Once a church reaches a certain point, the services must be planned and prepared for in a greater way. In order to have a quality choir and orchestra, the music they share in worship must be planned and prepared ahead of time. In order to have the audio-visual elements that are now standard in many churches, all of those elements must be prepared ahead of time. Certainly, preaching is better if it is prepared ahead of time! None of this means that we don’t pray and ask the Lord to lead us in our worship services. We do that every week at our church. I would hope that every church does that, no matter how many or how few they may have in worship. However, the end result for most churches is that our services are planned and prepared in advance, many times we print an “order of service” but, even if we don’t, we know what songs we will sing. We know when we will take up the offering, and we know what message we are going to preach. Nothing wrong with that. God is honored in excellence. We should always have the highest quality possible in our worship services. However, wouldn’t it be wonderful if God moved so powerfully in a service that we threw our plans out the window?
In a recent conversation with my wife, we were talking about people responding in a worship service, and I made the statement “In my entire ministry, I have seen the Lord take over a worship service on two occasions.” Then I proceeded to share with her about those two occasions. Since that I day, I have prayed several times, “Lord, take over a worship service again.” Let me make it clear: I am not talking just about people responding to an invitation at the end of the service – as wonderful as that is! I am talking about occasions when the Holy Spirit of God moves so strongly that it interrupts the order of service and things happen that aren’t in the bulletin. I am talking about occasions when people are so moved by the Spirit that they MUST respond on the spot. In 24 years as a pastor, I have seen this happen on two occasions. Let me share them with you.
The first happened in 2005 when I served as Senior Pastor of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama. A man named Kenny and his wife had visited our church a few times and I had visited in their home. Kenny was a good man, but he was not a believer. I shared the gospel with him in his living room, but he did not give his life to Christ. Then came one Sunday morning I would describe as “just a normal Sunday.” No special emphasis. No indication that God was about to move in a great way. We sang congregational songs. We took up the offering. Andy Hadley was leading our great choir in singing the song “Bow the Knee.” The service was going exactly as planned. I was on the front pew ready to step up when the choir finished and begin my message.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement. I looked up and saw Kenny coming down the aisle weeping – right in the middle of the choir special. He knelt down on the steps in front of the pulpit and began crying out for the Lord to save him. I knelt down beside Kenny to pray with him. The choir finished the song and then the church continued to sing and pray. Finally, Kenny finished praying, looked up at me and said, “Pastor, I am sorry I messed up the service, but I couldn’t wait.” As we embraced, I told Kenny, “You didn’t mess up the service, you made the service!” To be very honest, I do not even remember the rest of that service. I don’t remember if I preached my planned sermon or not. I just remember the overwhelming sense of God’s presence in that service and the visible, tangible rejoicing of God’s people. The Lord took over that service.
The second occasion happened six years later on October 17, 2011 at Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, where I was serving as Associate Pastor. Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Jimmy Jackson, had invited an evangelist named Ron Herrod to come for what we promoted as “A Day of Prophecy.” Like the day in Pell City six years earlier, this day was “normal” and even “average.” Our attendance was about average. We met with Ron Herrod before the service and had prayer with him. The worship service and the music went “as planned” with our choir and orchestra doing their customary wonderful job. It was a good, solid Sunday, but there was no special air of excitement or special feeling. Ron Herrod got up to preach and his message was from the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24 – “What to Do If You Miss the Rapture.” It was a good, solid message delivered by a good, solid man of God but his delivery and content were nothing extraordinary. From my vantage point on the front pew, there was no hint of what was about to happen.
Those of us who have heard very many sermons know the signs when a preacher is about to move into the invitation. I was on the front pew and sat up in my seat because I could tell that Ron Herrod was about to move into the invitation and I would be the point man down front to receive people. As I looked up at him, I noticed a change come over his countenance. I noticed his voice strengthen as he spoke with even greater clarity and power. It might not have been noticeable to the rest of the audience, but it was tangible from my seat. It was like the Lord took over Ron Herrod in those moments as he finished his message and extended an invitation.
The invitation music started and I stood down front along with other staff members to receive those who responded – and respond they did! Immediately folks began coming down the aisle – most of them adults. “I want to be saved.” “I need to be baptized.” “We want to join this church.” They kept coming. The invitation was extended and people kept responding. In fact, the rooms that we normally used for decision counseling overflowed into the hallways and we eventually moved everyone who responded to the choir room in order to have room. Our second worship service was going while we were dealing with this group who responded in the first service. It took almost the entire time. Finally, I realized that I needed to be back in the worship center to receive people responding in the second service and I raced back there with my eyes blurry with tears and my heart overwhelmed with joy at what I had just seen happen. We saw a similar type of response at the end of the second service. It was nothing short of incredible. The next Sunday we baptized a BUNCH of people, and then more in the coming Sundays – all of whom made decisions on that day. The overwhelming majority of them were adults. The Lord took over that service on October 17, 2011.
In the years before and since these two days, I have certainly been part of many great worship services. I have seen many people saved and baptized. Many others have joined the church. I have seen the altar filled with people praying after I preached. It’s been wonderful to see many people respond to the Lord’s leadership over the years. However, these two occasions are different from all of the others. It wasn’t planned. God just moved. It was powerful. It was convicting. It was encouraging. It was eye opening. It was joyful. We could do nothing but weep tears of joy and give God praise because there was no question that He alone did this. God took over the service. Period.
I told Becky that I was praying for the Lord to do it again. Oh, how I long to see the Lord take over a service again. It’s been almost seven years. No matter where you attend church, let’s all pray and come to church on Sunday expectant. This Sunday might be the next time the Lord takes over the service.