We’ve talked about liturgy, but what does a modern, liturgical worship flow look like? I’m going to dive into ours and explain what, why and how we do it. I’m not sure where I first heard the term, but I like to describe our worship style as Ancient Modern.
In my last post, I discussed some background to liturgy and presented an analogy for the relationship found between God and us during worship. Technically a “work of the people,” the originally secular term of liturgy actually has a lot more to do with God’s work when applied to our Christian faith and worship. We definitely take part, but it takes place in God’s house and through His amazing work of faith creation and salvation.
Our church is part of the Christian denomination known as the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod (LCMS). Many LCMS churches (including ours) have an organ-led service with hymns and a choir, which incorporate even more historically liturgical elements. I lead our band-led service, which employs current and traditional music, a liturgical flow and feels much like a modern worship service. If you’re interested in supplementing your current worship flow with liturgy, there are things here that can be easily added to any worship flow. Let’s take a closer look our Trinity Sunday service from earlier this year.
Pre-Service Song : Today is the Day (Brewster, Baloche)
We begin about 3-4 minutes before the service starts, so that we can get focused and prepared to worship. The song is sometimes thematic, and sometimes it’s just a chance to get our hearts and heads in the right direction.
The music comes to an end and Pastor explains our theme for the day. Pastor welcomes and encourages the congregation to shake a hand and share God’s peace with each other. The Apostle Paul encouraged all believers to greet each other with a “holy kiss,” but our American culture usually prefers a handshake or hug!
Invocation, Litany, Call to Worship
Pastor: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
P : Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity;
Congregation : Let us give glory to Him because He has shown mercy to us.
P : Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!
C : The whole earth is full of His glory!
P : The Lord be with you.
C : And also with you.
P : Let us pray… Almighty and everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. Keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
The band begins a background synth pad and/or the beginning chords of the next song. Pastor and the congregation exchange spoken lines (litany) which prepare our hearts for worship and what we will be learning from God. A thematic prayer is usually a part of this as well. The Invocation is spoken, which is important because it invokes (or calls on) the name of our triune God to remind us that we have been baptized into His family through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are clothed in the righteousness of His name.
A song of Invocation and/or Confession : Holy Holy Holy (traditional hymn)
The music flows directly into the next song. A powerful, trinitarian hymn proclaiming God’s 3 distinct persons, but yet fully 1 God immediately reminds the congregation of the focus for worship. It is an extension and affirmation of the Invocation.
P: Let us come before God seeking His forgiveness and turning back to Him in repentance…
C: Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all people, we admit and confess our sinfulness. We have turned away from You and others in our thinking, speaking and doing. We have treated others poorly and not done the good You command. We repent and are truly sorry for the sins we’re aware of and those we’re not. Have mercy on us, kind Father, because of the obedience of Your Son, Jesus Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit, move us to serve You faithfully. Set our feet upon the new path of life and build Your kingdom here on earth through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Music continues quietly from the last song as Pastor leads the congregation through a time of silent, personal reflection and a corporate prayer of confession. We must remember that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. Our confession is more than stating our wrongs. We repent (turn back) to God and reaffirm our need for a restored relationship with Christ. That redemptive work leads us to sing joyfully with cleansed hearts!
Pastor: The God Who calls us is the God Who created us; the God Who formed us is the God Who forgives us. We are God’s new creation. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the (with hand making sign of the cross) Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It’s the Pastor’s responsibility to speak on behalf of God. As the music begins to grow, Pastor speaks the words that Jesus spoke to many people while He was on Earth. It’s one thing to sing about Jesus’ death and resurrection on your behalf, but when forgiveness is spoken over you in the name of Jesus, the power of His Grace is overwhelming.
Song of Forgiveness/Praise : Our God Saves (Baloche, Brown)
This is the moment to celebrate and shout for joy! It’s a cathartic moment each Sunday when you verbally state your sin, your need for forgiveness and receive undeserved salvation. How can you not sing and praise in response? This song is perfect because it praises God for His forgiveness as well as His divine Trinity.
