Lecture 15: Structure and Elements of the Worship Service
The structure of the worship service is centered around gathering, the service of the Word, the service of the Table and dismissal.
I. Structure of the Worship Service
Where can we turn for guidance for an overall structure of worship? Webber’s four-fold structure was the gathering, the Word, the Table, and Dismissal. Those churches who celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month; for the other three weeks, they can have a thanksgiving service. I sort of get the idea, like Marva Dawn, he can’t find anything that really is satisfactory. This is an accommodation that he has to make but he would rather not. He would rather have the Lord’s Supper celebrated every week. I am actually of that mind myself. Would there be any other paradigm or structure that you would think would be better? I think that this may be one model that we might consult for understanding a good flow of Scripture.
B. The Word
From Isaiah 6, we have the whole revelation and response pattern. It starts with the revelation of God’s holiness, God’s greatness and a response of confession. There is the revelation of God’s acts of mercy and the response of a humble reception of that. There is the revelation of God’s will and the response of our willingness and availability. This would be a potential model. There is a balance here between attributes of his character balanced with our worship in the acts of mercy. Particularly, some kind of retelling of the Gospel. Another place to turn is the tabernacle structure. Some look at this as another possible design for our worship. It would include the coming together in the outer court and then the inner court into the holy place and holy of holies. This would include a movement from our world into this holy place; it is a gradual movement that magnified ultimately being ushered into the presence of God.
C. Service of the Table
There would be a combination of intimate praise and the preaching of the Word and perhaps also the celebration of the Lord’s table. The best place to go in order to probe this more, would be his multi-volume set on basically, the history and practice of Christian worship. It is really nicely done. So, he calls this an ancient model. Aside from whether you can justify something biblically; generally speaking, it makes sense. Some kind of gathering and then focus on the Word of God. We have an experience with the presence of the Lord through the Word with the Lord’s Supper and then some act of dismissal.
The one place that I would like to give some attention to as I don’t think that it is attended to in our churches; is the whole idea of dismissal. He mentions a benediction. I talked about the distinction between a benediction and a doxology and how they are sometimes muddled together. The benediction is a word of blessing to the people. You don’t have to get very creative here because the Scriptures have many of these benedictions. Some of my favorites include the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24-26. I also love the one from Hebrews 13:20-21. Sometimes I will choose my benediction with my sermon in mind. This one encourages people to go out to do the will of God. ‘May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant that brought back from the death our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything that is good in doing his will. May he work in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen. This is one of my favorites. There is also 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, ‘May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen. The more standard Pauline benediction is in 2nd Corinthians 13:14, ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
So, he mentions the use of the benediction of some sort and then a song of commissioning and a Word of commission. I think an either/or could also be appropriate here. Some kind of word, either spoken or sung that suggests that as we go, we continue to worship the Lord. I had written a little hymn and used part of that in the last church I was at as a word of dismissal. Go now and walk in the light of the Word; do and declare what you have heard. Empowered by God’s Spirit; live as you have received and so freely give. We could probably think of lots of wonderful and appropriate portions from praise songs that we know. Can you think of any dismissal praise songs or a hymn? We should send people out with an expectation that they will continue in worship and service of God. The corporate gathering has ideally been a time of enhancing our understanding of God.
Elements of a worship service include songs, scripture reading, offerings, sacraments, prayer and affirmation of faith.
II. Elements of the Worship Service
A. Offering with Prayer
Are there elements of worship that have to be there? The only thing that was significant in Webber’s model was an alternative service for when communion isn’t celebrated. He makes the offering a key part during that thanksgiving time. He has people coming to the front to present their offerings during the singing time. I would like to see this included as a regular feature. It has been taken out by some churches who are trying to be more seeker-friendly. In some places, there are bad connotations associated by the passing of the offering plate. I would rather try to redeem it rather than remove it. We could do some teaching about this, excusing those who are new in the church. Sometimes this is too strongly stressed as those who are new may want to put money into the offering plate. The whole thing could be done well and wisely. Sometimes because we are uncomfortable in leadership about something we kind of do it quickly to get it over with. We sort of mumble something and get on with it. But we could fill this act up with meaning; a key emphasis from me in regards to acts of the service. Don’t do anything in order to just do it. Webber goes on to say, if you want to do any kind of worship renewal in the church, he proposes a few steps for this.
