What We Talk About When We Talk About Worship Part 4

We cleaned our apartment yesterday, found a thing to put our mail and paperwork in, decided where to hang that mirror that’s been leaning against our bedroom wall for six months, put away Christmas ornaments. We’re not the neatest family in the world but it’s amazing though how big our apartment is when it’s clean and organized. I feel like I can breathe when everything is in its right place.

In part three of this series I walked us through the scriptures that help define the different parts of a service. Today, I want to finish talking about service planning with some final thoughts on why church services should be intentionally ordered and planned to communicate the gospel.

I’ve been accused of being too clinical with how I plan a worship service. “Tommy, that’s just not me. I like to feeeeeeel God move in the moment. You can’t make worship a formula! It’s got to be spontaneous. If people do the same thing week after week they’ll be bored!” I’ve heard all of that from many  people. Those who are more kind with me will say, “I’m glad that your thing works for you but it ain’t me.”

I’ve not often been gracious in responding to detractors. So, first and foremost, I’m truly sorry. I get pretty jazzed when talking about this stuff. I don’t mean to sound so harsh. I understand that my tone doesn’t match my heart.

Worship should absolutely engage our hearts and emotions. I’ll agree that there is a threat of getting caught up in being formulaic and clincal in planning. And this threat would have worship stuck only in our heads, never moving from there to our hearts, hands, and feet. But, I don’t think the threat is all that grave.

I’ve been participating in worship leadership in some way pretty intensely for over a decade now and been planning, intentionally this way for most of that. I’ve not often seen a service feel like a theology seminar. I don’t find this threat all that dire because music is inherently emotional, regardless of order or lyrics. The combination of melody, harmony, rhthym for some reason gets into our ears and grabs our hearts and minds.

Outside of a rehearsal, a meeting of pastors and worship planners, discipling new worship leaders, and this blog I’ve not ever explicitly pushed or explained the order of a service. But, I think subconsciously people feel like they can breathe when they sense order.

I’m of the opinion that if all we do is attempt to engage is people’s hearts with exclusively emotional moments in worship and leave their minds to the preacher then we shortchange what worship (and honestly the sermon) could and should be. The music, prayers, and scripture readings are not the warm up act for the preacher. Treating the whole service as one event with many aspects verses several disparate pieces of a choose-your-own-adventure allows us to worship God holistically with our hearts, souls, and minds, not just with whichever part of ourselves we’re most comfortable with.

“Fine! But, doing the same thing is every week is boooooooooring.” Maybe. But, probably not. Every sonnet ever written has a strict form, but form doesn’t decide content. So there are infinite variations on the form each with intense emotional impact.

I love the way G.K. Chesterson writes about repetion in his book Orthodoxy:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

My greatest desire as a worship pastor is to see people who have toiled all week in their efforts, unable to satisfy their own desires let alone God’s, working under the hot sun of their own and God’s impossible standards feel the cup of ice-cold relief at the well of the gospel.

I can sometimes be harsh when talking about all of this and I’m sorry for that. But, an emotional experience for me isn’t enough to satisfy our greatest need. Only the gospel will do that. My hope through writing all of this is that those who read this will be able to enter their church and feel like they can breathe.


Perhaps, I should’ve written this first. Hey! Here’s your chance to start at the beginning:

What We Talk About Worship Part 1

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Worship Part 4

One thought on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Worship Part 4

  1. bongolong says:

    There is comfort in order, however I like what you said about the sonnet “form doesn’t decide content”. Within that order there is plenty of room for new ways to make that order fresh every week. I and I believe you accomplish that each time we gather to worship in song, the reading of the Word and hearing what God has to say to us through our teaching pastors.

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