By first understanding how scripture shapes the structure of our worship and then considering our church tradition and our context, we are enabled to worship the unchanging God according to his unchanging word in ever-changing cultural settings. This thoughtful theological consideration equips us to smoothly lead the congregation through the service as we worship God together, as service leaders who glorify God and serve the congregation.
When ships arrive at the Panama Canal, their helmsman steps away from the wheel, and an expert pilot takes control of the ship. It doesn’t matter if a ship has been through a thousand times: canals are challenging to navigate. They are much narrower than the open ocean, and it requires familiarity and expertise to pass through safely. Those expert pilots know their canal inside and out, and are therefore able to skilfully guide the ship through.
Leading the service or worship in Sunday services is much the same. Whether it’s our first time attending or we’re deeply familiar, we need a skilled hand that can help us to navigate what’s happening. This is the role of the service leader. Whether you’ve never led a service or if you’re a regular, this series of articles aims to prepare you to do so in a way that glorifies God and serves your congregation.
Biblical Worship Is Well Structured
The first step to competently leading worship in a service is to know its structure. How can a ship’s pilot guide a ship if they don’t know the destination or if they’re unaware of the twists and turns of the canal? The aim of our worship is straightforward: it is to glorify our great God. As long as we faithfully gather around God’s word as believers, we gather to bring God glory through our praise and worship, and to be equipped to glorify him in our everyday lives. But the structure of our specific services will be different, and as a service leader, your first port of call is to learn the waters of your own canal.
The foundation of any structure must be scripture. God’s word teaches us how to worship him, and so the scriptures must be considered as completely fundamental to the structure of our service (also called a liturgy); they’re the rules for piloting a ship, if you will.
All services should include four elements:
- Confession of sins
- Word and sacrament
- Benediction or blessing
A brief word on each.
In Isaiah 6:1-8, the prophet witnesses a vision of God’s glory, where angels continually praise God. This is the foundation of our worship: praising our great God for his identity and his actions. Elements of the service that fit this aspect might be calls to worship, songs of praise, and prayers of adoration or thanksgiving.
When we see God’s glory, like Isaiah, we realise our own fallenness in comparison. We see how rich God’s grace is, and how desperately we need to receive it through his Son. This might look like a corporate prayer of confession or a private time of reflection and should be followed by words of gospel comfort: we have received God’s grace in Christ (Daniel 9:9-10; also 1 John 1:9-10).
3. Word and Sacraments
These words of comfort should lead us to remind ourselves of the gospel. In the Sunday service, we remind ourselves what God has done and worship him on that basis. As we do so, we declare what God has done and invite others to join our worship. This reminder should be chiefly through the preaching of God’s word and the celebration of the sacraments.