What things should take place when we gather to worship? If I am a service leader sitting down to prepare, what are the ingredients which I have to combine into an order of 'service'? Here are a few things:
1. A sermon. If the gospel isn't preached and applied, it isn't Christian worship. Of course, the gospel can be preached from many starting points - as many and as varied as the multiple witness of Scripture - and applied into many situations - as many and as varied as the lives of all the congregants. But it must be preached, both as a theological and a practical necessity; the former because the gospel alone is the foundation of our approach to God in worship, and the latter because we need the gospel for daily living.
2. Scripture reading. My own feeling is that the gospel demands of churches in my context that they ramp up the amount and quality of Scripture reading involved in their gatherings. We live in a time when the basic storyline of Scripture, and the content of particular Scriptural texts, are generally not well known within the church, and completely unknown outside it. That leaves God's people vulnerable to being misled from the pulpit, because they are not equipped to weigh up what is said. It also leaves them ill-prepared for personal devotional study of the Bible. My own preference would be for two or three decent length readings from Scripture, besides the passage which is being preached in the sermon. We need to be saturated with Bible. In particular, my own feeling is that it makes good theological and practical sense to open our worship with Scripture, a role for which the Psalms are very well suited. Theologically, it reminds us that God initiates, and the first thing we do is hear; practically, it prepares our hearts and gets us into the right frame of mind for worship.
3. Singing. Scripture is full of singing as the right response to God's saving action, whether that is at the Red Sea or in the church. I worry when Christians won't sing, or don't sing enthusiastically. Partly this is just related to my experience - having been in church all my life, I stopped singing as a teenager, and only resumed when I was converted, so singing to me is associated with new birth. But then, singing is associated with new birth in Scripture as well! At the most basic level, joyful hearts open singing lips. There are some people, I know, who are worried that music is emotionally manipulative, and are concerned about getting carried away emotionally. That is possible, but I think it is far less of a danger than a cold, emotionless worship. Music, I am convinced, is amongst other things given to stir up the emotions in us which are appropriate to the gospel. In the sorts of churches I generally attend, I can't help feeling there is not enough singing, which concerns me because it doesn't reflect a gospel heart and a gospel aesthetic. Let's sing more.
Some more tomorrow...