Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 12, 2018


Something is missing in church these days


            It was a strange feeling – sitting on a pew in church beside one of my sons last Sunday. Now that I have retired again, occasionally I sit with the congregation instead of leading worship from the platform. This new experience has made me aware that the view from the pew is quite different from the view from the pulpit.

            Sitting on a pew, I get the feeling that something is missing. What bothers me is not “the menu,” the order of worship. It has all the elements I love – the affirmation of faith, the singing of familiar songs, the reading of scripture, the choir singing a fine anthem, the preaching of the Word and the sharing of Holy Communion. And, bless the Lord, it’s all done in about one hour.

            The preaching is not the problem. The preacher’s message is on the mark – a solid proclamation of gospel truth. And what seems to be missing was also missing when I was doing the preaching.

            So what is missing? In a word – testimonies! We need to recover the use of testimonies by people who are experiencing what the preacher is preaching about and what the choir is singing about – the transforming power of almighty God! If I had my years to go over, I would find a way to give the microphone to people who could testify about how the Lord is changing their lives in the here and now. This might solve one of the problems with present-day worship; it has become too predictable, and that tilts the worship service toward boredom.

            In the early days of Methodism there were “exhorters” who in worship services would call the people to repentance. The exhorters were not preachers; they would later become known as “lay speakers.” Often after the preaching of the gospel, an exhorter would stand and, giving his blessing to the preacher’s sermon, urge the people to “flee from the wrath to come,” and seek forgiveness for their sins right then and there. He would plead with people to come forward and get right with God.

            Why are there few if any testimonies in Methodist churches today? I am not sure. Is God not changing hearts and saving sinners these days? Is no one being converted? In many of our churches there is seldom anyone going to the altar seeking the Lord during our worship services. Think about it. If you attend church regularly, how long has it been since you have seen fellow worshipers on their knees at the altar praying to be made right with God? Have all the people the people in our churches become authentic disciples of Jesus? A few years ago E. Stanley Jones said that 80 percent of the members of most churches needed to be converted. Was he wrong?

            To be honest, I am afraid our worship services have become rather tame and unexciting. And I share the blame for this. It has happened on my watch. We preach and sing about “the power in the blood” but we seldom hear a redeemed sinner stand and say “I gave my heart to Jesus and he washed my sins away!” I long to hear someone stand and say, “I want to praise God for giving me the blessed assurance that he has saved me from my sins!”

            Worship will remain bland I fear until we find a way for changed people to speak of the power of God in the present tense. It is not enough to speak and sing about what God did years ago. I am weary of hearing about “the great revivals of the past.” I want to hear people witnessing about how the Lord has delivered them, in these days, from the bondage of sorrow, or bitterness, or drug and alcohol addictions. I know the Lord is doing that for people nowadays but our present church “culture” provides no platform for them to share how they are experiencing the life-changing power of Christ.

To awaken worship with frequent testimonies will require some risk-taking on the part of pastors. We will have to loosen our “control” of worship and take a chance on what people may say if we surrender the microphone for a few minutes. But in this we can practice what we preach about “trusting the Lord,” and refuse to worry that some lay person, untrained in theology, might say “the wrong thing.” We may need to balance our desire to do everything “decently and in order” with a greater willingness to let God take over what happens between the prelude and the benediction.

An inspiring testimony need not be long. I read the testimony of a man who accepted Christ as his Savior in a revival meeting. He had served time in prison and was known as one of the tough guys. This is how he described his conversion: “You know, something’s happening to me. I don’t really understand it and I sure can’t explain it. I got up this morning and I didn’t scream and holler like I usually do. The only way I can describe it is it’s like someone took the old tape which had been playing in my mind since I was a kid and put a new tape in and it’s playing new talk and new music.”

If that man were to join my church, I would give him the microphone one Sunday morning. And people would go home talking about his testimony and saying, “Man, we had church today!”

I hear that church attendance is down everywhere. Maybe some testimonies could help us get more people in those pews. + + +