Check out part one of our Gospel Liturgies series here.
A single mom stumbles through the foyer, dragging a sobbing infant who’s sick for the third time this winter. A pair of empty-nesters stroll in smiling after a silent car ride, both wondering if they’ll navigate how to be married again with their adult children gone. A college student takes her seat, as she receives a text from the attentive young man she met last night that is most certainly not living for Christ.
These are the people that fill our churches. The average person staring back at you on stage this Sunday morning hasn’t fasted all night, rising at daybreak to pray through Leviticus. Showing up Sunday was a bit of a battle for them, in fact they might say that they barely made it. And just like you and I, they need to be reminded of what’s true. If you play a part in leading worship gatherings, you will always have a responsibility to remind.
A gospel liturgy can do just that, and it begins with the beginning of your time together.
POINT THE SHIP
As with the first fifteen minutes of a movie or the first chapter of a book, the opening to a story has an essential function; to open and set the course of the narrative to come. This is exactly why the way you begin your Sundays has infinite importance. The earliest moments of the gathering afford us an opportunity to point the ship in the direction the Spirit has helped us plan for.
Every church has a liturgy, and every liturgy is accomplishing something. It’s either clarifying or confusing. Weaving together or fraying apart. Focusing the room or distracting the floor.
As I wrote earlier, a gospel liturgy serves as a powerful north star in planning your gatherings. Gospel-centered liturgies commonly follow the “creation, fall, redemption, and restoration” narrative. In this blog, we’ll look at how to incorporate the creation aspects of the gospel into the start of your gatherings.
CALL THEM WITH CREATION
In the beginning of the gospel we see an infinitely powerful God make all things by his word, and for a short time, every created thing functions and thrives perfectly. Every atom and supernova in the universe is held together by his power. Acknowledging this creative prowess and sovereignty are a great starting point for any Sunday. Commonly, this happens in what liturgists refer to as the “call to worship”.
In the call to worship, we focus on God’s attributes of supremacy to not only remember that he is over all things, but to remember that we are not. We praise and adore God for His otherness. That same transcendent God that is over us is also imminent and among us. He is worthy of our attention, affection, and praise, whether we find ourselves in struggles or celebration.
A call to worship can be used many ways, but I would contend that it’s the perfect time to graciously answer the questions we all subconsciously feel (if not explicitly think) in our time together:
Why should I participate/pay attention?
Why are we even here?
What’s bigger than the fears/worries in my heart and mind?
An effective call to worship helps briefly answer these questions, often by looking at the creation aspects of the gospel.
The God with no beginning is our beginning, and so we begin our gatherings with who He is.
HOW TO DO IT
Your call to worship can be a scripture reading, a creed, a song of adoration, something personal you’ve written, or an old prayer from church history. If you’ve written a short prayer or journaled something that you believe would build up the body, that’s great! I do this regularly. That said, no matter how inspired you feel, make an effort to anchor your sharing time in the scriptures so that your people can see that we start with what God has said before we form a response or share our own thoughts.
A great call to worship awakens the people in the room to what is unchangingly true and beautiful about God. You can’t do this without paying attention to who is in the room. Are they mostly in the same stage of life? Do they lean towards the thoughts and theology of Christ but neglect a heart of affection? Are they a celebrational or contemplative group? These questions will inform the way you begin your time together. Pay attention to who is in the room before you set out to plan your gatherings.
CARE AND COMMAND
A great call to worship is a balance of care and command. Those on the other side of the microphone need to know that you love both them and what you are trying to say. Some leaders will gravitate towards a love for their people and stumble over their words. I highly recommend writing out what you want the call to worship to be and practicing it out loud, and maybe even in front of a trusted leader for feedback.
Others will speak clearly but seemingly always have a disappointed or rebuking tone (they often refer to themselves as prophetic or “lovers of the word”). In this case, they would be served well by seeing themselves as a sheep and not just a burdened shepherd. Does your presence on stage reflect the tenderness and compassion of the Savior? Remember that the content of your call to worship may be worthy of a publishing deal in your mind, but without love it is a clanging cymbal.
-Remember that this is just the beginning of your time together, so brevity and clarity are your friends. Ask other leaders what your window of time should be and work hard to hit that mark.
-Open a study bible and look at the cross references for the passage being taught in the sermon. These references often make great calls to worship and support the sermon.
-The Psalms are a treasure trove of calls to worship, both because of their poetic structure and also their vast diversity in representing the full spectrum of human emotion. Psalms 5, 8, 33, 50, 74, 95, and 111 are great places to start.
One of my primary hopes for this blog series is to help connect what we do on Sundays to the rest of the week. In this case, a call to worship shows us a few things:
1. Our beginnings matter.
Like Sundays, our daily beginnings matter too. When we begin a new project at work or school, a new relationship, a new chapter of life…these are all fantastic opportunities to invite the Spirit to work in us and through us.
2. We begin with God.
A call to worship reminds us that our everyday life begins with God’s character and work. When a tough situation arises, we begin with taking our anxieties and fears to our Creator, and then navigating a way forward based on his leading. Repeatedly recognizing who God is helps us keep our discouragement low and humility high in our daily lives.
3. We need new beginnings.
We all need regular and rhythmic recalibration. As I’ve said before, culture attempts to answer what’s wrong with you and me, what will fix it, and what the “good life” is. The truth is, we as leaders regularly believe the lies. A call to worship reminds us that we need to constantly turn from those stories, and return to Jesus and the truest story of our redemption in him.
If you don’t use a regular call to worship already, try out something simple this Sunday. All of the basic elements of a gospel liturgy help shape our Sundays and have the potential to shape the rest of the week too. In the next blog, we’ll move from creation to fall, and examine how working confessions into our gatherings may do more than you think.
How do the beginnings of your gatherings remind your people what is most true?
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