In the Splendor of His Holiness: Practical Guide for Public Worship
We must ask ourselves four questions before we can lead worship that is relevant, transformative, and authentic.
By Stephen Phifer
Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness
The Realm of His Splendor
Worshipers can transcend the bonds of earth to dwell for a time in the heavenlies. The faithful who have lived their lives before us fill an immense gallery. Thousands upon thousands of joyful angels rejoice. Amazing creatures full of wings and eyes circle through the atmosphere calling, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” Somehow amid all this sound and motion is a stillness — a focus on the One who sits on the throne. No sorrow, no pain. All is health, wisdom, and peace, for He has reconciled all conflicts and paid all debts. This is the realm of the splendor of His holiness.
The New Covenant describes what happens when the redeemed of the Lord worship Him in spirit and truth in this realm (Hebrews 12:22–24). God has invited us to participate in this joy, focus, and health. Jesus opened the way for us by becoming flesh, invading the realm of death so we could enter the realm of life (Hebrews 10:18–25).
To enter the realm of the splendor of His holiness — to lead worship that is relevant, transformative, and authentic — consider four questions:
1. How do pastors and worship leaders create an environment where people experience God?
2. How can pastors and worship leaders structure worship experiences so God’s Spirit is leading?
3. How can pastors and worship leaders lead worship in such a way that people engage from their hearts?
4. How can pastors and worship leaders bring the Word of God into the worship service? Psalm 29:1,2 provides an outline:
- “Ascribe to the Lord” — Public worship must focus on the Lord Jesus.
- “glory and strength” — The energy of the service must be the power of the Spirit of God.
- “the glory due his name” — The measure of worship must be the character of God, not contemporary culture or the needs/wants of people.
- “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” — Such praise will deliver worshipers into the realm of the splendor of His holiness where needs are met.
An Environment Where People Experience God
Environment for worship must begin with the One we worship. Everything we design, build, present, do, and say needs to be an accurate representation of who God is. Before the service starts, the room needs to speak of God’s glory. The sanctuary needs to reflect the Light of the World and the order of creation. We can begin worship renewal with remodeling or updating the worship space. Thankfully, we have moved beyond the church platform look of previous generations. We need to focus our creativity by the need to point worshipers to the Lord. A neutral setting may not be any more conducive to worship than a cluttered or careless one. Each congregation is unique; trust the leadership of the Spirit for your church.
The challenge of creating a sacred space is daunting. Many leaders transform school auditoriums and civic centers into sanctuaries. They use meaningful symbols — Bibles, pulpits, crosses, Communion tables, banners, and stained-glass windows — to transform a room into a worship hall. If it is not possible to have the symbols, projecting these symbols could help transform the room into a more conducive setting.
As worshipers gather, tasteful lighting and inviting music can prepare hearts for worship. The lighting for congregational worship needs to be inclusive. In some cases, creating a feeling of intimacy might lead to a sense of isolation for the worshiper. Warm lighting helps rescue the worshiper from the feeling that he or she is an observer at a concert. Each worshiper needs to sense the presence of the congregation and feel a part of a grand enterprise (Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 12:2). You need spiritual sensitivity to create the best atmosphere for your congregation.
When worship services are about Jesus, everything points to Him. When the people have gathered to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name,” the Holy Spirit can reveal Jesus to saint and sinner alike.
Structure Worship Experiences So God’s Spirit Is Leading
In the 20th century, classical Pentecostalism developed a three-part structure that proved so effective that the Pentecostal witness traversed the globe in one century: worship/word/altar. In the 21st century, this structure retains its validity and is worthy of consideration for use by contemporary church leaders.
Worship is congregational ministry to the Lord. The Spirit of the Lord wants to lead the church in worship. The people of God are a holy, royal priesthood, called out of darkness into the light for this purpose (1 Peter 2:5–9).
We must see congregational thanksgiving, proclamation, prayer, and adoration as primary purposes and not “preliminary” events. The Lord has promised to inhabit and be enthroned upon the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). We need to see congregational ministry as the Spirit part of the service (John 4:24).
Word refers to the preaching of the Word of God and is essential to worship. The interest of the Holy Spirit is to exalt Jesus and edify the church (John 14–16; 1 Corinthians 12–14). Reading and preaching the Bible is the truth part of the service.
Altar means corporate prayer. Pentecostals went beyond the altar call to an altar service. This time of corporate prayer was born in the holiness movement of the 19th century as believers tarried for the second blessing. In the 20th century, the altar service became a time of whole-church prayer. Some have rightly questioned high-pressure altar calls as abusive and manipulative with little scriptural support. However, corporate prayer is vital to Pentecostal life, and its biblical basis is unquestioned and pervasive.
The Spirit of God wants to lead us in this threefold structure as we worship. This structure is transcultural and transgenerational. We find it in the tabernacle/temple worship model as New Covenant worshipers come before the presence of the Lord.1
Tabernacle/Temple Worship Model
Pentecostal Service Order
Enter through the gates of thanksgiving.
The service begins with corporate praise in a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude for what God has done.
Proclaim God’s excellence in the courts of praise.
Worshipers focus on who God is by the proclamation of His character as well as His deeds.
Humble our hearts before the Lord, seeking to draw near to Him (altar of sacrifice).
Worshipers set their affections on the Lord Jesus through corporate songs of prayer.
Worshipers give to the Lord as they have purposed in their hearts.
The Holy Place
Altar of incense of prayer.
Table with the bread of presence and the Word.
Golden lamp stand of the light and power of the Holy Spirit.
The church prays together in the power of the Spirit.
The Word is read and preached in the power of the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit empowers the prayers of the church and the preaching of the Word.
