Why Do You Spend So Much Time Preparing the Liturgy?


Why prepare liturgy? Why not just “let the Spirit lead”  – which actually means, “Just wing it,” or in Nike parlance, “Just do it,” or in Filipinos’ fatalism, “Bahala na!”?

Why the whole service matters a great deal

A typical evangelical "worship" event
A typical evangelical “worship” event

In addition to comments about feeling and sounding Roman Catholic, another common observation by visitors after they have joined us for worship is that we seem to spend much time on the liturgy. Why not just “let the Spirit lead” – which actually means, “just wing it,” or in Nike parlance, “Just do it,” or in Filipinos’ fatalism, “Bahala na!”?

I believe this idea underlies a couple of disturbing things I’ve observed in evangelical worship services. First, many people come to the service late. Second, they are constantly in and out of the service. These are just evidences of the low regard many people have for the whole service.

A pastor in these situations might then be asking himself, “Why spend so much time preparing for the worship service and the worship liturgy itself? No one seems to care much anyway.”

Late for service? Why not? After all, the portion of the service before the sermon is not important. Sing a lot, pray a little. In the din of all the repetitious singing, I feel tired. Have to have my coffee high at the coffee and donuts place. Then go back to a few more songs. Then listen to one or two Bible verses, several announcements, and here comes the talk show host, or rather, the pastor.

After the pastor’s speech, I need another coffee break. Then the other important part of the celebration is someone’s life story, which sounds very similar to some I’ve heard before. Thereafter, I can leave, since the altar call takes as much time as the rest of the service, and only a handful is saved anyway. Need to get home quickly and be done with lunch so I could watch Tebow tebowing.

In preparing for the Lord’s Day, I frequently would finalize the liturgy when I have almost finished my sermon preparation. This is because all the Scripture readings, songs, prayers, and creed/confession readings must be spokes of a wheel that has the sermon and Lord’s Supper as the hub. So I spend much time thinking about and planning for what goes into each part of the liturgy, revising them as I progress through my sermon preparation. (For a sample of our Lord’s Day worship liturgy, click here.)

But as most people say, why not just wing it, or leave the whole service to the worship team? As the pastor, don’t you come in only when you preach? Not so, according to the Bible. God ordained his prophets, priests and sometimes even kings to lead the people in worship. This is why the early church was led by the pastor. The pastor also led the worship in the Reformation church. There was no such thing as a “presider” or “worship team.” The pastor, or sometimes the pastor and an elder, is the worship team.

How Do People Worship God in Heaven?

Covenanters worshipping at the banks of the Whitadder. From covenanter.org
Covenanters worshipping at the banks of the Whitadder. From covenanter.org

The corporate worship of God and its participants are seen in various places in Scriptures. Obviously, the pattern of our worship should be regulated by Scripture, a principle known as the Regulative Principle of Worship. In the Old Testament, the best examples are in Exodus 24, Israel’s first worship service at Mount Sinai, and in 2 Chronicles 5-7 during the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. From these two passages alone, a pattern of worship emerges:

• God calls his people to worship.
• The people offer sacrifices for their sin.
• The people enter into God’s presence.
• God proclaims his word of redemption and calls for obedient lives.
• The people make vows to obey in faith.
• God and his people commune in a meal consisting of the animal sacrifices.
• Finally, God sends forth his people in peace.

This Old Testament worship pattern is continued in the New Testament. Where do we find this? Hebrews 8:5 says that God commanded Moses to build the tabernacle according to the pattern that he saw on the mountain (cf Ex. 25:40). Christ fulfills this pattern of the Temple in heaven (Heb. 7:10), so we find the pattern of heavenly worship when the apostle John was taken up to heaven on the Lord’s Day  (Rev 1:10). There he sees Christ among the lampstands that represent his people (Rev 1:12-13). Here’s the worship service that John saw in Revelation:[ref]Peter J. Wallace, “The Heavenly Pattern of Worship,” New Horizons, June 2007.[/ref]

• God’s people are called to and assemble for worship (Rev 1-3).
• Christ the Lamb of God is revealed and praised (Rev 4-5).
• God preaches what he has accomplished in redemptive history (Rev 6-19).
• The saints pray throughout history (Rev 6-19).
• The communion meal, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, is celebrated (Rev 19:6-10).
• The cursed evildoers are devoured by birds in a “Great Supper of God” (Rev 19:17-21), then thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20).
• The saints are sent into the blessedness of eternal life in Christ (Rev 21-22).

Worship as a Wheel: Weak with a Missing Spoke
Why do most Christians have a very low regard for the worship service? Because their worship services have very little sense of God’s perfect holiness and man’s utter sinfulness due to their lack of Biblical pattern and content. So instead coming to the service as poor, wretched sinners falling down and trembling before a thrice-holy God who is a consuming fire (Rev 4:9-10; Heb 12:28-29), they come presumptuously in a casual, jovial manner to chat with their “Bro.”

IF they come, but many don’t, because of Biblical illiteracy. Consider 17-year-old Justin Bieber sounding out in a very recent interview, the same bankrupt attitude of a typical adult evangelical towards Lord’s Day worship:

A lot of people who are religious, I think they get lost. They go to church just to go to church. I’m not trying to disrespect them, but for me, I focus more on praying and talking to him. I don’t have to go to church (emphasis added).

Far from this, the worship each Lord’s Day partakes of heavenly worship in the heavenly city with all the heavenly hosts and the universal church on earth and in heaven (Heb 12:22-24). If we were late for worship and miss everything that has happened before the sermon, then we have missed so much!

• We missed God’s trumpet call to worship and praise him in Scripture, songs and prayers.
• We missed hearing God’s law reminding us of our sinfulness and our need to go into confession.
• We missed being assured that we are now righteous before God because of Christ’s sacrifice.
• We missed giving thanks to God in Scripture, song and prayer for our redemption.
• We missed hearing and reciting what it is that the universal church believe as God’s people.
• We missed praying to God with all the assembled saints for all the needs of God’s people, the nation, and the world.

This is why after I visit another church where the worship pattern is sing-a-lot, pray-a-little, read-a-little, here-comes-the-pastor, and finally, “You’re dismissed!” I’m thinking, “Was that a worship service? Did I worship God there? Was God really there?” If your church’s worship service is such, then you should have the same thoughts.

But if your church worship service follows the Biblical pattern, yet you come late or only for the sermon and ending portions, then you should also feel the same insufficiency of your Lord’s Day worship.

So if you don’t feel that way, consider this: Why does the pastor spend so much time in carefully preparing the worship liturgy when he could just “let the Spirit lead” and wing it!




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