A few years ago I was sitting in the basement of a church in Houston, Texas, embracing one of the most beautiful church services I have ever participated in. As a worship leader, I can sometimes get caught up in judging how well a worship set is designed, but in this space I was held captive by something beautiful taking place—the worship set was designed around the story of the gospel. I’m not sure if anyone else noticed the way the story of the gospel transpired through the music, but I know that the gospel message in the music was powerful and that it was felt by the people present.
It’s easy for worship leaders to get caught up in what songs to pick based on things like tempo—I’m guilty of this. We play fast songs to begin the service, slower songs right before the sermon, and we reverse that order at the end—slower songs leading to faster songs to commission everyone out (genius, right?). I’ve followed this template because this is what was taught to me. But might there be deeper, theological reasons for pursuing another way of choosing songs? After speaking with the worship leader on staff at the church in Houston, he guided me to a book that has completely changed the way I approach worship as a leader.
In the book, Rhythms of Grace, Mike Cosper explores how the church’s worship tells the story of the gospel. The more I study liturgy throughout church history, the more consistently I see the church’s objective to shape its worship in the arc of the gospel.
Here’s the big idea: we should view the entire worship service as one big whole. Rather than saying, “When we sing is when we worship, and then there’s preaching, and communion,” we should acknowledge that the entire time spent together is an act of worship. Every aspect of the liturgy, songs, and preaching of the word of God has something to say about the gospel. In Cosper’s book, he takes readers through four major themes of the gospel story:
1. Creation (God is holy).
2. Fall (We are sinners).
3. Redemption (Jesus saves us).
4. Consummation (Jesus sends us).
Every week, we should gather and remember that God is holy, that we are sinners, and and that Jesus saves us from our sins. What if worship leaders made it their personal goal to communicate each of these major themes in that order into the service? Then our services might essentially become our church rehearsing the gospel every time we meet.
A Gospel Template
Creation: Songs of Invitation, Songs of Adoration/Praise
These are songs inviting people to sing and inviting the Holy Spirit to come. These are songs of praise proclaiming who God is. These are songs that are less about the words “I” or “we” and more about “You” and “He.”
Fall: Songs of Confession/Lament
These are songs about confessing our need for Jesus.
Redemption: Songs of Pardon, Songs of Grace
These are songs showing us the power of Jesus. These are songs about God’s grace and love for us.
Consummation: Song of Response, sending out, following Jesus
These are songs centered on following Jesus.
Example Song List:
Creation (God is Holy)
Invitation: “Open Up The Heavens” by Meredith Andrews
Praise: “Beautiful One” by Jeremy Camp
Fall (We are sinners)
Confession/Prayer: “Steady Heart” by Bethel
Redemption (Jesus saves us)
Proclamation of Redemption: “I Have Found” by Kim Walker
Consummation (Jesus sends us)
Send Out: “Called Me Higher” by All Sons and Daughters
As you can see in the example song list above, the song choices center on the gospel message. Worship leaders have a unique opportunity to share the entire gospel within the church service through songs and liturgy. Mike Cosper reminds us, “It’s a rhythm of life, forming our identity as a gospel-shaped people. It’s a gospel rhythm, reminding us of our dependence and Christ’s sufficiency. It’s a rhythm of grace, spurring us on to live in the life-giving outpouring of love and mercy from the God of the universe.”
When we rediscover the gospel, we begin to see how the story shapes us, and our community to live missionally with gospel-centered lives. When we recognize this, we see that the gospel is actually all about worship, worship that was once broken by sin, but now restored in Jesus. For this reason worship is all about the gospel, and we should rehearse the story every time we gather together.