An usher is a spiritual ambassador for the local church – God’s ordained and organized body of believers. The usher serves as a “first representative” of Jesus Christ for a worship service. From the tabernacle in the Old Testament to the temple and synagogue in the New Testament, God’s presence and the teaching of His word is of supreme importance.
Ushers in the Old Testament
Ushers in the tabernacle and temple were called doorkeepers. The psalmist understood the importance of ushers when he said, “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.”
One of the purposes of doorkeepers was to receive offerings from the people. The Bible says in II Kings chapter 22, “Go up to 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.”
Jeremiah refers to one doorkeeper as a “man of God.” He said in chapter 35, “And I brought them into the house of the Lord, into the chamber of the sons of Hanan, a man of God, the keeper of the door”.
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Ecclesiastes talks about the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble. In Ezekiel’s version of the temple he saw space reserved for priests, musicians and ushers.
Ushers in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Temple ushers were given unusual authority as uniformed guards. In Acts the “captain of the temple” is referred to in connection with arrests and general handling of crowds. It was these ushers who carried out the orders of the high priests to persecute the apostles.
The disciples acted as ushers on many occasions. They directed people who came to hear Jesus speak or be touched by His healing hands. On one occasion Jesus gave a sharp warning to the disciples who tried to keep children away from Him. On another occasion, Jesus told the disciples to organize a large group of over 5,000. Jesus supplied the unending loaves and fishes, but the disciples served the hungry multitude as ushers.
The character of these first deacons was clearly spelled out. They were men of good or honest report, full of the Holy Spirit, full of wisdom, and full of faith. Stephen, the first Christian martyr on record, was both a deacon and an usher.
Preachers, teachers and musicians minister to people in groups while ushers minister to people as individuals. A word of encouragement or kindness may be the most significant ministry some people receive. Only a few people get to meet the pastor, ask questions, or talk with musicians, but everyone can have an encounter with a good usher.
When you serve as an usher, you set the stage for the worship experience. You are literally part of the continuing story of God’s redemption. Your spiritual readiness and act of service plays a huge role in the life-change that takes place that day.
The Role of Church Ushers Today
Before the church service starts, the ushers will often have the responsibility to check the thermostat, check the restrooms, and prepare the bulletins for distribution. As churchgoers arrive, the ushers will act as doorkeepers, greeting each person with a smile, shaking hands, and handing out bulletins. They are also available to answer visitors’ questions and extend extra help in seating those who need assistance.
During the church service, the ushers usually take part in some way. They are responsible to take up the church offering and make sure it is put in the proper place. In some churches, ushers also help with the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Ushers have a goal of minimizing distractions during the music and sermon. Ushers stand ready to assist anyone in the congregation who might need help, to aid latecomers in finding a seat, and to inform those in the sanctuary of any urgent matters.
Church ushers are well-versed in emergency procedures. In case of an emergency, the ushers will take the lead in getting people to safety in an orderly manner.
After the service, ushers will again be at the door to greet the congregation as they leave and provide assistance as needed. In many churches, the ushers will then make sure that the sanctuary is tidy, the thermostat is adjusted, and the lights are shut off.
Spiritual Qualifications of Church Ushers
Ushers in church aren’t just door holders and plate-passers. They serve in a spiritual role and therefore should exhibit some spiritual characteristics. The qualifications of an usher aren’t clear in the Bible, but there are some qualities that great ushers will have.
The fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5 is a solid guideline for a good usher. This is not about perfection, but a heartfelt motive and desire to live a life of a spirit-filled believer.
- Love – In I Corinthians 13:13 the apostle Paul says, of faith, hope and love, that love is the greatest of these things. If you choose to genuinely love the people you serve as an usher, God will bless your actions.
- Joy – Take God seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up and enjoy the moment. Your spirit will be contagious to others. If you are cold, aloof, and don’t smile (basically, if you are a grumpy usher) you will discourage others around you.
- Peace – You can add peace, calm, and order to what might otherwise be an overwhelming and hectic experience.
- Patience – This is a great quality of a good usher. Most of us are impatient by nature. Many of the people will have waited in line to park, waited in line to drop their kids off, and waited in line for coffee. Their patience will be running thin. You can set a good example with your patience toward them.
- Kindness – This is the attitude that makes you approachable as an usher. Going the extra mile can make all the difference in the world! Be imaginative. Think of all the ways you could show kindness to someone as they come to worship.
- Goodness – The inner quality of goodness is a gift that results from the Holy Spirit’s power working within us. This state of being will naturally spill over into your service and bring an intangible but powerful presence into the worship experience.
- Faithfulness – Faithfulness as a Christian bleeds over into your faithfulness as an usher. Showing up, being responsible and doing your ministry well matters to everyone. It matters to God, and it matters to all those who call your church home.
- Gentleness – A mature usher never throws around his or her authority. The best usher is a humble one who seeks to put others first no matter how much pressure may be present in the moment.
- Self-Control – It is impossible to control a large crowd if we cannot control ourselves. In calm moments self-control is easy, it’s under the pressure of hectic moments and last minute changes that your grace and self-control will shine.
The Responsibilities of a Church Usher
When you serve at church, you’re not “just” a volunteer. You’re given responsibilities and expectations beyond performing basic tasks. We’re going to look at a few responsibilities of ushers that may be a little unexpected.
A good usher comes prepared mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is not to be seen as a duty, but a privilege to connect with God as part of your preparation. Don’t feel like this requires an hour of Bible study before you show up. God is far more interested in the commitment of your heart than the amount of your time. Take a few moments at home to connect with God and ask Him to use you as a representative of his love and an agent of His redemptive plan.
This is huge. The cardinal sin of an usher is to not pay attention. At all times watch what is going on in your section and jump in to handle it. If you aren’t sure what to do, ask your ministry leader. The only wrong choice is to do nothing. Never assume someone else is taking care of the need. Pay attention, take initiative, make it happen!
Most of the ministry of an usher is pure joy. Seriously, it’s a lot of fun. But on occasion there are moments of pressure when someone is upset or something isn’t working right. In these moments never transfer the pressure to the person entering into their worship experience. You are the leader. You absorb the pressure. Get help if you need it, but never make the issue their problem. You help deliver a solution.
In an average environment with average ushers, once the seats are filled, the ushers relax and mentally check out. At your church, you are empowered to take ownership of your role and give leadership where needed. Consider yourself responsible for doing everything in your power to ensure that every person you interact with has the best opportunity possible to connect with and hear from God. You can shepherd the people by getting to know them, praying for them, learning their names, and meeting appropriate needs.
All good leaders are good followers. It is important that you follow the leadership of your ministry leader. Be supportive and encouraging. Offer suggestions if you have good ideas, but don’t be overly sensitive if your ideas aren’t used.
A church usher is a person who helps ensure a smoothly running church service and who ministers to people in a variety of practical ways. The specific responsibilities of an usher vary with the church, but their duties usually include greeting people as they arrive for the service, assisting people with special needs, and receiving the offering. Some churches provide a pin or name tag of some kind to easily identify their ushers.