In my last post on liturgy, we saw the importance of having both an inward and outward worship that pleases God. God’s work must stir us to the inward worship, and His Word must direct us in our outward worship. In this post, we will be exploring some of the key aspects of worship. Who needs to be involved in planning worship? What aspects of the worship service need to be planned and which ones can be left up to freedom in the worship service? When should the plans be made? In what manner should we plan worship services? We will explore these and more in this post.
Who Should Plan Worship
Worship planning can involve a large group of people depending upon the size of your church. Regardless of the size of the church, worship planning will almost certainly involve more than one person. Identifying and involving these people in the worship planning process is essential. While this list will vary from church to church, a few key people need to be involved. Among the people who need to be involved in worship planning are the pastor (or pastors/elders) of the church and the worship leader or liturgist.
The office of the elder is one that gives oversight and spiritual care to the church. The very word pastor comes from the Latin word for shepherd. Thus, as with all aspects of the church, the eldership should give oversight to worship. A pastor should be the person most chiefly concerned that the Regulative Principle of Worship is being followed. He should weigh every item on the order of service to make sure that it has Scriptural warrant. He should see that all is accomplished for God’s glory and the edification of the church. The proclamation of the Gospel should be central concern. Indeed, as we will eventually see, the center of worship is the proclamation of God’s Word. Because of this, this role should likely include the one charged with preaching for the given service. Also, elders are chiefly charged with the administration of the ordinances in worship.
The worship leader may be an elder, but there is no Scriptural requirement that such a person be an elder. The use of this term has become almost inseparable from the concept of leading the music of worship. However, a person who undertakes this role in a church must recognize that music is but one part of the worship service. For this reason, I have offered the term liturgist as an alternative. The liturgist is most responsible for the implementation of the order of service. He should arrange for readers of Scripture, leaders of prayer, collectors of the offering, leaders of the affirmation of faith, and the leaders of music – just to name a few. The liturgist should know what every element of the worship service serves. He should know the Scriptural warrants and regulations on these elements.
Once a plan is made, the other participants that lead a part of the worship should be prepared as soon as possible. This includes those who will lead times of prayer during the service, those who will lead times of affirmation of faith, those who will take up the offering, and those who will lead the music. Allowing all of these people the necessary time to prepare helps to make the worship service being as beneficial as possible. It also is helpful if each person involved in the worship service is educated on the element of the service that they will lead.
What Should be Planned in Worship
While it is possible to micromanage a worship service to the point that it ceases to be worshipful, the more common danger is in under planning a worship service. A certain amount should be left to the spontaneity of the moment. However, planning the content of the order of service ensures that every element of the service is meaningful, edifying, and unified toward the central meaning and purpose of the service.
Exactly how much should be planned? The overall order of service should be laid out. The text of Scripture readings and for the sermon should be determined. Prayers should be at outlined, but need not be word for word what will be said. Psalms and hymns should be selected along with which verses. Confession readings and catechism questions should be selected. Also, the participants to lead each element should be selected. If baptism and the Lord’s Supper are part of the service, they should be included in the plan. These should be thoroughly planned.
Even with all of this planning, the key to remember is to remain flexible. If you sing a hymn and accidentally sing the wrong verses, take it as providence. If someone adds to a prayer more than what was in the outline or omits part, don’t take it as an error. If someone reads the wrong Scripture or catechism question, it will not destroy the church. Often, I’ve seen God’s providence work in these “errors.” Remember that the worship plan is just that – a plan. Plans can be changed, and if they are changed by God’s purposes, we should rejoice. Also, there is much to be said with respect to flexibility to reflect changes between the time of planning and the time of worship. Many times, a great event will occur between the time the service was planned and when it occurred. For example, I’m sure that many American churches changed their worship service plans for September 16, 2001 after the events that occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
When Should Worship Planning Take Place
Certain aspects of worship can be planned out more than a year in advance. For example, you can plan out Scripture readings, confession readings, and catechism questions really far in advance. Churches that use a lectionary can determine the lectionary readings by using a perpetual calendar for any year in advance. Other aspects are best planned the week before such as prayers and sermon contents. However, the bulk of planning probably happens somewhere in between these two extremes.
I have found nowhere in Scripture where this regulated, so the only advice that I can offer is from experience. I recommend having a quarterly planning meeting with the key worship leaders together in one place to lay out the plan of services for the next service. This would be the time to lay out plans for sermon series and breaks in them, Scripture readings, confession readings, and catechism questions. A rotation of leaders for these elements as well as ushers for the offering can also be planned at this quarterly meeting. If your church does not observe communion every week, the weeks during which you will observe it during this quarter should be identified.
To follow up, monthly meetings between the worship leader, at least one elder, and any key musicians should plan the psalms and hymns for that month. These are also opportunities to amend or alter the original plan on other topics. Monthly meetings are also a good time to insert a baptism if it is to be observed. Times of baptism, however, should represent one time where flexibility is necessary. It is both a time of worship and joy for the church and for the baptismal candidate. Therefore, the time should reflect the interests of both.
Lastly, weekly check-ins can be useful to do last minute corrections and planning. The sermon should be finalized. Prayers should be outlined. Music should be rehearsed. Communion elements should be prepared (usually on the morning of the service). The baptistery should be filled if baptism is to occur (usually the day before depending upon your baptistery). Bulletins should be printed. Slide show presentations should be prepared. Leaders of the service should be reminded of their roles.
How Should Worship Planning be Conducted
The first aspect of the method for worship planning is the reverence and thoughtfulness that it should have. Every service should be planned with the same degree of holiness and care. We must remember that we should offer to God the best that we are able to bring. We should be like Abel bringing the best of our flock and not like Cain bringing some of the fruit of our production (i.e. the leftovers). Also, we must be mindful that worship also serves to edify our fellow believers. Are we preparing what will most benefit their growth in Christ?
The most important thing that we can do to direct this reverence and ensure that our worship is not outward hypocrisy is to pray. We should pray every time that we gather to plan worship. We should pray for the weekly worship service throughout the week. In our times of corporate prayer we should lift it up. Praying not only for the outward elements, but also asking God to change our hearts toward true worship inwardly. All of our outward works are in vain unless God stirs our hearts to the praise of His glory.
I hope that this post has been helpful to you giving guidance in how to plan and prepare for worship. In the next post, we will begin to explore the elements of worship beginning with the reading of Scripture.