I just read a chapter on worship from Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken’s book, Renovation of the Church (IVP Books, 2011), that I found instructive and inspiring. He (Kent Carlson) describes how they moved their church from a “seeker-sensitive” church that emphasized the style of worship, to one that is focused on spiritual formation, and is more concerned about the content and structure of the worship service. In fact, he argues that the order of priority for worship-planning is: content, structure, then style.
Re. Content: “We celebrate God’s continual activity in this world and his invitation to join with him in his plan of redemption. This wonderful story, with the extensive scriptural teaching on the implications of all this, is the central content of our worship” (153). A practical way to celebrate God’s story is to follow the Church calendar (Advent to Pentecost).
Re. Structure: Carlson’s church decided to use the following four common movements of worship on a regular basis: Gathering (includes: the Call to Worship; Prayers of Adoration and Invocation; and Songs of Praise); Service of the Word (includes: multiple Scripture readings, media presentations, drama and of course the sermon); Service of the Table (the regularly scheduled Communion service); and Sending (“We are sent out into the world to declare the good news of God’s redemption” .).
Re. Style: Whatever worship style that feels natural for your church family and helps you to help you meet your goals regarding content and structure.
I thought this chapter was especially practical and instructive. As I have read elsewhere and observed in person, worship can be a trigger for anxiety. But I think if we were more focussed on the content and structure of our worship, we would become more flexible and gracious regarding the style. Let’s face it, we’re not going to like every song that is sung or every element of worship, but the main thing is that God’s story is celebrated, and we worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). For those are the kind of worshippers he seeks.