Every church is liturgical. Even those of us who like to think we’re not, we definitely are. Liturgy is just the order in which you do things. Unless you change the order of literally every element of your service every week – which I suppose is its own sort of liturgy – we are all liturgical. We all have an order to what we do in church.
But more than just having an order to what we do, we also communicate something by that order. We communicate what we think is important by the order in which we do things. We communicate something by how various elements of the service interact with one another. That is why it is important to think about your liturgy because, like it or not, you do have one and you are communicating something through it.
There are all sorts of ways we can do things. I don’t think the Bible insists on a particular order of service. There are all sorts of legitimate and helpful ways we can work these things out. But it is worth thinking about exactly that so we can communicate most helpfully when we do it.
In our church, we have a brief opening to welcome visitors and express how pleased we are people have gathered together followed by a song to get our thoughts focused on the one we have come to worship. This is followed by the Bible reading and the sermon. We want the Bible to be read and the preaching of the Word to take place right at the front end of the service because we want the Lord to speak to us first. We want to communicate that we are here to worship him, to hear from him and to respond to what he has to say to us.
Following the reading and preaching, everything that follows is a response to what we have heard. We move into a time of open prayer where anybody in the congregation is invited to pray. We direct people to pray in response to what was preached and put some notes on the screens – highlighting the key points and applications – that we might want to pray into. After our prayers, we sing some songs. Again, we focus the songs on the key themes of the sermon and we direct people to specifically why we have chosen these particular songs. The aim is, having prayed in response to the Word, to sing in response to what we have heard too. After this, we have a time of testimony. Again, the direction is to share about how the Word has particularly spoken to you this week for the encouragement of the church. It is designed to express how the Lord is specifically dealing with us in the congregation through his Word.
After such responses to the Word, we share the notices for the week. As the Word has been read, preached and applied – then prayed, sung and testimony given in response – we remember what we have been called to do together as a church in the week. After the reminder that we are called to serve beyond Sunday, we then share in the Lord’s Supper to remind ourselves of our oneness in Christ. We finish with a benediction to encourage us as we seek to honour the Lord throughout the week – usually a benediction reiterating something of what we have heard from the Word.
I am not suggesting this format is the right one. It is just how we do it. We are keen to communicate that the Lord speaks to us first and everything we are doing as a church is centred on the Word and in response to what God has to say to us. We have found this approach to the elements of the service to be helpful in getting our thinking about God right and helps us think in terms of our response to him. Which seems like a reasonable application of the first few questions in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
You may do things differently. You might have altogether different thoughts on why you order things as you do and how you emphasise what is important. That’s absolutely fine. Assuming you have all the elements of a service scripture expects you to have, we are given freedom on how best to apply them in our context. But we should all think carefully about what we do, the order in which we do it and what we might be communicating as we do it.