On sitting toward the front of the sanctuary:

I have a word of exhortation today that I thought at first would be easy and simple, but I quickly found it more difficult. Therefore, I will state very plainly at the outset what it is that I want you to consider doing, and then offer my reasons. In other words, reversing the usual order, we’ll begin with the application, and follow with some Scriptural instruction.
Here is the application: I wish, and would like to encourage, that our congregation sit closer to the front of the sanctuary during our church services.

Now, as soon as I say this, I can imagine a collective groan going up. To some extent, I feel like groaning myself. God forbid that I should seem ungrateful for your faithful and enthusiastic worship. Please don’t think that every day I lead an unhappy and dissatisfied life because of where you sit in the sanctuary. Neither I nor the elders have any desire to “lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy” (2 Cor 1:24). Our desire is, as always, to joyfully build up the body of Christ for the glory of God, by making and
maturing disciples.

I know there are all sorts of good reasons for being seated toward the rear. Reasons of human nature and habit, liberty, comfort, convenience, practicality, and humility. There are even Scriptural reasons that come to mind. Jesus had some hard words for the Pharisees, who loved the best seats in the synagogues and at feasts (Mk 12:39). In Luke 14 Jesus says that when invited to a wedding banquet, we should be humble and sit in the lowest place, because whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles  himself will be exalted. He makes the same point in Luke 18 with the parable of the
Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

What reasons can be offered for sitting closer to the front despite all this?
First, there is the simple joy of being closer to the action, able to see better, hear better, and feel more focused and engaged. Ps 122:1 “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the LORD.”

If you are a sports fan or a theater buff, you want the best seats you can manage, on the 50-yard line or courtside, front and center. If this is true of mere spectator events, how much more should it be true of our church life, where we are not merely spectators or consumers of church services, but are taking part in the action. On the authority of Scripture, we can say that we are the temple of God. We are his dwelling place.

Psalm 84
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul longs, yes faints for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise! (Ps 84:1,2,4)

Now, I’m not saying that those who sit toward the back cannot or do not have every bit as much joy in the Lord as anyone else. I’m saying that it would be an encouragement to me and I’m sure to one another, if our congregation were to move in closer.
We also want to consider the effect on guests who come in and see the congregation apparently avoiding the front seats. This could easily give the impression of less enthusiasm and engagement in what we are doing.

As mentioned, we are active participants, which means that we, all of us, are the worship team. Just as the seraphim call out to one another, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:4), so we call out to one another the praises of God.

Eph 5:18b-21 “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Col 3:16 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
So this is another reason for moving forward. We need to hear one another praising God, and because of the architecture of our sanctuary, this would be helped by moving forward, where possible, out from under the low-ceilinged area at the rear, (the place where sound goes to die).

Finally, consider Heb 13:15-16 “Through him then (i.e., Jesus) let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

The idea of our praise being a sacrifice offered to God is definitely taught in Scripture. I commend this to all of us and urge that we think about it in just this way. Our praises and worship ought not be given on condition that our comfort and convenience be preserved. We are giving something of value, offered to God in worship, even sacrificially. King David said, “I will not offer to the LORD…that which cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). If this means moving outside of our comfort zone, then let that be part of the gift, provided we give cheerfully.

“Well,” you might say, “this is surely for others, since I have very little to give in the way of singing. Let someone else step forward for this good work.” I wish you could have heard our brother Roy’s testimony (Roy Christian) last Thursday in Life Group. He said he doesn’t have a very good singing voice and sometimes thinks he should just close his mouth. But then he said, “No, I’m going to sing anyway, in thanks and praise to God.”

Was Jesus less pleased with the boy who gave five loaves and two fish because it was so small an offering (John 6:9)? Was he less pleased with the widow’s offering at the Temple (Mark 12:41) because it was so small?

I do not lay any command upon you. Consider these things, and let each one “give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor 9:7)