Preparation for worship

The following are some ways I would encourage or direct others to prepare for public worship.

Pastoring a church, I direct the attention of the congregation to such explicit exhortations in Scripture that speak about communal worship: "I rejoiced when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the Lord." "Not neglecting the gathering of ourselves together as it the habit of some but encouraging one another..." "As was his custom, Jesus entered the synagogue. Church-going, for the purpose of worshipping God, should be established as a part and parcel of our life, and we should be jealous to guard those days and times, esp. the Lord's Day, when we gather together to lift up our hearts to God.

Before coming together, I occasionally exhort believers to prepare their hearts and remember that primarily they would be standing in the presence of God and only secondarily they would be meeting together.

As my custom is to preach expositionally from one particular book at a time, I motivate the people to read that same book, to become familiar with its contents so that the preaching would be more appreciated and understood. The same applies for Wednesday evening when we meet and (presently) are studying the Bible, using the Westminster Shorter Catechism. I encourage them to have the Catechism on their fingertips, so that they would know the whereabouts.

Even such trivial things, as forgetting their spectacles behind (and thus deprive themselves of psalm-singing and following the Scripture reading), I have to keep reminding them about such things.

Punctuality is another matter. Attending worship is a solemn matter; it is a great appointment. I often give them "gentle rebukes" for coming late. But it needs to be done in a sensitive and loving way.

On Sunday morning we celebrate the Lord's Supper. The people are taught that they need to examine themselves before partaking. This should be done at home, rather than one minute before partaking.

Basically, teaching them patiently, and showing yourself a model for other to imitate, is the key. And when it seems that they are not responding, remember: "Love believes all things, and hopes all things."

Dealing with problems

How you would deal with such problems as talking during service, levity, persistent late arrival, etc.?

Elders should see first of all that they themselves are sober and dignified in speech, in their manner of life; in all comportment they should see that they are honouring the sound doctrine that the church has received as a deposit.

In unison the presbytery should evaluate the present spiritual health of the congregation, mark out the problems that are recurring in church life, ask the Lord for wisdom and direction in when and how to tackle those problems - without showing partiality to anyone.

Those little foxes that spoil the vineyard, such as levity from members or visitors, late arrivals that distract the attention of the congregation, etc., should be handled with extra care and sensitivity lest by our abrupt and crude manner we drive away people from under the hearing of the gospel, and thus in trying to amend one bastion we allow the enemy to penetrate through from somewhere else.

But still, these problems should not be overlooked since they are symptomatic of worse problems, i.e., they reveal a low and inadequate view of our great God and Saviour, of his excellency and majesty. They reveal the fact that people might be coming to church simply "to have a good time," or "to meet friends," rather than to worship God.

So those individuals that are causing these problems should be individually confronted in love, counseled, and made conscious of their misbehavior. Time should be allowed to see if they are making any progress.

If not, a loving warning should even be given from the pulpit, not pinpointing a particular individual (to put him to shame) but rather addressing the whole congregation and exhorting them to faithfulness and remind them what is the purpose of our meeting together: to worship God with reverence and godly fear.

If some blatant disobedience continues to appear, challenging the authority of the local church leaders, there might be a case of starting formal disciplinary action against the transgressor. But this should be resorted to when all other attempts have manifestly failed.