Recently I led a seminar for the Columbia Basin Baptist Association on planning a worship service. The following is the handout I used and I thought it might be helpful to others who plan worship services.
A classic and helpful understanding of corporate worship was given by Soren Kierkegaard more than 150 years ago. He said that in a service of worship God is the audience, the congregants are the performers, and the pastor is the prompter. If this is a correct, and I believe that it is, then worship needs to be directed toward God with the intent of pleasing Him. Worship leaders are to lead congregants to “perform” for God, to engage with God, in thought and heart and behavior. Worshippers are not consumers of religious products and the worship leaders are not the suppliers of such products.
This in no way infers that worship leaders should ignore the presence of unbelievers and church guests attending a service of Christian worship. Worship services are a major entry way into churches and into the Kingdom for the unbeliever. As missionaries have identified, unbelievers experience two “conversions” as they come to Christ. First, they are converted to us. Second, they are converted to Christ. They first ask the question, “Do I like/respect these church people?” If they do, then they will listen to what we say about Christ. Worship leaders must guide the congregants with clarity and understanding, much like a Holy Land tour guide explains each step of the pilgrim’s journey through Jerusalem. With this in mind, the following checklist is helpful in worship planning.
a. For what do we need to pray? What do we need to say to God? What do we need to hear from God? Even as the pastor prepares his sermon, he should prepare to lead the congregation in prayer by making a prayer list as the week passes. b. When will we pray? Beginning of the service? Pastoral prayer? End of service? c. Who will lead in prayer? Methods of praying that will be employed?
2. God’s Word, the Bible
a. What passages will we read and when will we read them? b. Who will we select to read God’s Word? (Pastor/preacher, men, women, children) c. Is the reading of God’s Word a central act of our worship?
a. What do we want to teach through the song(s)? Does the song teach biblical truths? b. Does the congregation know the song? c. Is the song singable? Is the music in a range that men and women can sing? d. Does the song magnify God and exalt Jesus Christ? e. Do any of the songs mention Jesus? The gospel? f. Does the music leader engage the congregation and lead them to sing? (eye contact, facial expression, smile, good use of transitions between songs) g. When using a “praise team,” does each member sing every verse? If not, what does this communicate to the congregation? h. Caution: worship music can sometimes become performance rather than leading the congregation to participate, making the congregation the audience rather than God.
a. Is there someone who can share a testimony that connects to the theme of the message and the Scripture? b. Has someone experienced God and the church would benefit from hearing their story? c. New believer testimonies, including young people? d. Testimonies of sharing Christ with a lost person?
a. What biblical text does God want me to preach/teach? b. What is the central truth of the text? c. How and when will I read the text? When I do, how should I hold the Bible? d. How will the text and its truth be communicated and applied? e. Big Question for the preacher – Do you believe what you say, or is this just helpful information or good advice? f. Am I preaching to those present? g. What do I want the congregation to know, believe or do as a result of the message? h. Am I aiming for the heart and not just the head? i. Who attending needs to know Christ as Savior or follow Him in baptism? j. Is PowerPoint helpful? k. Is the message internalized? l. What level of eye contact do I seek to maintain (at least 80 percent)?
6. Opportunity to respond to God’s call
a. How will we give people the opportunity to say “yes” to Christ? b. Methods of response/invitation? Will we use multiple methods? c. How will we share with the congregation decisions for Christ that are made in the worship service? d. How will we welcome new believers and new members into the church?
7. How will you receive the offering (the correct word is “receive,” not “take”)? How can we do stewardship education as we prepare to receive the offering? Is there information we can share about how this offering will be used in God’s work?
8. Is there something we can celebrate or highlight as we worship?
9. Is our worship “indigenous?” i.e. using the gifts and talents of the people God has given us?
10. If a lost person, or a person unfamiliar with our church, attends today, would he know what to do during every aspect of the service? Are we assuming people know how to find a biblical text, have a Bible, or that they know the stories of the Bible, or that they know when to sing, etc.? How can we make everything clear and helpful to a guest?
11. How do we give new people an opportunity to learn about Christ and our church?
12. Are there opportunities to express joy and gratitude as we worship?
The pastor/preacher is the worship leader of the church because he is the church’s theologian by the call of God, spiritual gifting, educational training, and the call of the church. As a part of his calling, therefore, the pastor must give direction as to the content and flow of the worship service. Worship planning can be done as a team, and it’s generally best to do it that way. But the pastor knows what he’s trying to accomplish through the message and the worship service should flow from that.
In addition, wise pastors know that vision transfers through people not paper. The vision that God gives a pastor (the source of the vision must be from God) must be transferred into the hearts of the people in order for it to become the vision of the church. This is a key job of the pastor as servant-leader. The worship service provides the pastor his best opportunity to lead the church into God’s preferred future.