B. Worship Renewal
Some of his suggestions began with, start with where you are. Start with what you already have as a worship element and try to intensify them and make them more meaningful. Another thought includes listening to the congregation. What do they think about the worship services and what is meaningful to them? In this way, you can find out what you haven’t emphasized enough or taught well. The third point is education; he suggests that you should always have a class on worship. In the actual renewal of worship, find a forum outside of the Sunday worship to help people get introduced to new ideas and elements of worship that you want to bring in. You could start a Friday night Bible study that also has some practice of these elements. I always liked the combination of offerings with a prayer that particularly mentions something about the offering of ourselves to the Lord. In introducing new elements, especially songs, do this carefully and cautiously. Unless I had a praise leader that was theologically equipped, as the pastor I would like to see any new song first before it is taught. Some songs may be catchy in singing but yet they may be theologically off in some area. You should introduce new songs in a limited number. If you are singing five songs of praise, don’t have four of them as being new or even three. Really, only make one of them new. Worship time is not primarily a time for learning new songs. Any new song should be integrated into the overall service. People need the opportunity to enter into a worship experience that is meaningful for them and allows them to give God adoration that he is due. I think you can make legitimate arguments for them. The offerings would be one of them; the whole point of announcements would be another one.
What comes to mind is the placement of these in the order of the service. You could make good arguments for putting them upfront or at the end. Some people want to save them for the end, after the benediction. Some people do this upfront. I think there should be some thoughtfulness about where and why you do it. Think about the overall flow of the worship service. Is it in such a place that it won’t take away from the flow of the service or diminish from it? For example, your praise time should be setting people up for the reception of the Word, but having announcements somewhere in the middle of that takes away from the flow. However, I don’t want to take the announcements out of the service altogether. Like the offerings, I think this can be a critical part of our worship. Perhaps a retitling of this could be helpful, such as joys and concerns of the church or some other creative title. Opportunities for Ministry would be another name you could give it. If we repackage this in our own thinking, it can be received into our worship experience as a valid part of who we are. However, I would rather have it at the beginning or toward the end. There could be a song of gathering and afterwards share the announcements with the church. I think the same with the offerings; sometime fairly early or toward the end. It could become an area of response given over toward the end of the service.
D. Special Music
This can be a legitimate element of the worship experience. If we have seen it misused, don’t reject it but instead redeem it. This could mean instructions and teaching on this being an act of worship. It is an offering by the person who is singing and we use it as an opportunity of worship also. We have to educate away from the idea of entertainment and performance mentality; you know the judging mentality of any performance. But special music can be a special aid in the worship by the people. Some people want to clap over a special song; some people really get dogmatic about it being inappropriate. It is probably a reaction of misuse and abuse of this in other places. We can redeem anything like through instruction. If instruction is ongoing, people will understand that everything in the church is an act of worship.
E. Response to Special Music
If we are open and honest, there will be a community sense in terms of a right response, whether an amen, halleluiah or clapping of the hands. You can discern the difference; we were really impressed by that and so we clapped or we thanked the Lord for it. Education helps with all of this. Sometimes I have felt an unnatural silence after something that was heart-stirring. We could call it by the name, musical offering. I like that better. The offertory would be on my list of essential components.
You can read lots of distinctions; the psalms meant songs; hymns contained particular truths or characteristics of God. Spiritual songs could be about what has done in your heart. Others think that spiritual songs in the New Testament were spontaneous; Spirit inspired songs. We don’t know for sure, Other essential elements would be Scripture Reading.
G. Scripture Readings
In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he encourages the reading of the Scripture. He says, until I come, give public attention to the reading of Scripture. More specifically, 1st Timothy 4:13, until I come, devote yourselves to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching. There are other things that we could pull into this, such as the issue of the place of teaching and the whole issue of the Sacraments.
H. Preaching and Teaching
This was foremost an important point by Paul. And of course, most churches focus a major part of the service on this.
