Worship - Lesson 11

Designing Worship Experiences

Including elements in a worship service like prayer, scripture reading, communion and songs of praise can help people have an authentic worship experience.

Lesson 11
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Designing Worship Experiences

Designing Worship Experiences

Part 1

I.  Handout for the Congregation

A.  Introductory Comments

B.  Principles of Worship

C.  Elements of Worship

1.  Preparation

2.  Call to Worship

3.  Confession

4.  Response

5.  Declaration of Faith

6.  Songs of Praise

7.  Prayers of the People

8.  Hymns

9.  Scripture Reading

10.  Sermon

11.  Passing of the Peace

12.  Holy Communion

13.  Tithes and Offering

14.  Joys and Concerns

15.  Song of Commissioning

16.  Benediction


II.  Communion


III.  John 13


IV.  Sacrament

A.  Zwingli - Memorial

B.  Calvin - Spiritual presence

C.  Luther - Mystery

  • Worship consists of both revelation and response.

  • Worship is described in both the Old and New Testaments and requires active participation.

  • Worship is focused on the character of God and involves every aspect of our lives.

  • The First Commandment instructs us about who God is and that we should worship only Him.

  • The Second Commandment instructs us to not worship images.

  • The Third Commandment instructs us to not use God's name in a dishonorable way.

  • Commandments four through ten emphasize the Sabbath, honoring your parents, loving your neighbor as yourself, and charity.

  • Discussion of the book "Worship, Community & the Triune God of Grace," by James B. Torrance. Also a discussion of the idea of revelation and response, and cultivating a lifestyle of worship are important elements in biblical worship. It is a challenge to develop an adequate understanding of who God is and how we should approach Him.

  • Jesus tries to dispel misconceptions about true worship when He has a discussion with the woman at the well in Samaria. The Holy Spirit plays an active role in guiding us to worship in Spirit and in truth. Jesus is the true worship leader. Worship transcends and includes all cultures and races. Worship celebrates the first coming of Jesus, looks forward to His second coming, and prays that His presence will be manifest in the present.

  • Discussion of two books: "Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for This Urgent Time," by Marva J. Dawn, and "Contemporary Worship Music: A Biblical Defense," by John M. Frame.

  • Including elements in a worship service like prayer, scripture reading, communion and songs of praise can help people have an authentic worship experience.

  • Discussion of "Ancient-Future Worship," by Robert Webber from the "Ancient-Future Worship Video Series."

  • It is important to choose theologically balanced songs with music appropriate for the people. The worship leader is an extension of the congregation and should prepare the material and the worship team so they can communicate effectively and appropriately. It is important for praise team leaders to choose praise team members that are qualified spiritually and musically, then encourage and guide the team members effectively.

  • Continuing discussion of "Ancient-Future Worship," by Robert Webber from the "Ancient-Future Worship Video Series."

  • The structure of the worship service is centered around gathering, the service of the Word, the service of the Table and dismissal. Elements of a worship service include songs, scripture reading, offerings, sacraments, prayer and affirmation of faith.



These lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary during the summer of 2001. The purpose of this course is to consider together the relationship between worship and Christian formation and implications of this for the design and leading of community worship experiences.

Some specific questions we will be asking include: What is worship? What is Christian formation?How are these related? What can we learn from worship and spiritual formation in the Old and New Testaments that will help us in designing and leading worship experiences today? What can we learn from worship and spiritual formation in the history of the Church that will help us in designing and leading worship experiences today? How do the various worship traditions and styles shape Christians? What are some of the theological principles that guide us in our thinking as we plan and lead worship experiences? How does/should worship interface with a third great task of the Church—evangelism? What are some practical concerns that we must consider as we plan and lead worship experiences? 

I. Handout for the Congregation

A. Introductory Comments

I want to give an example of what you could print up and make available to your church. This is something I did a few years ago in a church I was serving. The plan was to make it into a brochure and make it available. I left before anything was done with it. That is part of the realities of life; we come with all these ideas and then we leave. You can put it on a resource table available for newcomers. This is our introduction in regards to particular elements of a worship service. This information includes some introductory comments about worship such as worship being a way of life and a community experience.

B. Principles of Worship

Worship is foremost about God and for God. It plays a critical role in our Christian formation. As we worship, we are transformed by its presence and its truth. It is an open invitation to seek the Lord. It also calls us into something larger than ourselves. When we worship the Living God, we join the church of Jesus Christ that spans all ages and involves believers around the world. This is what we mean when we use the term, Holy Catholic Church in our creed. It speaks of something that is universal and larger than ourselves. Worship involves the participation of everyone present; it is no spectator sport.

