Online liturgy

Given all the new things we’re having to deal with on the hop, one of the many things worth thinking through is our online liturgy. Do we try to mimic everything that we would usually do in the normal gathering of the church or are there things that we can’t do or don’t see the value of doing given the circumstances? Leaving aside the vexed question of communion for now – given I have written about that before and articles on the subject abound – do our online orders of service, the things we include and those we leave out, speak to what we view as important or not?

From what I can see, live streams seem to fall into four broad categories:

  1. Everything the same – Entire service, start to finish, continues almost as normal, usually conducted by one person
  2. Mainly the same – Some elements may be left out (e.g. communion) but most stuff carries on including prayers and sung worship
  3. Minimal service with sermon – This might include some prayers and the sermon but, otherwise, nothing else remains
  4. Sermon only

Whilst there are those who are not streaming anything for various reasons, I haven’t come across anybody doing a live stream (or, pre-recording) who are leaving out their sermon (which is good!)

For the reasons that we have outlined before, we are not holding communion online. But we are trying to incorporate most other aspects of our usual service. The only thing that has been missing otherwise is that we usually have a time of testimony for people to share how the Lord has been working in their life this week. This is obviously more difficult when nobody is in the room with you! However, we are intending to try and include a text-in version that could be read out, a bit like an amateur CBBC segment. We have kept our open prayer (in a sense) by simply leaving a 10-minute gap for people to pray at home in their family groups. But apart from that, we sing, we pray, we read the scriptures and we are keeping most of the things the same.

But it probably bears asking why we are doing that. Not least as ‘what else would we do?’ isn’t really a credible reason. But there is a reason we have continued to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. With the exception of communion – which we believe is impossible to do without physically meeting – the reason we do what we do normally is because they correspond to how we believe the Lord has called us to worship corporately (and, to a lesser degree, as individuals too).

So, why do we meet weekly to sit under the Word? Because we believe that is the pattern set by scripture and is the means appointed by the Lord for his people to grow. Why do we have a time of testimony? It is a way of the church encouraging one another with how the Lord is specifically at work in their lives. Why do we pray? Because it is an important part of worship. Why do we Sing? Because… well, you get the picture.

But, of course, we can’t physically gather anymore. So, should we carry on doing all these things? Clearly, our God-given circumstances mean that we cannot now meet together. Similarly, those same circumstances mean that we can’t take communion because the physical gathering is essential to what the Lord’s Supper actually is. But everything else, though not the same and not exactly corporate worship under the circumstances, are all things that are commanded of us apart from the public gathering of the church. We are all to dwell on the Word, to pray, to sing, to encourage others, etc even as we are not physically meeting formally with the church.

So, there are really two reasons why we have tried to keep everything as similar as possible. First, these are all things that are normally commanded by the Lord for worship and hey can still be valuable apart from formal gathering. But second, these are the things that can be done apart from the formal gathering. So, whatever we can do that doesn’t inherently require gathering, those are things we want to carry on doing. And we think that extends to much more than just our sermon, even if it doesn’t quite extend to ordinances like communion.

The other, perhaps more practical reason, is that we are in a situation whereby we cannot meet. That is just where we are at in the circumstances the Lord has ordained. But we want to mitigate, to the best of our ability, the negative impact of not being able to meet as we would usually. That is why most of us are live streaming at all and taking our home groups onto conferencing tech. And it is why we are including the things that we are doing. We believe that these things – though imperfectly and not nearly as well as when we can meet together – will mitigate the worst problems that could ensue should we have no means of meeting, communicating nor worshipping “together” on any level at all. We might not be able to meet, but there are things we can do to stop things being as bad as they could be.