This is dependent on the denomination but that is changing as more and more people are less linked to a denomination. So, there are denominational standard classes in the seminary. I think a class on worship would be very good. In regards to the use of the sacraments; the church sometimes called these The Sacrament which is the Lord’s Supper. I would like to see that as being a regular feature. We have this Acts 2:42 passage and all the evidence that I have found from the ancient church, whenever they gathered for worship, there was the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. You can’t be dogmatic about this on a biblical basis. Also, with baptism, even as Presbyterians we practiced full emersion usually outside in a park where they got really wet. Technically within the Presbyterian church, there is freedom about the mode of baptism. We gave options to our people; whether they wanted to be sprinkled or immersed. I prefer immersion for an adult because I think the symbolism is more powerful. My Catholic brother-in-law rents a tank for their church to baptize people. These were wonderful times when we baptized people in public parks; there were always other people who would pass by and stop watching the entire thing. They would listen to the testimonies; one such person being baptized invited a lot of non-Christian friends. Another young woman made sure her whole family came to attend her baptism. There were often many non-Christian parents and siblings who attended. There were powerful testimonies and revelations and demonstration of the Gospel. There were rejoicings going on by all being baptized. This was very powerful stuff.
Among the prayers, we could single out the idea of the invocation. Other kinds of prayers would include confession. I think the whole area of confession of sin would be appropriate.
K. Affirmation of Faith
There could also be some sort of affirmation of faith; this is another use of the term confession, in confessing our faith. I like it being tied to the church universal and the church ancient. I like the use of ancient creeds. Along with confession, we can have a word of assurance from the Scripture. We could put all of this under the heading: Revelation and Response. A confession of faith is another way of teaching the essential faith.
Greetings is a form of passing the peace of Christ. Any element of worship we have needs to be taught and explained over and over again; it needs to be filled up with meaning and not just something we do because it is always done. I usually intend to preach about thirty to forty minutes. It really depends on where the congregation is at. In a young congregation that is predominately immature believers, a new church plant, etc.
IX. VARIOUS TOPICS
A. The Sermon
I would want to stretch the people a little; not just in the length of the service but in the depth of the sermon. Also, in how much of that time is devoted to whimsical stories, I would want to do some stretching. I think illustrations will always be appropriate. But any sense of being driven by a desire that you have to entertain to gain their attention is another area that I would want to stretch them in. It is difficult to be fixed on this. We could get into the area between teaching and preaching. Do you preach primarily in the service or do you teach? Is there an exhortation of believers; is there an emphasis on the Gospel? The history of the church varies on this point as well. My thought again is balance as being a key component. Whatever I can find about the gathering of the saints in the New Testament, the teachings of the apostles were fundamental. So, part of what we are doing here is deep, deliberate teaching of the Scriptures.
B. Contemporary or Liturgical
So, we have a list of various topics here. Let’s think stylistically here, in a more contemporary experience. Are there elements that could be incorporated in a way that doesn’t seem as much contemporary as liturgical? Some of these things which are often separated out as distinct elements in the worship could be part of the theme. A number of contemporary songs in recent years have been variations on the Apostle’s Creed. There are a lot of affirmations of faith songs now. We have seen how confession of sins could be done through songs. A lot of these things that are more liturgical styles can be set apart as distinct elements and could be included in the praise-singing. In the Lutheran church which is very liturgical, I thought that my tradition was not liturgical but in fact, it was. There is an order of worship that we follow. It good to analyze ourselves and ask what our liturgy is.
C. Praise Songs
Where I think praise-songs contribute more to the worship service, take simple theology and help it move from the head and deepen it in our experience. It is more than just the head; it is also the heart and it is the capacity to linger in the Lord’s presence on that theme. Instead of seven verses of a hymn that expound a doctrine point by point; take one of those points and put it into a quality praise song that is theologically rich, even though simple. Many of the psalms are models here. There isn’t a lot of complexity in those songs, perhaps only a simply thought. Some of the things that we think are hymns in the New Testament are very brief confessions. Philippians 2:5-11 might be one or those in the Pauline letters. Sometimes songs are meant to be sung a certain way; often the power in a song is the lingering. Sometimes a song needs to be sung slowly integrated with a verse, a pause; the music is playing while we are lingering on that thought. Those kinds of things are powerful. One of the things that we have done; is that we have opened up a way of variety, for opportunities for response. There could be a response of reading the Scriptures or saying things like ‘thanks be to God’ when the scripture is read. These sayings may be new to the congregation, especially those who have grown up in a high liturgical setting. My thought on these sayings are to redeem them, not reject them. We are inviting responses of sin, confession, assurances, and even kneeling at some point in the service. Sometimes these liturgical settings involve people the whole time during the service.
