by Allyson M. Todd
“What can I get from this hour and a half?” This is often the question that church-goers ask as they walk through the doors of their local church. However, this question misunderstands the God-given purpose of a local church’s gathering. Instead, we should always ask, “How can I ascend to the throne room of God and how does this ascension move me to love others?”
This is especially important for the younger generation because we were raised in the ever-increasing me-monster world. Young people need Baptist churches to establish liturgies that are not focused on personal gain, but on how to glorify God and serve others. This doesn’t mean that a local church does nothing for the individual. Rather any real transformation that will take place in the individual must first allow God to reign supreme so that Self will remain submissive to him.
Here are four ways that a church’s liturgy can give the younger generation what they truly need:
1. Not for Self, But for God
My generation needs to know we are not the focus of the worship service.
Our personal preferences are not wrong in and of themselves. Yet the liturgy of a church does not exist to create cultural frivolities. A church service can express its unique culture so long as it does not succumb to making the tertiary things primary. However, the church should not solely strive to make the congregation know themselves more intimately. If our personal preferences are the goal of the service, we will constantly come up shorthanded. To know self is to inevitably be discontent with self. We need to know who God is before we can ever know who we are.
Liturgy helps a congregation keep this in focus. If there is no structure to point the congregation towards the throne room of God from beginning to end, then it is easy to miss the point of why we gather together. We do not gather with a congregation to solely look inward. Looking inward is helpful to recognize how broken we are and how desperately we need God. The heart of the church’s liturgy should be the cry that “he must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). We gather to look up to God and know who he is. The church will learn who God is if we are taught to adore him, and how do we learn who he is but through the study of his own Word. When the liturgy points us to know God, we can worship him for who he has revealed himself to be and think less of ourselves.
2. Knowledge of Sin, Knowledge of God
My generation needs to know that we are not inherently good.
Our churches sometimes succumb to this belief and want to protect our feelings more than they want to protect the truth. The liturgy of many churches does not create space for us to recognize our sin. Of course, we shouldn’t dwell on our sinfulness alone while we forget that Jesus has paid for every sin. Yet the reality is that a small view of sin creates a small view of God. If we think little of our sin, we will think much of ourselves.
We need churches to call their congregations to confess and repent of their sins. Hebrews 10 describes the reason that we can enter the presence of God. We draw near to God because Jesus paid for our sins with his own body and shed blood. “We have a great priest over the house of God,” and it is through our confession and repentance that we can “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). Is the cross used to produce self-centered confidence instead of God-centered confidence? We need a liturgy that allows us to rightly understand our unworthiness before God, and the magnificence of Jesus’ blood that covers us.
3. Christ’s Word, Our Songs
My generation needs songs that form our theology.
Fluffy worship songs, or songs that only point to one portion of the gospel, only teach us one part of theology. The songs we sing should articulate a robust understanding of God and his gospel. Liturgy should reflect the biblical story of the gospel, which means that a liturgy of songs that only talk about God’s love are not in line with the fullness of God’s story. Our songs should admonish, correct, and shape us. Colossians 3:16-17 says, “let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” It is Christ’s word that informs and produces songs of worship to God.
Liturgy can include popular songs that are played on Christian radio so long as they adhere to the Bible and point to God. The publication date of a song matters much less than the theology it contains. We need songs in liturgies to produce in us a deeper knowledge of God so that we sing truth in his presence.
4. Love of God, Love of Others
My generation needs unity of the body of Christ.
Many churches today want us to feel involved but do not demand commitment from us. I can go to a church with a celebrity pastor, hear nice things, and walk out the door without demands made of me. My generation doesn’t like commitment to long-term relationships. Many of us won’t take up full-time jobs or get married because we don’t want to be bound by one thing. The same goes for church. We can go whenever we want and leave the same way without hurting anyone. The goal of the service is to worship God, and worship of God produces love for one another. If a church liturgy points to God, then the whole congregation looks upward to him for guidance, and his guidance is that we love one another as he has loved us (John 15:12).
A liturgical service bonds and unifies the church because the service is not structured around the individual, but on what God has done for us. The Bible is full of communal language. Hebrews 10:25 encourages the church not to neglect meeting together and to encourage one another. Colossians 3:12-14 describes “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another” and to “put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” Ephesians 4: 11-16 says that the goal of all the roles in the church is “to build up the body of Christ.” Acts 2:42-47, the very first description of a church, is all about the fellowship, togetherness, shared possessions, and bread-breaking of the people. We need liturgy because it focuses us on God which A service that points us to who God is, what he has done, and the glory that he deserves will naturally flow into a horizontal focus.
My generation (and every other generation present on a Sunday morning) desperately needs to be led to the throne room of the Most High God. It is important to note that even the best liturgies will not lead complacent hearts to the throne room. We are not passive attendees but active participants in the church. Good liturgies, ones that encourage us to engage in the work of God and encourage surrender to God’s Word, lead us to God’s throne room for his glory and for his people.