What's wrong with this picture?

Several days ago, a friend sent out a request on Facebook for people to send in the order of worship from their churches. His church is in the midst of changing their worship service and he was looking for ideas.

Here are two of the responses:

Ours is a regular service – a praise song before greeting and then 2 hymns or praise songs, then offering, then the choir does 2 songs – mostly Southern Gospel – message, and invitation… for your youth services – which are the 5th Sundays – We sing contemporary praise and worship songs – big ones first and slow down to worship preparation – then the message and then invitation.

Well we usually have an opening hymn and after we sing the first and last verse, we have the musicians play through a verse and chorus or just a verse while everyone shakes hands and greets, then we sing the last chorus. Then it’s announcements followed by two more hymns. Then we have offering. then the choir will sing one or two songs (depends on how long they are). Then we sing amazing grace (that’s every sunday at this time), sermon, then invitation.

The first one is introduced with, “Ours is a regular service.” Is it? I know I’m in my own world, but is it? Now these are not liturgical churches, so I’m not going to say anything about the absence of Communion (oops! I just did). But why is there no confession of sin? Why no Assurance of Pardon/Declaration of Forgiveness? Regardless of denominational bent (and these churches are admittedly of a different one from mine), I think all believers need to acknowledge in worship that sin disrupts our relationship with God and needs to be acknowledged and, more importantly, that we all need very much to hear, from Scripture, the promise that our sins have been forgiven through Jesus Christ. Without the cycle of confession/assurance of pardon, the entire concept that we are approaching a holy God in worship is lost.

On an even more basic level, however, are these two questions:

1) WHAT ABOUT PRAYER? Don’t Christians pray anymore? Didn’t Jesus say something about his house being “a house of prayer for the nations”?

2) WHAT ABOUT SCRIPTURE? Both mention a sermon or message, but nothing about the public witness of Scripture. Our tradition (and the tradition of most liturgical churches) is to have a Hebrew Bible (aka Old Testament) reading, a Psalm (either read in unison, responsively, or antiphonally), an Epistle lesson, and a Gospel lesson each Sunday. The sermon will only be on one of these selections–usually the Gospel–but we believe the public reading of Scripture is as important a part of worship as the sermon, if not more so. It certainly isn’t something we would consider optional or dispensable.

So, those of you in more broadly evangelical churches, more “contemporary” churches, etc., do the above really describe a “regular service”? If so, how do you account for no prayer and no public reading of Scripture? Call me a stick in the mud, but I consider those two things to be non-negotiable.


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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6 Responses to What's wrong with this picture?

  1. Sheena says:

    “while everyone shakes hands and greets”

    *Sheena runs for the hills….*

  2. Suzanne Gorhau says:

    I’m not the demographic you’re asking, but I’ll comment anymore. I’m Presbyterian Church (USA), and we do have an order of worship as you describe. A group of us went to visit another church and experienced what the two posters talked about. Even though the music was very good and the sermon was excellent, I left feeling very unsatisfied. But yes, I think that lack of order is quite common in churches.

    I am wondering about reading all four of the lectionary passages. I understand what you’re saying about the public reading of scripture. And doing anything we can to increase biblical literacy is good, but I’m not convinced that reading all four unrelated passages is best. I usually read just one or maybe two that the sermon is focused on. If you have some good reasons to read all four, you might convince me, but right now I’m sticking with one.

  3. RevJATB says:

    Hi Suzanne! Thanks for crossing over from the world of Twitter. I like having the lessons from the different parts of Scripture, but that was also something they were accustomed to when I got here, so it was not a big transition or anything. I like the fact that we read all of the Sunday lectionary texts along with so many other Christians around the world. But I have also been in churches that have only two Scripture readings (usually one OT and one NT), or even just one.

    The main thing for me is: have at least one Scripture reading that is more than just a couple of verses. I’ve seen churches on TV, for example, where there is no Scripture reading at all. The preacher may refer to some verses along the way, but it’s clear that there’s a pre-conceived soapbox and Scripture verses are being selected to prooftext that pre-conceived notion.

  4. Suzanne Gorhau says:

    Thanks for letting me know of your post through Twitter!

    Part of why I don’t use all four all the time is that I only preach the lectionary part of the time (don’t tell anyone — I was taught in seminary that if you don’t, you’re a heretic). I’ve been preaching Jonah, which in the lectionary was only one Sunday. I’m doing it four Sundays.

    But I have played with the idea of having a psalm every week. Even going through them in order. Reminds me of monastic prayer.

    I wholeheartedly agree that the sermon needs to be based on the scripture passage, and more than just a couple verses. One of my favorite preachers in the world tends to use just a couple of verses, and that’s the only thing I don’t like as well about his preaching.

  5. RevJATB says:

    The church we worshiped in immediately before moving here was/is pastored by a good friend of mine, and they (like us) use the RCL most of the time too, but the pastor departs from it on various occasions, as you do (and as I do too). They had two Scripture readings, the OT lesson from the lectionary and then a NT lesson from the lectionary–either the Epistle or the Gospel. They also used the appointed Psalm for each Sunday by making it (or a portion of it) as a responsive call to worship.

    I typically depart from the lectionary during Ordinary Time. That way I can preach through a shorter book of the Bible between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent and a longer book of the Bible during the summer.

    WordPress keeps underlining “lectionary” in red as if it were misspelled. But then again WordPress is also underlining “WordPress” in red!

  6. cap'n says:

    Sin, what’s sin? (Something OTHER people commit, and to which the preacher alludes vaguely during sermons when not confessing his own, a la Swaggart.) 🙂

    There are some “crimes against Music” going on there. 🙂

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