One of the early templates for worship design I learned in seminary had four simple parts to it:
- The People are Gathered
- The Word is Spoken
- The People Respond
- The People are Sent
All of the components of most church services function in one of these four ways, and worship design consists in part of making choices that facilitate these four actions in a way that leads to a real encounter with the Living Christ. As pastors, worship leaders, and others make decisions about what to do (or not do) in a worship service, these movements always keep me grounded and help me weed through the fluff to those things that are most important to the life of the body of Christ.
As we look at the gatherings of the people of God in Scripture, one of the things that sticks out to me is not only the biblical foundations of these movements in corporate gatherings, but how God (not humanity) initiates the movement to gather. The Exodus was God’s idea, and its aims were both to make a people for himself (extending the Abrahamic covenant to his descendants) and through that people to bless the nations. This would only happen if God welcomed them in (via relationship, or covenant) and the people were given a way to participate in (or reject) the call of God to worship and follow into that promise. All of the moves of God to gather God’s people together have this same trajectory (see the giving of the law again in Deuteronomy, the covenant renewal in Joshua 24, or the reading and response to the Law in Nehemiah for a few examples).
Christ, being the better Word who speaks to us now of a better covenant built on better promises (Hebrews 1-10), makes the same invitation to the (potential) people of God. They are called by God to gather for the sake of hearing and responding to the Word of God – which is a transformative and empowering participation in the life-giving relationship God has opened up to them in Jesus. This is why the gathering should not be forsaken (Hebrew 10:25) – because Christ himself is calling us together for the sake of revelation, transformation, and mission. Gathering together is God’s idea, and made possible through Christ in the power of the Spirit.
I try to think about this on those Sunday mornings when minutia and tasks pile up as we finalize our preparations for worship. It is so easy to make Sunday mornings about the wrong things: good sermons, great music, community, fellowship, or even my own spiritual or emotional needs. None of those things are inherently bad, but they are not the primary reason we gather on Sundays. We gather because God has called a meeting.
God called us to gather. God called us to gather together. God called us to gather together to speak to us. And Christ Himself is going to lead us.
Sometimes I repeat these ideas to myself before we worship at my church. I remind myself of it because I want worship to be this hearing and responding, this revelation and participation in God. I want worship to be what God wants it to be. I think most worship designers do. And still, God wants his plan to unfold more than I do, and has provided the means through Christ to make it so. Knowing that God has a plan for gathering us, that we gather because we are called to do so, teaches me to trust God to do the real leading in our congregation. I have a role, but it has more to do with listening than it does singing or preaching or any other thing. Once I believe that, worship leading becomes a lot easier.
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