Etiquette might seem an unusual term to use in conjunction with worship. The dictionary defines etiquette as "proprieties of conduct as established in any community or for any occasion". Some churches have rigid structures for worship, some are more free. We like to think that we have a very free environment for worship at the Ark, but there are boundaries that we have drawn based on Biblical principles. It is these "proprieties of conduct within our community" that I am now referring to as etiquette for worship at the Ark. Our worship is dedicated to God, we meet him in the name of Jesus, His Son, and we worship with the Spirit of God. When we meet it is therefore with the aim of focussing on God. In worshipping God it is impossible however to not recognise the others we are worshipping with. Free worship is not a licence for everyone to just behave as they see fit – it is the special environment where the Holy Spirit is truly allowed to direct worship as He desires. The New Testament is clear that the frequency of our meeting together should not fall away with time but increase as we approach the Lord's return. It is therefore not surprising that there are many instructions for worship in the NT.
Putting Others First Firstly and with greatest importance come the instructions that
All things must be done for edification. 1 Cor 14:26
"Everything is permissible," but not everything is helpful. "Everything is permissible," but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person. 1 Cor 10:23-24
Our meeting times should not be me focused but considerate of those we meet with. Our motivation should not be to seek our own good but to seek the good of others. Everything has to be done to 'build up' – a bricklaying term – that has to do with building the church and enriching the lives of others. Out of these simple instructions must come the emphasis that church is not a place to be selfish but a place to give. Giving does not stop at money- in fact it doesn't even start there, because the willingness to give must be an attitude that permeates worship.
Recognising Leading What does this mean in practice? It must mean that we should not interfere with the worship of our brothers and sisters, we mustn't take their eyes off Jesus and indeed we mustn't be a stumbling block to their worship. Inevitably there are people who want to worship in silence and those who are noisier. It would be impossible to have noise and quiet at the same time, which is one reason why people tend to choose to be part of a congregation that fits in with their own preferred style of worship.
However, even we can have times of quiet as well as times of noise! Therefore it is important that we respect the leading of worship – when we are asked to be quiet for a moment we should respect that. When we are released to lift our voices together we also recognize the validity of that leading. Sometimes we might be asked to wait patiently whilst we hear God speak, again at that time for the sake of the body of Christ we should wait.
Often interfering with the worship of others is not a conscious act, but a simple slip of thoughtfulness. Perhaps you want to worship God with a dance or by waving a banner. These things should be done at the back of the church where you can express yourself to God without diverting the attention of others. Banners anywhere else will inevitably interfere with the view of the screen for some. We are not particularly a quiet church; we encourage the participation of all and particularly for vocal praise or prayer to come from the congregation. Unless this is a time when we are all being encouraged to pray aloud, wait for one to finish before you start. When the preaching or the notices are taking place or some other part that requires people's attention, this is not a good time to pray aloud. Noise is fine but sudden, loud 'eruptions' may draw everyone's attention to you (possibly because they are concerned that you are alright). Join in noise, respect quietness, but don't give anyone a shock unless you are giving them CPR!
Being a Blessing When our attitude is one of being a blessing to all round us, instead of seeking our own blessing it is much harder to be out of step with God's Spirit in our worship etiquette. Express your heart to God – don't preach and call it 'praying'. What we do, or say, the expressions and comments that we pass should all be motivated by a desire to see the church built up.
When we worship as a community we sometimes have to lay aside our preferences for the sake of the body. We can worship God differently at home or wherever we are alone, but when we are together we must recognize the body of Christ. It isn't helpful to start up a song unless you know you have the right pitch and that we have the words for the projector. This is where we have to trust that those who have spent time on waiting on God before they lead worship have heard God and are working to His plan.
Ultimately if we just worship in a way that we think is good for our self, we are displaying selfishness and are just being disobedient to the New Testament instruction. We know from Galatians 5:22-23, that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control. Where self-control is not practiced there is no evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit. We ask everyone to remember that the Holy Spirit never possesses anyone or forces them to do anything. Therefore we can never blame our selfishness on God's Spirit.
At the same time, we welcome every genuine manifestation of the Holy Spirit amongst us, weighing all things as to how they benefit the whole body. Being blessed in church is an inevitable side-effect of being a blessing. This is why those who only come to receive are the ones who often go away empty.
Prophetic Utterances In a modern church gathering where amplification is preferential it makes sense to go to whoever is leading the service if you have a prophecy or some other revelation to deliver. This serves three purposes: • it allows everyone to hear anything that is going to be said. • it allows a 'weighing' of what you are about to say to take place. • it also allows the Holy Spirit the opportunity to steer the service through the leader. Those who lead the service have special responsibility and accountability to God and have to give an account for what is released to the church.
The microphone may or may not be given immediately, depending on what the leader decides. Respecting this is part of submitting to one another in love. No one should feel accepted or rejected on the basis of whether the microphone is granted - the leader is just trying to respect what the Holy Spirit is saying. It would be unusual for us to give the microphone to a guest that is not known to us.
Paul is quite clear in our services that there should only be a maximum of three prophetic utterances. It is not our judgment that this includes specific words for an individual that are given privately – this is about words to the whole church. If you know that a word is for a specific individual don't bring it to the whole church, but go to that person with someone else who can weigh the matter and stand with you.
If any person speaks in another language, there should be only two, or at the most three, each in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, that person should keep silent in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate. But if something has been revealed to another person sitting there, the first prophet should be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that everyone may learn and everyone may be encouraged. And the prophets' spirits are under the control of the prophets, since God is not a God of disorder but of peace. 1 Cor 14:27-33
Therefore we apply the rule of three in our services. As every word brought should be weighed it is only reasonable to allow a moment of quiet after a prophecy so that people can take in what has been said. Often we may be grateful or even excited by what we heard, but allow a pause before you shout out a prayer or praise. Sometimes we can miss the point of what was said because we didn't have enough respect to wait.
Preaching Our messages in the Ark are listened to by thousands on the internet. It is helpful to save any questions you have until the end – why not carry a notebook with you so you don't forget. Most preachers love to get audible feedback from the congregation, but remember there is a difference between an encouraging "Amen" and disturbing interruptions. Respect the delivery of the message by not interrupting the flow. Mobile phones should be switched off during the meeting. Not only will that ring tone be heard around the world through the internet, but even silent handshakes between your phone and the network may be amplified through the PA system and heard by everyone. Unless you have to provide emergency cover in your job, please don't have your phone turned on during the meeting, but if you are 'on-call' please set your phone to vibrate.
Our meetings together should be remarkably liberating as we enjoy the presence of God together. These boundaries are there so that we can all feel free to worship and to remind us that when we meet together the purposes are always to exalt the name of Jesus and build each other up.