Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Word, rightly proclaimed

I haven't been physically in a congregational gathered worship service since about this time last year. I yearn to be, but best not in the kind of service described below. In his TGC blog Justin Taylor quotes from a 9Marks book, Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People, from a chapter comparing two orders of worship. One of them:
.... It’s a common evangelical liturgy. It begins with an energetic gathering song. Next, a pastor welcomes the church and invites everyone to greet those sitting nearby. He then offers a brief prayer asking God to bless the meeting. After that, the band leads a “set” of three praise songs, often in a sequence moving from an upbeat song about God, to a medium-tempo song reflecting on what God has done, and concluding with a slow song of adoration to God. The worship leader closes the set in prayer, echoing the words of the previous song. A video clip introduces the theme of the sermon. The pastor then steps up to a bar table, reads a text of Scripture, delivers his message, and prays. He invites the congregation to sing a closing song, after which he gives a benediction. The band launches into the chorus of the final song as folks get up and leave their seats. ....

First, this service—presumably unintentionally—divides worship through song and worship through sermon. In fact, folks who attend services like this all too often describe the singing as the worship, as if the other parts of the service aren’t also part of how we glorify God. The structure reinforces this misunderstanding. There’s a staging change (from music stands to bar stool and table) and a video clip as a sort of liturgical buffer between the singing section and the sermon section, making them feel separate and disconnected.

Second, this liturgy begins with us speaking to God in song followed by him speaking to us. That order is confusing. God first reveals himself to us by his Word. As we saw earlier, God works in and through us in corporate worship. He empowers our response to him. So, although this service may be designed to appear casual and approachable, it ironically asks too much of congregants. It expects them to be ready to jump into energetic songs of praise without hearing a reminder of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ.

Third, this order of service leaves two of the most essential elements of corporate worship out to dry: prayer and Scripture reading. There is no other Scripture reading in the service, aside from what the pastor might read in his sermon. And the prayers serve as transitions, not as substantive elements of worship in their own right.

Fourth, aside from within the set of songs, the service doesn’t develop any broader narrative or theme. There’s no sense of movement from considering God’s character to praise, or from hearing God’s law to confession, or from meditating on the gospel to thanksgiving. ....

Look at the structure of your church’s most recent gathering. What is the “story” that it tells through the arrangement of the various elements? Is it a story worth instilling in your congregation, week after week? .... (more)
Justin Taylor, "A Tale of Two Liturgies," TGC.

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