What kind of worship service do you have?

I’ve been asked the question a number of times. “What kind of worship does your church do?” Sometimes the question is a bit more specific: “Do you do contemporary or traditional worship?” Several church signs I drive by indicate the times of their traditional, contemporary, and perhaps blended worship services. The most hip are now doing contemporvant.

It seems that the most important question anyone has about worship is whether the music is led by a band or a choir. I know that people have stylistic preferences. In honesty, I have my own. But I think other aspects of our worship are much more interesting and important.

Changing the Conversation

I’d like to change the conversation when it comes to what kind of worship we do. In fact, when people ask me the question, I tell them, “We do Word and Table worship.” That’s usually followed by a strange look. People aren’t used to descriptions of worship that have to do with its primary substance. But this is the best description I can give. In fact, it is the only description of our worship I can give and know will remain true.

Every week, we hear the Word of God. Week after week it comes to us to guide, rebuke, encourage, or correct. And every week, we come to the Table to commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death, participate in his body and blood, and receive the spiritual strengthening to do His will. Word and Table — these are the essentials of our worship and nothing else.

When some people in our community have asked how I describe our worship, I ask them, “Which would be more shocking to you: if a piano and choir were to lead our music one week, or if we were to simply sing, preach, and then give a benediction?” I suspect that I might not get a single question if we were to use the piano and choir. But if we didn’t come to the Table one week, I expect that the majority would be confused, disappointed, and perhaps distressed.

I expect the same would happen if we chose to have a reading and message from Aesop’s Fables rather than from the Word one week. How, then, is our worship defined? By the Word and the Table. Everything else may change, but these will always remain.

Hearing from Many Streams

Since the question about what kind of worship we do typically has to do with music – and sometimes other liturgical elements (i.e. whether we say any creeds, use drama, etc.) – I’d like to say a brief word on these elements of our worship. In most of my community’s worship services, a band leads the music. This does not mean that we sing exclusively – or even primarily – praise choruses written in the past ten years. We sing Appalachian spirituals, praise choruses, hymns, and Black gospel songs. We have chanted psalms and have even danced (or at least moved around a little) to African praise songs.

This variety is important to us. We believe Christians from many different places, times, and streams of influence have contributed something important. If we limit ourselves to one particular stream and style, we are likely to miss the great perspectives that have come from so many others.

I hope to embrace that same mentality when it comes to other elements of worship. We have a number of excellent elements to choose from as we worship each week – creeds, prayers, greetings and collects, drama and dance – and we would be remiss to neglect any of these. We do not consider any of these essential to our weekly worship – only Word and Table hold that distinction. So we don’t necessarily recite the Apostles’ Creed or say the Lord’s Prayer every week, but we make sure to incorporate these into our worship throughout different times of the year. The weekly presence or absence of any of these elements has also been a point of controversy in some churches, and I would again encourage us to focus on more important matters.

Let’s leave behind the battles about musical styles or secondary elements. Honestly, if you will only attend a worship service that uses a [insert instrument of choice], I would challenge you to re-consider your priorities in worship. If we contend for anything, let’s contend for the content of Word and Table in all of our worship, then embrace all of the great variety the Christian tradition has to offer when it comes to the other elements.

10 thoughts on “What kind of worship service do you have?

  1. First of all, I just started reading this blog – and it’s wonderful! Teddy, you’ve always been, by far, the most thought provoking person I know. I’m so pleased that you’ve started writing for our consumption.

    As far as worship goes – I couldn’t agree more. Word and Table, huh? Now you’ve really got me thinking. And just to add another little thought to the mix, I have a hard time with the fact that the word “worship” has become synonymous with going to church. I saw someone start a church service one time with the line, “Thank you for being here and continuing a life of worship.” I always thought that was more appropriate.

    Anyhow, keep writing – I’ll keep reading.

    -E

    1. Eddie,

      I’m honored that you’re reading! And thank you for the kind words.

      You make a great, larger point about “worship” being synonymous with formal church services. We could keep going. How many times have you heard, “Now let’s enter into a time of worship,” right after a prayer or sermon? Which suggests that only part of our public worship service is actually worship. The line about continuing a life of worship is great. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. I agree with everything that has been presented here. I just would like a clarification. I understand your viewpoints of “worship” being synonymous with formal church services and you use the example of “now let’s enter into a time of worship”. How would you explain the liturgical and biblical aspect of the “Call to Worship”. What is the distinction there? Is that a different type of worship? Our worship should not end throughout the week, but is there a distinction between our personal worship and corporate worship with believers? I hope this doesn’t come across as critical or argumentative, it is a genuine question and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

    1. AHill07,

      Thanks for your questions, and thanks for reading.

      I think you’re making a good point about the special place of corporate worship. All of life should be worship – engaging with God and giving ourselves to him in full obedience – but that shouldn’t diminish the particular importance of our corporate worship.

      From Israel’s beginnings, we see a call to covenant obedience in everyday life and also a special encounter with God in religious ceremonies. Their cultic life had a distinct place in the community’s covenant with God. In the OT, God was already omnipresent, but God was also especially present in the tabernacle and temple. Perhaps the distinction for our corporate worship is the same.

      What do you think?

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