Pastoral Letter Regarding Evening Worship
Dearest Westminster family,
It is with much delight and enthusiasm that I write to you to inform you of the Session’s decision to begin a weekly Sunday evening worship service beginning on Sunday, September 8th. We have had informal discussions on this topic for some time and over the last few months we began to examine the subject more carefully. We share this news with you in the hope that you will rejoice with us at what we believe will become a high point in our Christian discipleship and growth in grace. Many of you have said to me recently how encouraged you have been by what the Lord is doing at Westminster. I share your joy! The Lord, in his kindness, appears to be blessing the ministry of his Word, causing growth in us spiritually and also bringing many new faces to our fellowship. We thank God for that and acknowledge that any blessing we receive is a gift from him. With that in mind, your Session believes that the time is right to implement a Sunday evening worship service to help foster even greater growth and godliness.
Some of you will remember when WPC had evening worship (in fact, several of you have shared with me fond memories of that time). Some of you have experienced the blessing of evening worship in other churches you attended prior to coming to WPC. However, others of you may have never experienced or even considered the idea of an evening service on the Lord’s Day. And I am aware that still others may be wondering, “Do I have to come back for another service?” I can’t possibly say all there is to say (or even all I should say) regarding this important subject in this brief letter. My aim in this pastoral letter is simply to highlight three reasons why you should join us for evening worship beginning September 8th. I’ll go into further detail on the biblical and theological reasons for evening worship in upcoming newsletter articles.
Three Reasons to Commit to Evening Worship
The first reason you should commit to join us for evening worship is rooted in the 4th commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exod. 20:8). The 4th commandment teaches us that one day in seven is to be completely devoted to the Lord. On the Sabbath (which we call the Lord’s Day in the NT) we are to cease from our ordinary labors and recreations and devote ourselves to worshipping God and observing a holy rest. Sabbath rest is not to be confused with inactivity. Notice the adjective in bold before the word rest: holy. What is a holy rest? It is a resting in the finished work of Christ, a resting from our regular employments, recreations, and worldly cares, and an active pursuit of fellowship with God through the ordinary means of grace. The Christian Sabbath is to be a day of joy and delight in God.
Unfortunately, in our frenetic society we rarely take time to slow down and spend extended time in worship (either privately or publicly). Jobs, family, recreations, and social commitments all clamor for our time. Some of those time commitments are necessary while others are the result of making too many commitments. What is the result of this time-squeeze? Well, for many Christians, Sunday ends up looking just like Saturday but with church in the morning. Is it possible that by observing “the Lord’s morning” or even “the Lord’s hour” rather than “the Lord’s Day” that we are missing out on rich blessings that God has in store for us? The answer is yes!
What is the remedy? Enter evening worship. Now, let me be clear: evening worship is not a panacea that will cure all your spiritual ills. However, when you add evening worship to your regular Lord’s Day activities you will soon start to see the benefits of enjoying a day of holy rest. Morning and evening worship act like bookends to the Lord’s Day. They help to provide structure to the day and aid you in devoting the whole day to God, just as he intends you to do. When you know that you are going to return for the evening service it impacts the way you spend Sunday afternoon.
The second reason you should commit to evening worship is because growing Christians crave more of the Word, not less. The Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Peter tells us that we should be like newborn infants who “long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). What is that “pure spiritual milk”? It is the preached Word (1 Pet. 1:25). Adding an evening service allows us to get twice as much exposure to the Word of God. We will sing twice as many psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We will have more opportunities to join our hearts and voices together in prayer. We will read more Scripture together. We will hear a second sermon that will provide spiritual meat and drink for our souls.
We live in a society that is increasingly biblically illiterate. But it’s not just the “people out there” who don’t know the Bible, it’s the people in the pews. Regular church-goers are reading their Bible less and less. To quote my friend David Gilbert, “Is the church now in a healthier state with less worship, less preaching, less praying, and less biblical knowledge? I think not.” Do you want to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18)? Do you want to see more victory in the battle with sin? Do you desire to be a healthier disciple of Jesus Christ? Then surely what you need (and what I need) is more of the Word. Will one service strengthen our faith? Yes. Will a second service strengthen it even more? Absolutely!
The final reason you should commit to evening worship is because of the nature of the cumulative impact of the ministry of the Word. I have become increasingly convinced as a pastor that what is most meaningful and powerful in a Christian’s growth is not the impact of one outstanding sermon (and I’m grateful for that because I’ve never preached an outstanding sermon in my life) but rather the cumulative impact of the preached Word week after week after week. It is as the Word, like a hammer and chisel, slowly chips away the rough edges of our lives that we begin to look more and more like Jesus Christ. Allow me to quote, at length, from Dr. Sinclair Ferguson and his book Devoted to God:
"…it is so important for Christians to place their lives under the preaching of God’s word. For in receiving it we are actively passive. It is expounded to us, not by us; and yet it appeals to our minds, reshapes our thinking, penetrates our consciences, and at this level engages us in intense activity.
"Although set at a discount today by comparison with participation in either personal Bible study or more particularly group Bible study, neither of these, valuable as they may be, can substitute for the transforming power of the preached word…This is partly illustrated by the fascinating difference there is between morning and evening services…While formally the morning or first service may be regarded as the ‘main’ service, it is the second service that is the high point. What explains the difference?
Doubtless there are several factors, but the major one is the cumulative impact of the word of God, expounded in the context of the worship of God by the people of God. We come on Sunday morning out of a world that has sought to squeeze us into its mold. We add to that our own spiritual lethargy. But then we are fed in God’s presence by God’s word, read, sung, spoken, and prayed. We are sanctified through the truth. Thus when we come together later in the day, some degree of this transforming of our lives through the renewing of our minds, has already taken place. We find ourselves as Jesus prayed we would be, cleansed and sanctified. Our thinking has been recalibrated in a Godward direction; our affections have been cleansed and drawn out in love for our Lord’ our desires to serve him are purer, our affections for God’s people are greater, and our wills are more submissive to his word. The more we are thus fed the more we want to be fed and to feed."
It is my hope and prayer that you will find as much joy and spiritual nourishment in the evening service as my family has throughout the years. I believe that the addition of an evening service has the potential to help our congregation soar to new spiritual heights as the Word shapes and fashions us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And may we be able to say with the 19th century Scottish minister Robert Murray M’Cheyne that, “A well spent Sabbath we believe to be a day of heaven upon earth.”
Your pastor & friend,