Recently, I wrote a short piece for our congregation explaining why we worship the way we do (see below). I wanted to help our people understand that there is a reason the service looks like it does each week.
Just as crucially, I want visitors to understand the thought process behind our worship. Non-Christians may have no reference point for what’s going on. And Christians checking out our church may think our style seems strange.
Increasingly, the normal evangelical worship services consists of 25 minutes of singing, a brief prayer, 30-40 minutes of teaching, then a closing song (with the offering and the announcements somewhere in between). Many good churches worship in this way, and I have no doubt God is sincerely and faithfully worshiped with this order of service. But it’s not the way Christians have historically worshiped. And, I would argue, it is not as rich and deep and gospel-shaped as a service can be. I would never suggest University Reformed Church has everything nailed down or that we are the only ones “doing it right.” We do, however, have reasons for worshiping the way we do.
Why We Worship the Way We Do
There is nothing more important in life than worship. We all worship something or someone. The only question is whether we will worship the right One in the right way. At URC we want all of life to be worship to God (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 10:31). He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power (Rev. 4:11). In particular, we want our worship services on Sunday to be pleasing to Him. To gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day to worship at God’s throne under the authority of God’s word is our solemn duty and joyful privilege.
It’s with that supreme goal in mind that we hold to a number of values when it comes to corporate worship.
1. Glory to God – Worship is ultimately for Him. He is the most important audience at every service.
2. Edifying to God’s people – Corporate worship must build up the body of Christ. Believers should be equipped, comforted, and exhorted.
3. Understandable – New words and concepts may be introduced, but the service should be intelligible to both Christians and non-Christians.
4. Biblical – The whole service teaches God’s people, so everything—the prayers, the songs, the preaching—must be biblical. We like the saying: in worship we read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and see the Bible in the sacraments.
5. Emphasizing the ordinary means of grace – God can work in many ways, but he has committed to being with us and transforming us through certain “means of grace.” He communes with us through prayer, through the word, and through the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Our services emphasize these ordinary means whereby God promises to give us more grace.
6. Expositional preaching – The central act in the worship service is the preaching of God’s word. We believe this is best accomplished through the careful, Spirit-filled exposition of Scripture. Normally, this means we work systematically through a book of the Bible, verse by verse. No matter the approach, every sermon should flow from Scripture and proclaim the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection.
7. Thoughtful – Every church has a liturgy (an order of service). Our service has four parts: praise, renewal, proclamation, response. We see this pattern in the covenant renewal ceremonies of Scripture and in various divine encounters. In Isaiah 6, for example, Isaiah comes before God and praises him; then he confesses sin and seeks renewal; God then speaks his word to Isaiah; and finally Isaiah responds with commitment to God. This is also a gospel pattern: approach God in awe, see our sin, hear the good news, respond in faith and obedience.
8. Historical – The Church has been thinking about how to worship for centuries. We want to learn from our spiritual ancestors and build on their models. To that end, we regularly employ creeds, confessions, catechisms, responsive readings, and other forms that have been common in church history.
9. Mixing old and new – We believe there are new songs to be sung to Jesus. We also believe there is a great heritage of church music that we should embrace. You’ll find that our services use music from different genres and different centuries. It can be fast, loud, slow, or soft. We use a variety of instruments, everything from guitars and drums to the organ. In all this, the most important sound is that of the congregation singing.
10. Prayerful – Our services include many different prayers. Often you will find a prayer of confession because we sin every week and need gospel mercy every week. We usually have a longer congregational prayer, which is an important time to pray for the needs of our church family and for the world.