I have become a firm believer that the worship portion of the church service should come after the message portion of the service. The common philosophy has always been that worship is to prepare one’s heart to receive the message that has been laid upon the pastor’s heart, to make one more receptive, more open to the working of the Holy Spirit. And there is some truth to that.
But I think that perhaps worship is best offered when it is a _response_ to the Word of God, and may best serve both the individual and the congregation when it takes place _after_ the message has been delivered. Worship is an act of emotional and spiritual sacrifice. It is the giving of oneself toward the object of worship.
I have participated in a lot of worship services over the years, and the ones that always bothered me most were those where the worship leader seemed to almost force worship out of his congregants. Rather than requesting that we join him in worshipping God, he was more directive and forceful (though there worship leader who is not passionate in his ministry will not be effective in it). There was not always time enough to prepare one’s heart before we were ‘forced’ into worship, the music starting, the singing begun, my heart not yet ready.
Many times there was also nothing to stimulate my heart to worship. We were seated, the lights were dimmed, the music playing, and our hearts and minds were still on the tasks of the hour previous. The feeling of forced worship would leave me feeling a bit rankled and obstinate, and so when the preaching began, it was an effort of will to listen and allow the Holy Spirit to work in me. Fortunately, by the time the message was over, often I found that I had, indeed, softened but then I would find myself wishing to worship collectively in response, such was the power of the message on my heart. But since that part of the service had occurred before the message, there was no opportunity to worship with my brethren and rejoice in the truth revealed, and I would again be left with a feeling of disappointment.
Naturally, the very nature of large gatherings means that no service is going to perfectly minister to every person every time. Often the traditional service format ministers adequately to the majority. Yet, I feel as though a single song before the preaching should prove adequate for opening the door to worship, with the main body of collective worship being reserved for afterward, after the seed of God’s Word has been planted in our hearts and has begun its work of growing, shaping, and changing. This allows the congregation to respond to the message according to the impact it has had on them, to celebrate, repent, or weep as led by the Spirit.
Perhaps church services have become far to rigid and structured (though structure in any gathering is necessary to some degree or another). I love the services where the format is a little more loose and free, where there is no hurry to get to the end, where the Holy Spirit is free to move and touch lives and lead the worship leaders to change the service mid-stride, if necessary. Those are the services that are most richly rewarding and which draw me closest to my God and my fellow believers.