C. Elements of Worship

These are regular features in most Sunday gatherings. First there is preparation, a time to quiet our hearts and set our minds on God. The greatest model that I have seen of this is in the Korean Church. This is one of the practices that I really liked in the Korean Church. In the first-generation Korean Church, you walk into the church and bow your head and pray. It is a time of preparation to experience worship together. It’s not gathering together to talk as such. In different churches, we will see different philosophies at work. In some churches, the leadership is very comfortable with the idea that it is just a time of gathering. Some churches don’t mind the fact that the first three or four songs are settle down times. For me, it is a time for thoughtful preparation. In one such church, there was prayerful type of music with a very large projection asking everyone to silently prepare their hearts. Sometimes, this works and sometime it doesn’t work as people go on talking. Philosophically, you have to declare what your commitment is. You may have to teach about it to bring this about. If you change the key people’s thinking, this will change the overall climate and culture, but if you are not committed to it, then it will not happen. One church just sang praise songs for the first thirty minutes and then we went into more formal elements of the worship, but people began timing it and it became less significant. So, we changed the elements around.

We started with a formal call to worship and a hymn and then announcements and then praise songs. We changed the idea of preparation time. This call to worship is usually made by a hymn or other song that invites us to worship God together in Spirit and truth. Other churches have a call to worship through responsive reading. Confession was done through the reading of a psalm. This allowed us to seek the Lord’s mercy and understand God’s compassion and forgiveness in our lives. This isn’t a model by the way; it is only an example. A Declaration of Faith normally involved confessing one of the ancient creeds together. For example, the Apostles Creed contains some of the key teaching of the Bible that dates from the early century of the Christian church used by followers worldwide. We had songs of praise being a congregational worship experience. Then there are the prayers of the people which involve personal and cooperate concerns directed toward God. The hymns are chosen for their expressions of praise to God and they teach truth about God’s character and his will. They also provide another means by which to fellowship with believers from other generations and diverse backgrounds. There is also Scripture reading which is usually followed by the sermon which is a proclamation and exhortation based on Scriptures. This is designed to help people to understand and obey God’s truth. This is a central element in the worship service pivotal in our encounter with the Living God. Notes are encouraged to be taken but above all please give your full attention to what God is speaking to you through his Word.

Holy Communion was celebrated once a month in our church but it is different times at different churches. Other elements include tithes and offerings; this is the giving of our material goods. We also had the doxology and part of the closure. We ended our service in those days with a song of commissioning and benediction. A benediction is a prayer of blessing over the people. In a benediction, a doxology will be substituted which is a Word of praise to God. A doxology is usually taken from the Scripture which might be what you would find at the end of the Book of Jude, ‘now, to him who is able to keep you from falling; be honor and glory and praise.’ A benediction would be, ‘the Lord bless you and keep you and make his face shine upon you.’ That is a prayer for the people. These are often confused. We also had a commissioning; some reminder that as you go out, your worship continues through your daily living and obedience. We did this through a song. There are a variety of songs you could change by having several choruses. It can even be a verse or part of a song that represents some kind of commissioning. One such church, in leaving the sanctuary, there is a banner saying, ‘you are now entering the mission field.’

This brochure was intended to be for anyone. I would combine this with an explanation of a new song or hymn. We would also sing a song and then go back and read the different verses of the song, giving a commentary on different verses.

II. Communion

In the ancient church, there was a division of the worship service for the element of Holy Communion. The public time included listening on the teaching on the Word, sometimes singing praises and praying prayers. But then, there was a closing of the doors and all the unbaptized were asked to leave at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It was very clear and upfront; there was a delineation as to who was who. Sometimes, it was made into quite a symbolic event where the closing of the doors was an element of the worship, intended to be a reminder of the closing of the door on Noah’s ark. This was supposed to be a message; you know that you are not in the Ark yet and you need to realize this. So, what would be a thoughtful approach in understanding that there are unbelievers in church? Should there be a closing of the door ceremony? 1st Corinthians 11:17 is related to worship when you come together. This particular passage speaks specifically about the Lord’s supper. The Corinthians were doing their own thing individually as if just eating a meal and some even getting drunk. There was no worship involved. The division that is mentioned, seems to be between the rich and the poor. This was supposed to be a celebration meal capped off by the Lord’s supper. The particular sin here was the lack of love for one another. Paul continues to say that he received from the Lord and passed it on to them. This is a great description of catechesis by-the-way; passing on what he had received. In taking communion, whenever eating the bread and drinking from the cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. So, the communion itself is a mean of revelation.

Therefore, whoever drinks and eats in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine themselves before eating and drinking; for anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
That is why many among you are weak and sick with a number of you having fallen asleep. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If one is hungry, they should eat at home; for when you meet together it will not result in judgment. We usually quote from this passage sometimes forcefully. This whole passage is addressed to believers in Corinth. What is the real sin that he is concerned about here? The real concern is the lack of love. He closes this section in verse 33 telling them to wait for each other. I think that down to verse 29, anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord, eats and drinks judgment on themselves. The context has to do with not recognizing that we are one body. So, we can’t allow these kinds of divisions, especially when we are acknowledging the broken body. When we don’t acknowledge this, the church becomes weak and sick. Yet, at the same time, we should warn unbelievers. The whole principle that is true is being applied to believers here; the same thing would be true of unbelievers, but yet, every person should examine their hearts at this time. This is an act of proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. If I am taking part in this and not believing it, it’s wrong and hypocritical. I should examine myself to see whether I am even in the faith; if not, I shouldn’t partake.

