and check us out in the evening service, getting acclimated before plugging in with us on Sunday mornings, (By the way, the same thing happens today at Woodruff Road (WRPC).

One of the difficulties (we thought) was the fact that we were NOT (nor are we at WRPC) a "local church." We were spread out over about a 60 mile radius. We thought this would keep people from coming back to our Sunday evening service. It didn't! Some just stayed in town all afternoon and enjoyed the hospitality of other church members; others drove home, rested and came back!

One of the benefits that I didn't count on (by going to two services) was the dramatic increase in Body Life. Relationships deepened and matured. Hospitality became a much more common practice.

I could go on and on about the benefits, but you get the picture. When I came to WRPC I inherited a lagging Sunday Evening service. My task here has been to give the people a reason to come back. So, I've engaged in some of my most high-powered preaching in the evenings. Now, a large percentage of our folks will return for evening worship.

Rev. Fred Greco, Christ’s Church (PCA), Katy, Texas

I find the evening service to be of great usefulness to our people in many ways. First and foremost, it gives me the opportunity to preach a second time on the Lord's Day, giving me more variety in my preaching and allowing me to take a more pastoral "tone" than is sometimes possible in a morning service. I can better balance Old Testament and New Testament, narrative and epistle, etc. 

I have also found that certain elements can be incorporated into an evening service that the people love. For example, we have a time of "hymn favorites" when people can pick a hymn to sing. The children especially love this. I also have a time of "Questions for the Pastor" in which I take questions on theology and the Christian life from the congregation. Finally, we have prayer requests. In this way, I believe that we have nearly all of the benefits of a small group, while at the same time having the blessings of a worship service.

One other thing we do that is a great joy to many is to have a meal after the evening service. The fellowship is loved by all — especially our teens. Our youth are among the highest percentage attendees at our evening service for this reason. We have a "theme" meal once a month, and a "Sandwich Supper" twice per month where the church purchases cold cuts, bread and chips the day before.

I love our evening services, and we have found that it is a great blessing to our people. We have gone in the last two years (when we went back to a full-time evening service from every-other-week) from attendance of about 25 per cent of morning attendance to about 60-70 per cent (and that is also in a time when we have grown about 100 per cent in morning attendance).

(Thanks to Pastor Simmons for permission to reprint these excerpts from his blog on the Fifth Street Presbyterian Church web site.)