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Serving as a Church Usher
By Paul E. Engle
ZondervanCopyright © 2002 Zondervan All right reserved. ISBN: 0-310-24763-2
Chapter OneThe Ministry of Ushering
PREACHING, TEACHING, MUSIC, AND USHERING
Any act of Christian service that helps direct people into fellowship with Jesus Christ is a ministry. The most prominent ministry in the church is preaching. Paul wrote to the Romans, "How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14).
The second prominent ministry in the church is teaching. Next to the preaching of the gospel, Martin Luther believed that teaching was the highest calling of humankind. Teaching is mentioned many times in the New Testament and is included among the spiritual gifts. The pastor who preaches without teaching, or the church that evangelizes without instructing, is not only obscuring the cross of Christ but failing to provide the Holy Spirit with opportunity to carry out one of his most important functions. Jesus told his disciples, "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). Later he added, "When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (16:13). Paul wrote to Timothy, "The Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, notresentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct" (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
The third great ministry in the church is music. According to Paul, music is at least on a par with teaching as a ministry in the church: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Colossians 3:16).
The fourth great ministry of the church is ushering. Paul, who believed in the power of preaching, the importance of teaching, and the ministry of music, also wrote, "Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Corinthians 14:40). Ushers are given the responsibility of tending to the details of each service so that it is conducted in an orderly fashion.
The importance of the ushers' ministry caused one pastor to say, "If I had to choose between losing the ushers or the choir, I would rather lose the choir." This undoubtedly was an exaggeration intended to emphasize the importance of the ushering ministry in his church. But it is a fact that it will take music from a very extraordinary choir to overcome the poor work of inefficient ushers. Though of unequal importance, preaching, teaching, singing, and ushering are so closely related to one another that one does not tend to rise above the other in a given church. The preachers, teachers, musicians, and ushers all need each other!
USHERS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Ushers in the Old Testament tabernacle-and later in the temple -were called doorkeepers. The psalmist, writing for the director of music in the temple, understood the importance of ushers when he said, "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! ... Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.... Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked" (Psalm 84:1, 4, 10). One of the functions of doorkeepers in the Old Testament was to receive the collections from the people. We read in 2 Kings 22:4, "Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people." The Old Testament chronicler spoke of Shallum and his "fellow gatekeepers," who were "responsible for guarding the entrance to the dwelling of the Lord" (1 Chronicles 9:19). The preacher in Ecclesiastes wrote about the day "when the keepers of the house tremble" (Ecclesiastes 12:3). And in Ezekiel's vision of a future temple, he saw space reserved for the priests, the musicians, and two sets of ushers-"the priests who have charge of the temple" and "the priests who have charge of the altar" (Ezekiel 40:45-46).
USHERS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament the temple ushers were given unusual authority, evidently as uniformed guards. In the book of Acts, "the captain of the temple" and "the officers" are referred to several times in connection with arrests and general handling of the crowds. It was these doorkeepers, or ushers, who carried out the high priest's orders in the persecutions against the apostles immediately following Pentecost and thirty years later in the arrest and maltreatment of Paul.
Jesus used his disciples as ushers on many occasions. They prepared the way for his coming, they introduced people to him, and they directed the people who had come to hear him speak or to be touched by his healing hands. On one occasion Jesus gave a sharp warning to the disciples, who as ushers had endeavored to keep children away from him. On still another occasion Jesus directed the disciples in organizing a congregation of five thousand men plus women and children to be seated in groups of fifty. Then, with Jesus supplying the unending loaves and fish, the disciples served the hungry multitude.
The first church board also served as ushers: "So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.' This proposal pleased the whole group" (Acts 6:2-5). The character of these first deacons is spelled out clearly.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD USHER?
The three qualities of Christlike people expounded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are exemplified in the ministry of church ushers. First, the ministry of ushering is like salt that makes everything more palatable and serves as a general preservative against deterioration. Jesus did not say, "You ought to be the salt of the earth"; he said, "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13, emphasis added). And Paul said, "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt" (Colossians 4:6). A good usher adds a tang of joy rather than a tinge of drabness to a churchgoer's Sunday worship experience. Also, the ministry of an usher is like salt because salt can never do its work until it is brought into close contact with the substance on which it is to make its influence. The church ushers, pastors, musicians, and teachers come into direct contact with more people in a given service than anyone else who ministers to them. The ministry of salt is silent, inconspicuous, and sometimes completely unnoticed. But it is there-in a powerful and useful way.
Also, a good usher, like "a city on a hill" (Matthew 5:14), becomes a landmark to churchgoers who learn to depend on him. Stability helps overcome other weaknesses an usher may have. The first glimpse of an usher on whom a churchgoer has come to depend brings an internal sense of welcome repose. The churchgoer thinks, "Someone is on hand who is interested in me!" It's not uncommon for an usher to become an adviser, a source of information, or, better yet, an intermediary between the needs of a specific person and the resources available through the pastor, musicians, and teachers of the church.
Third, a good usher is like a lamp. Jesus said, "Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house" (Matthew 5:15). A lamp brings warmth and welcome to all who are in the room. One shining candle can brighten the conversation in a room and bring an inner feeling of warmth and joy. Just as a lamp dispels the darkness and brings emotional warmth to a room, so the ministry of an usher can make a similar intangible contribution to all who experience the light he allows to shine through himself.
Jesus concluded his discussion on godly character by saying, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). The nature of Christian character is to radiate; it cannot help but shine. The radiance of this glory is not for "self" but for the kingdom of God. The ministry of an usher is not intended to bring glory to himself but to God. Just as a pastor preaches in the Spirit and a musician sings in the Spirit, the usher must do his work in the power of the Holy Spirit, bringing glory to God in the Lord's house on the Lord's Day.
WHY USHERS ARE SO IMPORTANT
One day in Chicago William Wrigley Jr. looked mournfully down at the streams of customers who stood before the ticket boxes at Wrigley Field to get refunds for the baseball seats they had bought but could not locate. While Mr. Wrigley groaned inwardly about the loss of his customers, Andy Frain, a young man in his early twenties, approached the financial wizard and begged for the job of head usher at the great baseball stadium. Desperate for a solution to his seating problems, Wrigley hired him.
In only a few years Andy Frain completely revolutionized ushering at Wrigley Field and made himself "king of the ushers." Even more important, he made ushering a respectable new vocation. Frain organized a school for his men, whom he had handpicked from many applicants. He gave them blackboard drills and showed them training films. At the completion of the training, each recruit had to pass a test before doing a two-week internship of field work and then receiving a diploma and a blue uniform with brass buttons and gold stripes.
In a few years Andy Frain expanded his ushering reach to include many of the great auditoriums and arenas in the United States. During a single year his ushers handled a number of
Excerpted from Serving as a Church Usher by Paul E. Engle
Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.