We had communion every month and it was a great opportunity to preach the Gospel one more time and so I was glad that unbelievers were in the service. You should always ask yourself whether you have put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and ask whether you are indeed walking with the Lord.
And are you in a right relationship with your brothers and sisters? If not, will you commit yourself to be right? We didn’t pass the elements as such but instead invited people to come forward. In passing the elements, it doesn’t allow time for a person to consider these things. We have to be careful in understanding hypocrisy here; it doesn’t mean, because I have sin in my life, I can’t come to the Lord’s table or if I have sin in my life, obviously I am not a worshiper of God. That is not what it means. What is at issue, if I have sin in your life and I am unwilling to confess and acknowledge it and to repent of it, then I have a problem. What in fact qualified this is that we need a redeemer. It is a broad concept of understanding what it means not to eat in an unworthy manner. In the garden variety evangelical church today, they would never mention baptism in relation to taking communion. For, they would say, if you are a believer in the Lord Jesus, come and partake. So, should baptism be a perquisite, in addition to personal confession of faith in Jesus? Theologically, you can’t point a specific reference to say that this is the way it has to be, but you can only make an argument to this. Know that baptism is a sacrament of initiation into the faith whereas the Lord’s supper is the sacrament of ongoing communion in the faith. Now, within the Roman Catholic Church, theologically, we are on a different page and I don’t think that it would be appropriate to take communion there. In the larger protestant spectrum of belief, it troubles me to draw those divisions too hard and fast. I would rather that we respect one another’s baptism, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. For me, communion is a place that we come together in spite of our differences and be united as one body. This is certainly a serious thing, but some would say that it is far too somber a thing. For many garden variety evangelical churches, it is purely symbolic without a presence of mystery. I believe in the power of symbol and ritual.

III. John 13

In the upper room discourse on the day before being betrayed. If this was a worship service, what would be some of the components of Jesus worshipping with his disciples. Was this strictly a cognitive experience? Were there any cognitive plus elements involved? The answer would clearly be yes; we clearly have the fellowship meal, a very intimate meal. We have the foot washing which was powerful and dramatic. This is a great example to me of drama in worship, for it wasn’t just an act but instead a sermon without words. This was of the heart here. It involved the institution of the Lord’s supper. You had the singing of a hymn. If this was a Passover celebration, they would have sung certain passages from the Psalms; perhaps 115 to 118. There was teaching and prayer.

IV. Sacrament

Sacrament is a very difficult concept. From the Reformation, in terms of both the Lord’s supper and baptism, there were perhaps three primary streams of thought: Zwingli, Calvin and Luther. They are the fathers of the major views of this in major protestant churches today. Luther, for most evangelical
churches today was a little too close to the Catholic view on the sacraments. Luther magnifies the place of mystery here. He calls it a real presence, but doesn’t believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation; some say he believed in consubstantiation but most Lutherans would say that isn’t the case. They say that they believe in the real presence of the Lord and leave it at that. Luther was very comfortable with these points of mystery and doesn’t try to theologize how it is his body.  But for Zwingli, it is pure symbol or memorial. The divide between the two was significant on this point, Luther refused to extend the hand of fellowship to Zwingli. Luther believe that they were of a different spirit. Calvin emphasis was somehow on a spiritual real presence. There wasn’t a physical presence as Luther hints of being a physical presence that we don’t understand. Calvin says the presence is real but it is spiritual. Physically, the Lord is in heaven at the right hand of the Father but spiritually he is present. I am in the Calvin stream here; there is something happening that we don’t understand. It is mysterious but it isn’t a physical presence of the Lord. But there is something spiritual and genuinely authentic about the presence of the Lord there. When I read 1st Corinthians 11, this just reinforces this concept to me. This is something very significant. Within faithful parameters within our denominational sensitivities, we need to teach more about this. The fact is, most of us don’t know our own traditions.

One more thought about the 1st Corinthians 11 passage; if I am correct about not recognizing the body of the Lord is an emphasis in context to the spiritual body of the Lord, then perhaps what follows in verse 30 about being weak and sick is not as supernatural as we sometimes think it is. Perhaps we have separated out too much of the supernatural judgment element here. Perhaps because someone took up the Lord’s supper in an unworthy way, they got zapped from heaven. Perhaps the line between the natural and supernatural is less clear. The context again, if we are not caring for one another, the body suffers. If we are not loving one another, sickness enters our midst and people suffer from this. So, I think when the body doesn’t do its part in caring for one another in love, we all suffer from that in regards to weakness and sickness and even death. I think we invite ill-health into our midst sometimes.