Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.
(This is a true story, though two services have been conflated.) At a nearby institution, various preachers conduct the regular Sunday Services. Recently, the visiting young pastor was expected to lead the whole service. The pianist handed him the hymns to be sung. He announced the first hymn, then the second, and then the third.
At this the pianist stopped and called out “Does this mean the service is now ended and we can all go home?” Puzzled, the preacher, with his unpreached sermon still on the lectern before him, said, “No, not at all — why do you ask?”
“Well, this is the final hymn. It reads: Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing!”
Afterwards, I chatted with him, commenting on this incident. He admitted that in his Church someone else led ‘the worship’, going through a list of songs one after the other, and then handed over to him to preach the sermon. He thought this was the way to run a Church service. He admitted that this was a rut that he’d got used to following.
We swopped email addresses, and this is what I wrote to him:
Your exposition of Luke 5 on Sunday was rich and helpful. It was one of the best I’ve heard. Thank you for feeding our souls!
You’ll remember that after the service we spoke briefly together at the door, about the ingredients of a “worship service”. Allow me to expand on what we spoke about:
Using your sanctified imagination, and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, a corporate worship service can include many components: adoration of Jesus; specific thanksgivings; confession of sin; aspiration for Christ-like holiness; intercession for local and international circumstances and political/economic situations; intercession for the Church; intercession for families; intercession for the unsaved; and intercession for missions etc. (These days such praying in all its facets is absent, or, at best, rather thin in Church services. By deepening and widening our public prayers we are enriching the service, and also teaching by example how to pray in family devotions and private quiet times.)
Another ingredient that God specifically requires is the public reading of Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13). This is sometimes relegated to a few Scripture verses, read during the sermon. Rather we should give it the status it deserves as the inspired Scripture — the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). If possible, choose an Old Testament Scripture, and then a New Testament Scripture. Maybe also have a Scripture from “the Gospels” and another from “the Epistles/Letters”. If possible, explain how they fit together. But vary the format from service to service.
Other components that add value to the worship service, and please our heavenly Father, can be … testimonies (prepared beforehand) … reports on God’s Work from various parts of the world … children’s talks … Christian commentary/perspective on current affairs … and of course a lively presentation of “the announcements” and a creative introduction to “the offering”. From time to time the worship service will include dedication of young children, Baptisms and regular Communion.
This then will be a richer more God-pleasing worship service than merely a string of songs followed by the sermon (which has become the common practice these days). The whole congregation will be discipled afresh in each service. This is our responsibility as Church leaders — to take our people ever deeper in their worship and Christian experience.
The singing should embrace all the genres listed in Scripture — Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They should not only be ‘praise and worship’ … but some of them should consciously teach and admonish each other. Colossians 3:16 gives important and helpful direction for our singing.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Choose songs/hymns that are easily singable by the whole congregation. Avoid staging a ‘concert’ with the ‘audience’ standing to listen to the music on ‘the stage’ and mouthing or mumbling the words. Scripture tells us to “sing to one another”. The band should facilitate, not dominate, the congregation’s singing.
I use the term integrated worship, because our human minds resist hotch-potch unrelated ingredients, and themes that are constantly changing. Try to integrate each component into the whole service. Stick to a theme, or develop a connected succession of themes that will carry the congregation together, so that our minds are moved along — just as they are in a good sermon. Colossians 3:16 views the song as doing similar ‘teaching and admonishing’ as the sermon does, drawing from ‘the Word of Christ’. Blend all these ingredients together in a meaningful, integrated way, and so build up the people of God in their faith.
Of course, this will take time in preparation. I used to lead a service and pray, spontaneously — sort of ‘off the top of my head’. Now I give the whole service the same serious, prayerful, written preparation that I give to my sermon.
In closing, thank you for asking to be on my Deep and Wide free email list. I enclose a recent issue. It comes out every alternate month.
God has given you special gifts and a heart in tune with Him. May you be blessed in your future Life of service. There’s nothing like it!
Yours in Christ,