by Joshua Hedger
It’s a worship service at church, so of course it celebrates Jesus… right? Or does it? That is the question that our elders had to wrestle with when we were planting Emmaus Church in Kansas City. Collectively we’d spent time in a wide variety of evangelical churches. However, we decided not to look to any of our past church experiences, but rather to Scripture and broader church history for our liturgy. Throughout the discussion one question kept staring us in the face: “How many times could we explicitly share the gospel in one service?”
You see, our pastors, like your pastors believe in the gospel. Our pastors believe that the gospel is what saves and it is what trains us for godliness (Titus 2). We believe that apart from the gospel we have nothing to offer those who join us for worship on Sundays. In the brilliantly simple song lyrics of Nathan Partain, “The gospel is all we have.”
Taking this question and looking to Scripture for that which was commanded and allowed within a worship gathering, we began to shape the liturgy of our future church. I’ll never forget our pastor of worship, Kevin, as he wadded up the first draft and said, “That’s not enough gospel. Let’s work it again.”
The truth is that your pastors and your church probably believe everything I’ve said above. The question this brought us face-to-face with though was; “Is what we are doing in our worship gatherings celebrating the gospel (and by the gospel I mean to celebrate Jesus as God’s sent Son who lived perfectly obedient to God the Father, died the death of a treacherous sinner in obedience to God the Father, rose from the dead in obedience to God the Father and by the power of the Spirit, and who sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on our behalf today) or is it celebrating something else?”
I believe that far too often our worship gatherings celebrate something other than Jesus and the gospel. Not intentionally, of course, but nevertheless. We don’t get up on Monday and plan a worship service to celebrate ourselves, but is that what happens unintentionally?
When our services are filled with more media than prayer (albeit, in the name of being relevant), are we really celebrating God the Son who came to save us?
When our services use music geared towards impressing and entertaining, are we ushering the minds of our people to the foot of the cross or to the ground upon which we stand?
When our services talk more about what we are doing through our announcements than they do about what Jesus has already done for us, are we pointing attention to the gospel or to our works?
When we neglect confession, repentance, and stated pardons of sin in exchange for special music, skits, and videos, are we leading our people to rightly treasure and celebrate Jesus or to numb our convictions and entertain our minds instead of meditating on God’s faithfulness to forgive?
When we go weeks and months without partaking in communion together as a church in the name of not allowing it “to become normal,” are we truly protecting our people from religiosity or are we starving them from gospel meat each week?
When our sermons focus more on three points of practical application to help our people become better Christians than believing and embracing the gospel in faith, so that we no longer desire sin and when we do desire sin we still see the gospel of grace as accessible and applicable to us – what are we celebrating?
At our church, it is our desire that our liturgy would celebrate Jesus and his gospel from beginning to end. I hope you’ll look at your own liturgy and ask the question; “What is our liturgy celebrating?”
Emmaus Church Sample Liturgy
from September 23, 2018
· Call to Worship – Psalms 19: 1-6
· Scripture of Response – 1 John 4:13-17
· Corporate Confession – Psalm 19:12-14
· Prayer of Confession (a written prayer of confession that the worship leader prays on behalf of our church and our nation)
· Assurance of Pardon – Ephesians 2:13-18
· Scripture Reading – John 14:1-14
· Sermon – John 14:1-14
· Benediction – May the grace of Christ our Savior, And the Father’s boundless love, With the Holy Spirit’s favor, Rest upon you from above. Thus may we abide In union, With each other and the Lord, And possess, in sweet communion, joys which earth cannot afford.” Amen. (John Newton)