With the work of Robert Webber, Cherry Constance, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, there has been an increase in popularity for understanding the church’s Sunday morning worship as follows:
Table (or alternative response)
This framework for ordering worship can shed light on our understanding of worship. Our gathering is in response to God’s call, He speaks to us, we respond by either dining with Him or responding in another appropriate way, and then He sends us back into the world to love our neighbors.
Since the four-fold order offers an order of the church’s worship from the highest altitude, I would like to come down just enough to see another layer of our ordered worship. More specifically, I want to take a look at the Word. When we drop in closer, we see the following order of the Word:
Reading of Scripture
This order can be seen within the first couple of centuries of the church. In the second century Justin Martyr wrote that the Scriptures would read for as long as time allowed. Then the elder would expound on the readings for the encouragement of the people and then prayers would be offered.
And to this day many Christian liturgies still reflect this order of the Word. There are a few things I want to highlight. First, the reading of the Scripture on its own terms. Reading aloud the Scriptures and leaving space for the congregation to just listen to the living Word of God.
Second, the preaching stems from the reading of Scripture. Thematic preaching has gained a lot of popularity and while it may have its place, a certain priority should be given to expounding the Scriptures from their own context. In fact, if a congregation is intentional about how they work through the Scriptures the whole salvation narrative can be proclaimed in a years time.
Lastly, our prayers are a response to the reading of Scripture and the preaching. This allows our prayers to have a theological context. Our prayers are now guided and shaped by God Himself as they are now a response to his Word spoken to us.
Maybe this early yet enduring order can speak to how we approach the Scriptures in our gathered worship. Do we read the Scriptures? Is the preaching and our prayers placed somewhere in the service that facilitate our encounter with God? These are questions each worship leader should seek to answer.
Jason Palmer is the Administrator of TalkingWorship.com. He has a Bachelor of Science in Ministry and is currently studying for the Master of Divinity degree. Jason leads worship for Glenn Street Church. He has lead evangelical churches in worship for 8 years and desires to see worship leaders become confident in their calling.