Words of Institution :
P: Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me.
The flow and transition of music continues and helps guide the journey of worship throughout the liturgy. Pastor speaks the words that Jesus spoke on Maundy Thursday at the very first communion. We prepare our hearts and minds for our closest touch with Jesus this side of Heaven. Many churches celebrate communion at the end of the service as the highest point, which is difficult to deny! We also switch it around and do that at times, but I also love the imagery and experience of receiving God’s spoken forgiveness and then immediately partaking in the meal which is the sacrifice that made the forgiveness possible. It’s a powerful connection to make for the worshippers and flows well in the journey of our faith.
Communion & Song : Remembrance (The Communion Song) (Maher, Redman)
In our case, the band goes up for communion first, while the keyboard player stays and plays some instrumental music. The band returns, picks up smoothly from the keyboardist (who goes up for communion) and continues on with the song. Many of you are familiar with this process or something very close to it.
Offering & Song : Holy is the Lord (Tomlin, Giglio)
The music comes to a close as Pastor speaks a prayer of blessing over the congregation. Pastor explains that we give in response to the ultimate gift, which was His death on the cross for us. Many churches receive an offering after the message in response to the Word of God proclaimed in the sermon, but there is nothing Biblical either way. We give because He gave and He has called us to give. In Hebrews, our songs are called a “sacrifice of praise,” so I remind the congregation that as we sing, we are giving another part of ourselves to God in song.
Prayers & Song :
The music flows into either synth pads or a song of prayer. The prayer time is enriched with praise when a song is incorporated throughout. The congregation sings one verse or chorus of a song and then the band continues to play the song instrumentally while pastor prays specific prayers for the church. There are usually 3-4 cycles of this process. It’s a beautiful flow of prayer and praise.
There’s amazing power found in the prayer that our Lord and Savior taught us. The music ends just as the Lord’s Prayer begins. There is reverence and honor in giving Jesus’ own prayer its own space without music.
The congregation is seated and Bible passages are read which pertain to the theme and message of the day. For much of Biblical history, the Torah and other writings were read publicly in the the temple daily. They were discussed and shared for the learning and faith growth of the people. Today, we read scripture in small groups and the pastor may (depending on style) preach from the Word or read a few passages to support the message. Having a longer set of verses read publicly provides context and allows God’s Spirit to speak through the Word into the hearts of the people. Traditionally, we would have an Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel reading each Sunday. This can vary depending on the church or theme of the week.
Creed : Athanasian Creed
A creed is a statement of faith. It’s something that is used to unite the Christian Church and state publicly what we believe as Christians. Stating these weekly keep the clarity of our faith firmly on our lips and in our minds. The Athanasian Creed uses human words to attempt to explain the Holy Trinity, which is a concept that only God fully understands. Other creeds used regularly are the Nicene and Apostles.
Message Song : Praise the Father, Praise the Son (Tomlin, Cash)
Our message song is the most thematically accurate of the morning, because it’s used to focus the congregation toward the topic of the day.
There are a number of blessings/benedictions in the Bible. Some pastors reword them into their own language and others speak them as biblical leaders did. Here is a good list and short explanation of their use.
Sending Song : Not to Us (Tomlin, Reeves) + Doxology (Praise God from who all blessings flow…)
Many times this song is thematic, but other times it speaks to what we are to do as we leave the church building. We are to be active in faith, living it, being sent out by God into the world, sharing love and being Christ to our neighbors. Let’s not let this wonderful experience of worship end at the pew, but let it live through us all week long.
We should never stop challenging ourselves to create worship services that lead people to see, hear and receive God’s love in powerful ways. Liturgical elements remind us of the relationship we have with our Savior and provide opportunities to participate even more fully. This example above is definitely one of the longer services of the year, but it includes all the liturgical elements (except for a Baptism or special celebration) you’d find throughout the year. Let me know if you have any questions about this and I’d love to chat about ways you could incorporate aspects into your current liturgy. Let the journey of worship be always on our minds!