The Holy of Holies
Through the torn veil into the throne room of God. The manifest presence of Jesus, the ark of the presence/covenant, renews all who enter.
Having ministered to the Lord in worship and having received ministry from the Lord in the Word, the church responds in prayer as the Spirit leads. We experience signs and wonders, salvations, healings, deliverances, Spirit baptisms, and ministry callings.
The threefold structure of Pentecostal worship is as relevant today as it was in the 20th century, because through it people can experience God. It is revolutionary today because it releases the full purpose of the church: worship/discipleship/witness. It is real today because the Holy Spirit still anoints worship, the preaching of the Word, and corporate prayers. We can fill this structure with an amazing variety of expressions as long as each presentation fits in2 with its part of the service of worship, Word, or prayer.
People Are Engaged From the Heart
No matter the structure, the heart of the worshiper is of primary interest to the Holy Spirit. Jesus quoted Isaiah about the heartless worship He encountered at the Temple in His day.3 The Jews had replaced the commands of God with the preferences of men. The result was a form of worship devoid of power. Without the power and presence of the Lord, church music is just music and worship services are just public meetings. As integral as the structure and focus of the service may be, if the people are not engaged from the heart, they do not draw near to the Lord and He does not draw near to them.4 They never reach the realm of the splendor of His holiness.
The heart of worship is a work of the Holy Spirit. Pastors and worship leaders must preach and demonstrate the worship heart, being careful not to present their personal preferences as the Word of God. There is so much biblical truth on worship you can preach. Dig into the Word and find God’s heart for worship. His heart is infinitely more important than momentary cultural trends.
When you preach the heart of worship from the pulpit and live it out on the platform, a transformation will take place in the hearts of the people. Until this happens, there will be worship wars at worst, as people fight for their preferences; and dead services at best, where people remain disengaged from worship, trapped in an unhealthy earthly realm.
The heart for worship is the humble heart focused on the Lord Jesus and moved by His concerns for the church and world. Chief among those concerns are the health of the whole church and the healing of humanity. A willingness to enter into worship regardless of circumstances powers the worshiping heart.
In the process of spiritual transformation, the song sets need to be relevant and authentic if they are to be transformational. Worship music is a highly functional art form. Judge the songs you use by their effectiveness in two dimensions: They must be filled with the glory due His name, and they must be usable by the congregation. Provide the words and make sure the music is well-planned, well-prepared, and well-presented. A congregation standing silent, listening to the worship team is a sign of dysfunctional music. New songs can be as singable and full of truth as familiar ones.
Everyone needs to understand that the songs make up a living sacrifice of praise. Each worshiper’s job is to give unto the Lord the glory due His name, not just to sing his or her favorite songs. The music needs to be as varied and rich as God’s nature. Select your musical choices by Scripture more than by personal preferences or popular standards.5 We must present music of majesty, for He is majestic; we must present music of intimacy, for He is closer than a brother.
Just as God has created a universe of incredible diversity, the music we use for worship needs to be as diverse as the cultures within the congregation. We must not present a musical representation of God that is only one-dimensional. Yet, as in creation, there must be unity within diversity — all the songs should be true to the Word of God. When we use this kind of music, we join the songs of the angels and witnesses in the heavenly realm.
Bring the Word of God Into the Worship Service
When the glory due His name is the measuring stick of our worship, worship stirs a hunger for more of the Word of God. If in our thinking we have assigned the Word to the preacher and the worship to the singers and players of music, we have erred. We need to sing and read the Word as well as preach it. It is ironic that we, who say we believe the Bible to be the Word of God, may only read a verse or two in our services. Ancient Christian traditions call for Psalms, Old Testament lessons, New Testament lessons, and Gospel passages to be read in every service. Paul commanded Timothy to see that the Scriptures were read in public (1 Timothy 4:13). There are many ways to read Scripture in the service:
- Worship team members are often good readers.
- Songs taken from Scripture lend themselves to combining the source and song.
- Cast actors as prophets, psalmists, apostles, and characters in biblical narratives.
- Video presentations of Scripture readings with music and images can bring out meaning and add emotional impact.
- Responsive congregation recitation is an ancient and powerful method.
- Calls to worship from the Psalms and New Testament doxological passages are effective.
You can enrich corporate prayer by the use of common prayers. Provide scriptural prayers of intercession and agreement in public worship for use in private worship. The secret place is intended to fuel public worship (1 Corinthians 12,14), and the use of common prayers and Scriptures can do much to bring a church together spiritually.
Using the Word of God in worship begins the transformational processes of worship renewal. As the Word of God works in the hearts of the people, a heart for worship will emerge and people will enter in. As the Holy Spirit leads worship with a biblical structure that releases the full mission of the church, He will transform the environment for worship in more than cosmetic, surface ways. The Lord will respond to the sacrifices of praise of His people when we give unto the Lord the glory due His name.
His presence is authentic, transformative, and relevant. The realm of the splendor of His holiness awaits those who will worship in spirit and in truth.
1. The New Testament transfers this worship structure into the New Covenant by the commanded use of the Psalms in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) and by the reasoning of the writer to the Hebrews that this is “the pattern of heaven” (Hebrews 8:5).
2. For instance, starting the service with a “Holy of Holies” song instead of a “gate of thanksgiving” song.
3. “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:6–8).
4. “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8).
5. For instance, Scripture calls for as full an instrumentation as we can offer (Psalm 150). Choirs (2 Chronicles 5:11-14), and pageantry (Psalm 20:5; 68:24–27) receive mention in the Bible as well. Full creativity is demanded, not narrow, one-dimensional worship art.