A common misconception (because it is wrongly taught and spoken of in that way) is that worship refers only to the songs we sing when we are in church: the musical portion of the church service. In fact, most “Evangelical” churches (Evangelical meaning non-Catholic, Protestant, conservative and Bible-based) separate their church services into two parts, often referred to as “worship” and the “word.” Services typically consist of 30 minutes of singing and 30 minutes of preaching, followed by an altar call.
But worship is so much more than just the songs we sing. It is everything we do together as Christ’s church, gathered in the presence of God to receive His gifts. And yes, I said to receive. Worship is not about what we do or give to God. We do that in response to the great and generous gifts He pours out on us – and in turn He pours out more blessings upon us as we try to give Him what little we have. You cannot out-give God, no matter how hard you try. Even the financial offering we bring is simply an acknowledgement of all we have received from God, and it is an offering which pales in comparison to the generous blessings He pours out on us before, during and after our puny tithe.
And since everything we do is worship, a much better differentiation between parts of the service than “Worship” and “Word” is “Word” and “Sacrament*.” Because the music we sing, play and listen to is a part of the service of the Word. In fact, the music is there to reinforce the Word as a part of the Word. The songs we sing are not an offering that we bring; they are a teaching tool.
How often have you left church singing a hymn or praise song from that morning? Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation and remembered the words of a Bible verse or a hymn/song that gave you comfort? Found yourself looking at a beautiful sunset and thinking to yourself, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder”? No? Never? Maybe you need to spend more time in church…
The Word is there from God. Read to us in the daily Scripture reading(s). Explained to us and applied to our lives in the message/sermon. Reinforced in the words of the songs/hymns we sing, the words of the confession or the prayers. This is all taken into consideration in the planning and constructing of the worship service – or at least, it should be, if the Pastor and staff members are being faithful…
The word for the order of the service is liturgy. It is an ancient word that means “the work of the people.” Today, it is associated with traditional churches with a “high church” order of service, as opposed to the 30 & 30 style mentioned earlier, but liturgy simply refers to the order of the service. Even 30 & 30 is a type of liturgy, it’s just an especially simplified one. The purpose of the liturgy is to lead the people through the corporate act of worship by constructing sentences within a greater paragraph, or as phrases within a greater conversation.By the end of the service, you may not be aware of how all the parts fit together, but you should leave knowing whatever the thematic point was for that service (for example, that God’s grace is free, or that we are called to love our neighbor).
The worship service is a conversation between God and His people, between Christ and His Church. When we are planning worship, we are writing the dialogue. This is why it is such a high calling, such a tremendous responsibility, such an incalculable honor to do it. If the different parts and pieces do not fit together, then it’s like having a disjointed conversation. You risk the people missing the point of the service; you lose the heart of the communication. But just as the many parts of the body join together to form one being in ourselves and in the church, the many parts of the liturgy join together to form one worship service.
We need to make sure we don’t fall into the habit of dividing the worship service into the things we do (worship) vs. the things we learn (word). God pours at least as much out on us through our music as we could ever give to Him. And the sermon is more than a teaching: it is the timeless Word of God Himself, spoken into our lives in the here and now. If the message doesn’t somehow convict you of your sin, remind you that you are forgiven, and push you to live out your faith in a way that applies to your life, your pastor isn’t doing his job.+
The point is, don’t view worship as something God needs from you, or something you owe Him (though technically, we do). See it as something you need in order to be healthy. Come to worship to be filled up again. To be surrounded by a family of believers who is struggling with some of the very same things you are. To be told that you are not OK, and that’s OK. To be reminded that you are forgiven, really, truly and completely. Come to worship to grow as a person. Come as you are… but don’t stay that way. And yes, come to worship – don’t watch it on TV or live stream it unless you are physically unable to go in person. Worship happens with God’s family, in the church, where the Word and Sacrament are distributed freely, lovingly, and indiscriminately.
Trust me: it’s good stuff.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
“On Sunday go to church. Yes, I know all the excuses. I know that one can worship the Creator and dedicate oneself to good living in a grove of trees, or by a running brook, or in one’s own house, just as well as in a church. But I also know that as a matter of cold fact the average man does not thus worship or dedicate himself.” -Teddy Roosevelt
*A Sacrament has three characteristics, which must all be present:
- It is instituted by God.
- It combines God’s Word with a visible element.
- There is actual forgiveness of sins taking place.
Because of this, we as Lutherans recognize two Sacraments:
- God’s Word + Water = Baptism
- God’s Word + Bread & Wine = The Lord’sSupper.
+Your Pastor has a hard job, believe it or not, and not every sermon will be a home run. Cut him some slack – but if none of his sermons ever convict, remind or push, you might consider that you are suffering from bad preaching. Or, maybe, an attention deficit on your part?