I call myself an EpiscoBaptiPentaGationalist. My worship preferences have changed over the years, and my love for the variety of styles in the body of Christ has correspondingly deepened. I grew up in a Congregational Church (UCC). My beloved hero grandfather introduced me to worship in a Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). College years were in a Reformed Church (RCA). I was ordained in an Independent Baptist-like Church (Grace Chapel). In my previous leadership post (Vision New England) and now at LTI we work with dozens of denominations. And, for the past two years my wife and I find ourselves worshiping most Sunday mornings with Episcopal Monks in a Cambridge (MA) Monastery.
In each of these settings, there exists a particular liturgy. A liturgy is what a church customarily does in their worship service at approximately the same time and place within the hour (or so) that the community gathers. Also considered a set of ritual practices, liturgies are found in all traditions, even in those church settings not generally considered “liturgical.” For example, even in the most contemporary worship services, the opening song set occurs generally at the same time and in the designated tempos (i.e. a song of praise, followed by one of thanks, ending in a more serious tone of confession). The prayers, offering, and sermon happen at roughly the same time each week. The public reading of the Scriptures occur from about the same place in the order of service and usually by the same person or representative member of the team.
Yes, liturgies exist in 99% of the churches we attend. Pay attention to your own church over the next several weeks and notice the ritual. Some would see liturgies as boring, redundant, and lifeless. However, I am of the opinion that liturgies are good for the soul of the congregation and the souls of the congregants. Although I encourage pastors and worship leaders to consider ways to creatively change up their normal order of service, I find the liturgy of worship something that comforts worshipers and provides a structure by which the people of God are guided into a shared awareness of the presence, power, and peace of Almighty God.
What part of the liturgy of your church’s worship means the most to you? This past week I found several aspects of the worship service which were most meaningful to my soul, especially the recitation of the Nicene Creed, singing the Lord’s Prayer, and savoring the Eucharist meal. I also enjoy holding the hymnal with my wife, as there’s something special about seeing each other’s thumbs holding down our respective pages. And, listening to the reading of the Gospel seemed to penetrate my heart in a special way too. The time together with this eclectic group of hungry souls was particularly rich. I left the sanctuary renewed and grateful.
Not only do our liturgies provide important structure for the worship life of our congregations. But, they remind us of the importance of liturgies that define our broader experiences as Christ followers in all aspects of our life. In essence, there are “liturgies” we follow at work, in the home, among family and friends, and in our personal lives. Crafting a rule of life provides a way for us to consider and reconsider our personal liturgies, keeping in place what gives us life, removing what’s detrimental, and including new practices that foster the relationships and rhythms that enhance our life in Christ.
In this coming week, why not look carefully at the liturgies that define your worship life, and consider prayerfully the liturgies that release the kind of life God is inviting you to pursue humbly and for His glory? What you’ll discover are elements of a Rule of Life…part of the corporate rule of life practiced by your congregation and elements of the personal rule of life you are fulfilling as a pilgrim on a journey toward love and faithfulness to God. Be sure to choose liturgies that create, redeem, sustain, and ultimately transform your life!