A healthy church worship service is centered around Jesus. He is the center of our gathering, preaching, sharing communion, and dismissal.
By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada
I recently started to read A Lay Preacher’s Guide: How to Craft a Faithful Sermon, by Karoline Lewis. (She is the associate professor of biblical preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota.)
In the introduction to her book Lewis makes the following statement about what a faithful sermon should accomplish:
Preaching assumes and then invites an actual encounter with God. How it creates an experience of God is the focus of this book. But first, the preacher has to believe that the Greeks were right when they pleaded, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). This is the very heart of a “good” sermon—that the listener can say, “Preacher, I saw, I heard, I felt Jesus today.” [i]
While her book specifically addresses the sermon given during a church service, shouldn’t we ask if the same is true for the entirety of a Sunday service? How often can an attendee say, “I saw, I heard, I felt Jesus today”?
That is the goal of every worship service in a healthy church.
Just like a faithful sermon takes time and planning, a good worship service should be crafted in a thoughtful and Jesus-centered manner.
In fact, a good worship service has four aspects that give balance to our encounter with the Triune God during our community assembling.
The first aspect can be termed Gather.
How do we come together to, in a sense, worship at the foot of God’s throne? Traditionally in the church this gathering is accomplished by singing hymns of praise to Jesus and the Father. There is active participation as we join those living creatures pictured before the throne of God saying: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty who was, and is and is to come” (Revelation 4:8 NRSV). Singing brings the community of faith together in our active worship.
The second aspect of a balanced service is the Word.
While we acknowledge that Jesus is the living Word of the Triune God, the written Word needs to be the center of any church service. This includes the reading of scriptures such as those outlined in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). We start with the reading of the Psalm, progressing to other related scriptures and finally a reading of the scripture passage on which the sermon is based.
Again, the question to ask is: in our selection of passages and our expounding of the Word—the sermon—are we instruments for the listeners to “see Jesus”? In addition, as we study and share the biblical passages, are we allowing the Spirit to speak to us through the written word?
The third aspect of a balanced service is Table.
Hopefully, by now you see that active participation is a recurring theme to the four aspects of a balanced service. Just like our personal relationship with the Triune God is essential for the individual, our services should reflect how we interact with each other and God in a communal setting.
Not only do we respond with our worship offerings, we also come to the table to participate in communion. The very essence of who we are as a Christian community is wrapped up in the bread and wine that we take. In the meal, we celebrate the incarnation, the risen Lord and our involvement with him and with each other.
The final aspect of a balanced service is the Dismissal.
Our participation with our Triune God doesn’t end when we walk out the doors of our meeting place. In the benediction we are reminded of our response, which is to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) by loving others as Jesus loves us. It is our role to be witnesses (Acts 2:32) to all around us, regarding what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ.
Finally, when one walks out the door, we hope the participant can say, “the Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5), or as Lewis writes, “Preacher, I saw, I heard, I felt Jesus today.”
[i] Karoline M. Lewis, A Lay Preacher’s Guide: How to Craft a Faithful Sermon (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2020), xiii.