D. Worshipping God
When we come together to worship, our basic obligation is to give God his due, to give him praise, thanks and submit to him. We are more motivated by that than by what we are going to get out of this experience. Sometimes you hear, I stopped going because I don’t get anything out of it. In Luke 4:16, ‘and he went into the synagogue as was his custom’. So, what did Jesus get out of that weekly visit to the synagogue for worship. Jesus probably went to pray the prayers and to hear the Scriptures and because God was worthy of his attention and his attendance. Certainly, we receive, this is the by-product of the experience. However, the primary point of worship is that God is worthy. We need to resist the temptation to put the blame on people. When we hear apathy or sense apathy or lack of enthusiasm where people don’t seem to be attentive. Perhaps we need to take stock of leadership and what we are doing with leaders. We certainly can use some self-reflection or criticism; an article in Christianity Today asked the question whether people were meeting God in church. A survey they took said that people weren’t. The vast majority of evangelical believers expressed that they didn’t have any encounter with God. One of the questions that must be asked here is; are we not providing thoughtful and biblical experiences?
E. Preaching and Teaching
This is one of the more critical areas that we do need to preach. This is so fundamental in any understanding of the Bible. We understand historically where this came from and where our hesitancies come from. It is time to grow up and read the Bible again; you can’t avoid this in either the New Testament or Old Testament. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good work which God prepares in advance for us. Every Scripture that God gave is useful so that we will be equipped to do good works. We are to do good works and Jesus did; that is what we are to do. We have to preach and we have to teach and link that to worship. This is what God wants, above and beyond to everything else in terms of worship; justice, mercy and humility. Much of the criticism in the evangelical world is due to this very point. We talk a good game, but treat people like notches for our belt. The idea of loving your neighbor isn’t really demonstrated like it should be. So, we need fundamental preaching and teaching.
Frame said in terms of music, he had some difficulties. He mentioned heavy metal for example. He couldn’t imagine the use of such music without all the connotations that are attached to that. It is difficult for me to get dogmatic about any of that. Historically, a lot of the things that are now mainstream, were shocking and were rejected by the old mainstream of evangelicals. Frames does say that perhaps in time, this area will have been redeemed in such a way that it will mean something else than what it means now. Musically style-wise, they are linked to culture. It is very difficult to separate all of that out, except for several continuums.
G. Cultural Continuums
Two such continuums; in the way we meet and respond to these cultures, some are worthy of celebration and there are also things which should be condemned. Be careful as an outsider coming into a culture to decide what is good and what is bad. Church missions found this difficult and condemned things in the culture first. Certainly, there are things in any culture that need to be confronted by the Gospel and that are things that are simply a means for connection. Remember, culture is always humanly constructed and therefore, it will always be a balance between Genesis 1 and 3. In any given culture, there will be the image of God selected and also the fallenness of Adam. Find things in a cultural that are worthy of celebration and use them. The point of connection in any given culture is the music and arts, and these can be used as avenues of connection. There will be some things that are rooted in wickedness and evilness. These are things that need to be confronted by the Gospel and even condemned. This issue calls for constant discernment.
H. Seeker Continuum
In this continuum, there is hostility, insensitivity, friendly sensitivity and the driven. Only one of these points seems difficult to me and that is seeker sensitivity. Seeker driven is very appropriate for an evangelistic meeting but not a worship service, unless it is a worship service for unbelievers. It would be hard for me to justify a seeker driven worship experience for the saints. I think Paul modeled something of this seeker-sensitive concern.
I. Summary Statements
There is a balance between revelation and response. It is beholding him and becoming like God. In the whole area of Christian formation; we become like the object of our worship. This is a fundamental principle. Although the Bible uses this primarily in a negative sense, we can rejoice in the positive reality of that also. 2nd Corinthians 3:17-18, when we are in the presence of the Lord, the power of the Spirit is present, we are transformed into his likeness from glory to glory. The other thing that we have seen about Christian formation; we are transformed by the renewing of our minds and the truth sets us free. Worship is beholding him and becoming like him. When I think about worship being an individual lifestyle; it is seeing him and being his. Everywhere I go, there he is. Worship is seeing him everywhere and being his with all my might. That is a nice description of worship as well.