Just as Jesus is both the sacrifice and the priest, so the gospel is both the means and focus of corporate worship—that is to say, the Godhead’s work in the gospel is our central focus and we are capable of such worship only through the access we have in Christ.
It is vitally important for us to plan our services with the gospel at the center as this is ultimately the point of scripture—we see Jesus’ work in every page. From the need created in Gen. 3 to the Lamb’s book of life in Revelation 21, God’s purpose is to show us Jesus (Lk. 24:44).
Additionally, if the gospel is not the center of what determines what songs we do and how we do them, we open ourselves up to a host of motivations that could easily run our worship services. Bryan Chappel says it this way;
“If gospel priorities do not determine worship choices, then people’s preferences will tear the church apart. The variety of style possibilities combined with the usual mix of personalities, generations, newcomers and old-timers will put church leaders under constant pressure to adjust worship. If personal preferences are allowed to call the shots, then worship tensions will be unavoidable.”
In light of this, I want to give a few items that we should consider when planning services;
- Our Need for a Mediator
As we look at the role of theology in leading worship, we should always recognize that our only confidence in worship is our Mediator’s blood (Heb. 10:19).
As such, our music should always contain this message on some level. Our people need to be reminded daily that, though they fall short of God’s glory in their sin (Rom. 3:23), there is hope to be justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:24). We don’t move beyond the gospel. Even if our worship services were entirely made up of those who were saved by Jesus blood, we should still focus on the gospel. Paul tells those who have been “raised up with Christ” to “keep seeking the things above” (Col. 3:1-2). He also tells us to let the “word of Christ richly dwell within” us so that we sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16)—the same “word of Christ” which leads us to salvation (Rom. 10:17).
- Beholding Glory for Life-Change
The first few chapters of 2 Corinthians center on Paul’s validation as a minister. In 3:1 he writes “Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?” From this, we can see that Paul’s authority was obviously in question. But Paul answers in a typical Pauline fashion—“you are our letter” (2 Cor. 3:2). Paul’s validation as a minister was the changed lives of those he ministers to. But how does this happen?
Specifically, in 2 Cor. 3, Paul tells us this happens in a new way, with the gospel and not the law. This al comes to climax in v. 18;
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord the Spirit.”
As Paul sees it, how does transformation happen? When we behold God’s glory. As we behold His glory, we are transformed. John also gives us a similar thought;
“…We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will se Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
Paul gives us even greater clarity in 2 Cor. 4;
“For God who said ‘light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)
We behold God’s glory in Christ. So then, it stands to reason that if we are actively showing our congregation Jesus, they are beholding God’s glory (cf. John 14:9). As they behold His glory they are transformed into “the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18). So, the more we look to Christ, the more we look like Him—that’s the end of our worship services.
- The Message and It’s Container–
Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship hammers home the point that our liturgy (how we order our service) reflects our message. In reviewing varying liturgies throughout church history, Chapell concludes the following;
“The reason this liturgy became so common, however, cannot simply be explained by cultural currents. The liturgy did not merely form the pattern for gospel worship; the gospel formed the liturgy. Where the gospel was truly understood and rightly held, this pattern of worship naturally unfolded—not simply because English culture held sway, but because the gospel forms the best container for its expression. A milk carton differs from an egg carton because the contents determine the structure of their container. So also the content of the gospel forms the worship that best expresses it. The commonality of the Westminster traditions is more attributable to its conformity to the contours of the gospel than to the power of any culture or church to determine a universal style of worship.”
Here are the basic elements that Chapell concludes should be in every worship service;
- Adoration (recognition of God’s greatness and grace)
- Confession (acknowledgement of our sin and need for grace)
- Assurance (affirmation of God’s provision of grace)
- Thanksgiving (expression of praise and thanks for God’s grace)
- Petition and Intercession (expression of dependence on God’s grace)
- Instruction (acquiring the knowledge to grow in grace)
- Communion/Fellowship (celebrating the grace of union with Christ and his people)
- Charge and Blessing (living for and in the light of God’s grace)
While I’m not sure of the legitimacy of all of these categories (as you read the book, the connections Chapel makes between some scripture passages and his 8-fold layout is sometimes a stretch), I do agree that our services need to match the gospel we teach.
|Isaiah 6 (Isaiah)||Deut. 5 (Sinai)||2 Ch. 5-7 (Solomon)|
|Adoration||Isaiah 6:1-4||Deut. 5:4, 22-24||2 Ch. 5:1-5|
|Confession||Isaiah 6:5||Deut. 5:5, 25-27||2 Ch. 5:6-10|
|Assurance||Isaiah 6:6-7||Deut. 5:2-3, 6||2 Ch. 5:11-13|
|Thanksgiving||Isaiah 6:7||Deut. 27||2 Ch. 6:1-11|
|Petition||Isaiah 6:8||2 Ch. 6:12-21|
|Instruction||Isaiah 6:9-12||Deut. 5:6-21, 32-33a||2 Ch. 6:22-42|
|Communion||2 Ch. 7:4-9|
|Blessing/Charge||Isaiah 6:13||Deut. 5:33b||2 Ch. 7:10|
But what of the New Testament? Chapell writes;
“The scarcity of liturgical mandates in the New Testament cannot reflect the writers’ lack of concern for rightly worshipping God. Too many gave their lives for His glory. Instead, the lack of explicit detail must reflect an intention to guide us by transcendent principles rather than by specific worship forms that could become culture-bound, time-locked, and superstition-invoking.”
As we search the scriptures, there is a way that seems to be recognized as men approach the Divine. Isaiah 6 can show us a great deal of how we come into God’s presence.
Quite honestly, we have no right from the scriptures to thunder this particular structure of worship. But I can say with confidence that, on a practical level, it has helped our church review and rejoice in the death of Jesus. It brings a structure to our congregation that helps stay focused on the most important thing.
Every worshipping body, though, needs to pay attention to how their services structure reflects their most basic beliefs. Do you interject thoughts between songs? Why or why not? Do you place the offering before or after the message? Why or why not?
At the end of the day, the pastor needs to consider how the church services affect God’s sheep. Services designed to emphasize the work of God’s true Shepherd (see John 10) should bring comfort to His sheep. It is in the cross that we most clearly see God’s love and care for us (Jhn. 3:16, Rom. 5:6-8).
 Chapell, Bryan, Christ-Centered Worship, ©2009, Baker Academic, pg. 130.
 Chapell, Bryan, Christ-Centered Worship; ©2009, Baker Academic, p. 68
 Ibid., p. 85-97
 Ibid., p. 108