by Joshua Hedger
As a fellow for The Center for Baptist Renewal, I was asked to write a short post for the blog. As I considered what to write, I couldn’t shake the idea that I needed to share my experience with the pragmatism of liturgical worship. The sound of that may be off-putting to you. Honestly, it was to me at first. I planted and pastor a gospel-centered church that puts little emphasis on the "pragmatic" as a standard for what is successful. Yet, in the case of following a historical and structured liturgy, I have seen more pragmatic (or practical) advantages than I could have ever imagined.
Our liturgy each week follows this flow:
- Call to worship
- Scripture reading
- Assurance of Pardon
- Scripture Reading
- Pastoral Prayer
When I type all of that out it looks a little overwhelming. There is a lot of structure to it and a lot of pieces in each service. Yet each one is not only there out of a biblical and historical foundation, but each serves our body in amazingly practical ways. Allow me to share just three ways this structured liturgy has benefitted our congregation practically.
1. The gospel truly is central
At Emmaus Church, we often say that we have no gimmicks, only the gospel. I remember sitting down with our other two elders when we were planting our church and working through our liturgy, and one of our questions was, “How many times can our people hear the gospel in one service?” I believe our first draft of our liturgy had four explicit moments of gospel presentation, and our pastor of liturgy wadded up the paper and threw it aside saying, “That is not enough.”
Through our liturgical structure, we ensure that our people are getting the full-gospel over and over again throughout our service. We share the gospel in: the call to worship, the lyrics of our songs (our pastor of liturgy is extremely intentional about this), the explanation of confession, the assurance of pardon, the sermon, and communion. That is six times in every service that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is proclaimed. The benefit of our people hearing the gospel over and over again, week after week, is that they tend to remember and thus apply the gospel to themselves throughout the week. More than that, they know how to share the gospel because they hear it spoken so much.
2. Confession leads to life
One of the greatest benefits we’ve seen through our liturgy is the creation of a culture where God’s people practice confession with one another. This begins each Sunday as our worship leaders lead us in corporate (reading a confession) and private (praying) confession to God. We are reassured of his grace and forgiveness through this process. We then take the next step by confessing our sins in our community groups throughout the week. Our weekly discussions revolve around the preached Word and part of our discussion includes “what sins do you need to confess in response to the preached Word?” We have seen people confess sins they had carried with them for decades, things they’d been ashamed to ever bring to the light.
I’ve read the blogs and heard the pushback on a culture of confession that leads to “I’m ok, you're ok” responses. I agree, that is pointless and useless. It may ease your conscience to hide your sin, but it doesn’t bring life. But a true culture of confession and repentance finds the confession of sins met with gospel. Gospel gives grace, that is true, but gospel also says, “Go and sin no more.” Our liturgical worship has led our people week after week to dive deeper into a culture of confession, and our church is healthier for it.
3. Weekly communion whets the appetite
By “whets the appetite” I am not referring to my physical appetite for food (though we do have pretty good communion bread). I’m referring to our gospel appetite. That longing within us for more gospel. I’ve heard the argument that weekly communion would cause it to grow stale and routine. Funny, that argument is never used for music, preaching, or baptism in a worship gathering. We have found just the opposite to be true. By calling Christ-followers to remember Jesus’ broken and blood soaked body, we are wetting their appetite to crave more of Christ’s deliciously satisfying kindness. I have never had someone tell me that they wish we’d do communion more, only that they think about and long for communion throughout the week. This craving keeps our people focused on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ all week, thus saturating their souls in the gospel.
For these three reasons, and so many more, we have found that implementing a biblical and historical liturgy for our church is theologically weighty and immensely practical.