The Shape of our Worship

4484801596_1c1fe31d8cOur worship services would be described as “liturgical” that is having a regular shape, set parts that occur each week, and some sense of formality.  In fact the word “liturgy” actually describes what happens when Christians gather publicly to honor God in praise, prayer, instruction and commitment.  A liturgy can be very simple, just a few songs and a brief message from the bible, or very complex. I’ve written before about the general priorities and shape of our worship, and want to talk more specifically about why our worship service is shaped the way it is with specific elements, their content, and their arrangement.  For reference, check out Grace Presbyterian Bulletin Aug 24 (Even having a printed bulletin, rather than projecting words or lyrics on a screen is a choice.) Below is our rationale for the shape of our worship* 1.  The medium effects the message:  You have to choose a medium.  How does the minister dress?  You have to wear something and your appearance speaks.  The architecture of the building, the decorations (or lack thereof), the type and placement of seating – they all communicate something.  How you shape your worship must be thought through from the big stuff to the little. 2.  The elements and the order:  each week we have a call to worship, songs of praise, some type of confession of sin, a declaration of forgiveness, an offering where people give money, a sermon, and communion.  These are all included because they reflect biblical emphases of worship.  When we worship God he is the one who initiates the relationship and so in some way we want to reflect that he calls him near.  When we worship God we realize that he is God and we are not so we confess our sins.  The above elements reflect the essential features of the Christian life. 3.  History:  From as early as the second century there were specific arrangements of worship services to reflect what the church considered essential in its meetings (word and sacraments).  From a historical perspective there is a rich tradition of the elements of praise, confession, offering, scripture reading, prayer, preaching and sacraments which were a regular part of worship services.  While we should not be unnecessarily ruled by tradition we should learn from centuries of church history, especially when many of these practices are rooted in scripture. 4.  Cementing: Our patterns of call to worship, praise, confession, forgiveness, parching, offering, and communion retell the Gospel every week.  This can be done in a free flowing service that includes five songs, sermon, a song, an offering and then dismissal.  The reason we have these patterns so clearly laid out is so that people will take notice and be shaped by them.  If we always include a confession to sin in response to God’s greatness and majesty this should work its way into the hearts of our people.   Having an actual bulletin allows someone to take the worship service home with them and use it to read and pray through the week.  In our family we use old bulletins to sing together and I know newer Christians who use them to get “used to” worship. 5.  The Word of God:  Having different elements like a call to worship, declaration of forgiveness, or scripture reading provide avenues for interacting with more of the bible.  In a given service we will work through a page or two of scripture texts in addition to the passage being covered in the sermon and this is incredibly important because of the declining biblical literacy in the church. 6.  Involvement & Accessibility: In our bulletin we have responsive readings so that there is greater involvement from the congregation.  It is not simply someone up front talking or leading in song.  Every single person participates and by participating learns.  Furthermore, our “liturgical” format is more familiar to many in our region who have Catholicism in their background.  This is one of the ways that we can build bridges with those potentially visiting the church and even having a physical bulletin (which tells them what we’re going to do) is an effort to make church less intimidating.  I realize that for some people being handed a twelve page pamphlet full of writing, may be just the opposite and make them very uncomfortable but I don’t think that is the case for those we are striving to reach. Qualifications: -It is hard to change styles or get used to different things.  If you have been worshipping a certain way for years something else will feel strange, potentially inauthentic, or even like it’s “not worship.”  In all honesty, it takes six months or a year for a church to gel together in it’s worship and that is where our focus must be on offering our hearts to God and letting our emotions catch up. -Some of what I have described is logistically impossible for different churches.  Some may not have access to a reliable printer.  Others may have a congregation in which few can read.  For us, I think it would stress me out more to have a projector and a screen because technology seems to go wrong with me. -Knowing who you are and who you are called to reach is so important in shaping your worship service.  I believe that biblical principles for worship can be expressed in a variety of worship services and styles.  What we’re doing is a fit for us and flows from our convictions and my hope is that every church has a strong sense of clarity based on the scriptures and their unique mission as they consider how they will worship. *These thoughts have been significantly influenced through the churches where I have regularly worshiped over the past fifteen years and specifically draw from Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chapel which has an excellent introduction laying out similar ideas. Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

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