Sunday, November 11, 2007

Let us worship God

Part of a minster's task is to lead the public worship of God on the Lord's Day and preach the Word in that context. Here are some thoughts on leading worship. I include a suggested order of service with some comments along the way.
1. Call to Worship
Do not begin a service by saying "Good morning everybody!" In the call to worship you are summoning the church to worship and glorify their God. You are a minister of the gospel, not a primary school teacher greeting class 1B. Some preachers quote a few well chosen Scripture verses at this point, which can be helpful. I simply say, "Let us worship God, let's all pray..."
2. Opening Prayer
In this brief prayer offer worship to God and ask for his blessing upon the meeting. Do not ask him to be present. The Lord is always present among his people, as the church by definition is the "dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). The church only meets because God has taken the initiative to gather his people together to worship him. Pray for his presence to be made known and evident. But be careful what you are asking for. The free God of majestic love and awesome holiness may reveal himself in unexpected ways. Include a petition for forgiveness and cleansing from sin as you address the holy Father in the name of the Son.
3. First Hymn
Singing is an important aspect of publish worship, but it should not dominate the whole service. We would do well to remember that the New Testament epistles only mention singing twice (Ephesians 5:18-20 & Colossians 3:16). What is sung first should be a hymn or psalm that sets forth the grandeur and glory of God rather than a subjective type of hymn. This will remind the congregation that the meeting is all about him. I always try to sing at least one Psalm per service on a Sunday as I think that it is important to use the Bible's own book of praise. Many believers think that the doctrine Trinity is a rather abstract theological proposition. But God's self-revelation as Father, Son and Holy Spirit should be fundamental to distinctly Christian worship. Singing explicitly trinitarian hymns will help to embed the doctrine of the Trinity in the minds and hearts of the worshippers. But more than that, should we not offer praise to our glorious Triune God?
4. Announcements and Offering
These can include a few words of welcome as well as the church activities for the week. I think that is best to take an offering during the service rather than have a retiring offering. The former makes the offering very much part of the worship rather than something done on the way out of the building. A short "offertory prayer" commending the gifts to God should follow the offering.
5. Scripture Reading
Make this a reasonably lengthy passage, not just the few verses or paragraph that will be the subject of preaching. If you are preaching a "one off" sermon, then read the whole chapter in which your verses are set (unless the chapter is very long!). If you are preaching a series of sermons on a chapter, read an associated passage of Scripture that will tie in with your message. When Paul said to Timothy "give yourself to reading" (1 Timothy 4:13) - he meant to reading the Bible in public worship, not the act of private study. Announce the chapter and verses that you will be reading, and say, "Let us hear the Word of God", before reading the passage meaningfully. You should say "Let us" not "Shall we", because you are leading the people to do what God has commanded, not making a suggestion.
6. Second Hymn
This hymn may be more subjective or experimental, expressing the worshipper's experience of God in response to the reading of his Word. God has spoken to us, we respond by singing to him of what we have heard and felt. This makes worship a living dialogue between God and his people. Choosing hymns or psalms that fit in with the reading and message will help to give the service coherence and meaning. As well as some older hymns, I usually try to pick at least a contemporary number or two. The hymns of Watts, Wesley and others remind us that the church of today is not a creature of the moment, but part of the historic people of God. Singing centuries old hymns is a historical expression of the communion of the saints. Selecting contemporary hymns helps to save the church from being locked in a cultural backwater and acknowledges that the Spirit is still at work among the people of God today.
7. Main Prayer
This should not be too short, or two long. Around 5-10 minutes of praise, petition and confession will be sufficient. Never pray using "I". You are leading the people in prayer, so always say, "we". Meditating on the Psalms, 1 Kings 8 and Paul's prayers will help to bring Scriptural content and variety into your public prayers.
8. Third Hymn
This will be sung in the anticipation of the preaching of the Word. Choose a hymn or psalm that will lead into the message. Some preachers give a little introduction to each hymn. I don't do this. Most hymns are self-explanatory, so why bother? Just give the number and read the first line or two. "Let us sing hymn number 12, In heavenly love abiding". Cut the waffle and sing!
9. The Preaching of the Word
I'm not going to say much about the act of preaching here. (See the "Preaching" label below for more thoughts on this). Suffice to say that it is good to announce your text clearly right at the start of the message. Doing this shows that you are preaching the Word. If you don't do so, the people will wonder what you are going on about until you mention the passage that you are preaching from. The preaching of the Word of God to the people of God in the presence of God should be the high point of worship. Don't allow other aspects of the service to drag on so that there is little time left for preaching. "Preach the word!" (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
10. Fourth Hymn
This should enable the worshippers to respond appropriately to the ministry of the Word of God in song.
11. Benediction
Briefly close in prayer, Calvin's prayers at the end of his sermons are a good model. Finally, pronounce the benediction. This is not a pious wish, but an affirmation of faith. The triune God will be with his people as they depart. Look carefully at the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14. It is addressed to "you" not "us". It is a declaration, not a prayer. And it does not end, "for evermore Amen", just "Amen". The "forevermore" bit is a Cranmerism. Cut it out.


Jonathan Hunt said...

Pretty much what I do, but I like my 'for evermore' and frankly I don't mind a little cranmer here and there!

I do vary the number of hymns sometimes though. We have had 3, 4, 5 or even 6 depending on whether there is a communion service. If I chose that many, though, some tend to be short.

Guy Davies said...

I usually have an extra hymn when we celebrate the Lord's Supper. I'm too much of a nonconformist to allow Cranmer's additions to Scripture!

Reformed Renegade said...

Just a thought/question. Doesn't the time for announcements interrupt the flow of worship? Would not a time before worship starts be better for this? Again, just a thought, not a negative critique.

Guy Davies said...

I know what you mean renegade and I wouldn't want to make a lot of this, but I prefer it when the announcements come later in the service so that the whole thing begins with worship. If the announcements are done well, they need not interrupt the flow.

Martin Downes said...

I love the dialogical principle and try to make it a conscious reality in the service (so much better than thinking of the traditional non-conformist servive a a hymn-prayer sandwich or having a singingfest followed by some preaching).

Guy, what do you think about including God's greeting at the start of the service (say between the opening prayer and first hymn)?

Guy Davies said...

Our church sec will usually welcomes people in Christ's name after the first hymn, at the beginning of the announcements. I hadn't thought of including the greeting at the point you suggested.

If I'm preaching "away", at some point in the service, I usually bring greeting from the churches I serve to the congregation. I like the way Paul sends greetings to the churches eg Romans 16.

Martin Downes said...

Having called on God's name in prayer and before joining our voices together in praise the greeting (along the lines of "Grace and peace to you from God the Father, Son and Spirit") is appropriate and helpful. I guess that it chimes in well with your comment about recognising that the Lord is "always present among his people."

Guy Davies said...

Sounds like a good suggestion. Something to think about.

Gary Brady said...

Behind here (as ever) but just to say I start with the grace as it deals with the problem of no 'good morning' which could (incorrectly)be construed as rudeness.
I end with a proper benediction too raising both hands in the process (if you use one they could think it's a Nazi salute).