Appropriate “Big Church” Behavior

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As a very young child, before I ever attended a service of worship, I received painstaking schooling in appropriate “big church” behavior. Lessons covered everything from what I wore to how I entered the sanctuary to how I should behave once inside: Walk reverently. Speak softly, if you must speak at all. Find a seat. Sit still. In my case, those instructions required ongoing reinforcement. I didn’t really know what “reverent” meant, but I knew it was reserved for God.

Some of my other conclusions, although inaccurate, were probably understandable given my age: that God liked my shiny dress shoes better than my everyday play shoes; that God objected to running; and that God liked my “inside voice” best. I did perceive, rightly so, that God’s house, wherever God’s people gather together, is a special place, and the worship of God is unlike anything else.

Worship in various styles and settings has stretched, challenged, and changed me since then. I have come to understand worship in a deeper and fuller way, not as a weekly event, but a way of living as God’s child. Meaningful rituals and symbols of the faith help me communicate with, worship, and praise God when words are woefully inadequate. And while those initial instructions I received were more about appropriate public behavior than about how to worship, they continue to teach and shape my life of faith and worship.

Walk reverently. It is into the very presence of God, after all, that we enter when we worship. Reverence acknowledges that God alone is on the throne of our lives and of the world and gives God supreme allegiance, honor, and glory. Worship is of God, for God, and about God.

Speak softly. In other words, speak carefully and thoughtfully in worship, in ways reserved exclusively for God. Cultivate silence in God’s presence, too, so that when God speaks, we hear.

Find a seat. Everyone is welcomed to the worship of God, and all of creation joins in. Assume a proper posture. Sit humbly at God’s feet. Acknowledge that God alone is God.

Sit still. Worship with anticipation. Expect an encounter with God that changes not only feelings but also attitudes and actions. Be patient, but be prepared. Worship of God results in changes in how we live as God’s people in God’s world.         

C. S. Lewis was right when he said, "We only learn to behave ourselves in the presence of God."1 So, “come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95:6-7).

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