I can still remember the first time I planned a worship service for our church in Raleigh, NC. I was a seminary student and on staff as a part-time worship leader. It was such a thrill to choose the songs, prayers and exhortation moments. I don't know if I planned or led with much skill that weekend, but I was so thankful for the opportunity, particularly because it made me begin to ask a really important question – a question that I’m still chasing down almost 15 years later:
What am I trying to accomplish as I plan a corporate worship service?
On the surface, this seems like a pretty easy question to answer. Sing, pray, read the Bible and preach. And, in its simplest form, that's right. Those are the essential elements of a weekly service. But there are hundreds of ways to organize and implement these pieces. What songs will you sing? What will you say? What kinds of things will fill your prayers? Should there be a goal in mind while planning? And if there isn’t, how will you know what a win looks like?
I want to give you a phrase that helps me organize some of these thoughts and questions. It’s kind of a philosophy and theology of worship rolled up in a 3-part idea:
In gathered worship we want to corporately delight in the glory of God.
Below I’ll double click on the different parts of this phrase. In this post, we’ll start with the glory of God and work our way back in part two.
The Glory of God
I love this definition by my friend, Andy Davis, for the glory of God: "The glory of God is the radiant display of the attributes of God." This definition points out two really important things about glory. First, in Scripture, glory is connected to light. Think Shekinah glory, the Mount of Transfiguration, or the light described in the New Heavens and the New Earth. But secondly, it's not just a display of physical light; it's also a highlight of the attributes of God.
One of the clearest places to see this is in Exodus 33. Moses asks to see the glory of God. And do you remember what God says back? He says:
"I will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
Did you catch what happened there? Moses asks to see His glory and God tells him about His attributes. He essentially preaches a sermon on what He is like.
Here are a few other things we can glean from Andy's definition of the glory of God:
If we want people to see the glory of God we need to tell them about who God is. We need to soak our gatherings in the Word of God. We need to tell people about His attributes, about His character. As some have said, "We need to sing the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, read the Word and see the Word in the ordinances." God's glory is seen with eyes of faith by people that really know the Word. We will have an increasingly clearer picture of God and how to live for His glory as we better know and understand the Word of God.
And, digging deeper, think for a moment about where we see the attributes of God, i.e. the glory of God, most clearly in the Word of God. Where is the ground zero and epicenter of His attributes?
It’s at the Cross.
We see justice and mercy and wrath and love and kindness and faithfulness and holiness. We see all of His attributes clearly displayed at the cross. Therefore, the news of the cross, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, should fill our gatherings.
So, worship pastor. Show them the Word in gathered worship, and fill your gatherings with the story of the Gospel. Let this shape the way you lead the service. Let this guide you as you think about what your people should leave thinking about. Let this fill the songs and fill your exhortations to God’s people, because, as they hear the Word and the Gospel clearly, they will see the glory of God clearly.
To Be Continued…