A well-planned worship service is a tremendous blessing to those who participate in it. A well-planned service is not necessarily one in which the projector never flickers and the microphones never buzz, or one in which the transitions are smooth and the sermon doesn’t go long. Rather, a well-planned service is one whose elements have been carefully planned to fulfill God’s purposes for the public gatherings of his church.
How, then, do we plan our services? What elements should a service have? There are many ways to answer the question, but at minimum, the service needs to have singing, praying, Scripture-reading, and preaching. On a regular basis, if not every week, it should also have the Lord’s Supper. Each of these elements is demanded or displayed in the New Testament.
But I want to look at it from another angle that I believe can be helpful in planning our services. It’s unfortunate but realistic to assume that many people come to church on Sunday having given little thought to their faith the previous week. Many people worship on Sunday, then get busy living their lives and neglect the disciplines of the Christian life. They mean to pray, but don’t discipline themselves to actually pray; they intend to read the Bible, but allow laziness or the tyranny of the urgent to keep them away. Then a new Sunday approaches and they come to church feeling weak and needy and probably a little bit guilty.
Such people are genuine believers, but immature ones or ones who are going through those tough periods of spiritual stagnation. Perhaps they are in a difficult time in life or are deeply grieving. And in their apathy or their torment they ease off in their pursuit of the Lord, they falter in their Christian walk.
How can we best serve these people? We can best serve them by giving them the whole Christian life on a Sunday morning. We can give them the whole Christian life in miniature.
- We can provide a call to worship in which we express the joy of worshipping the Lord;
- we can provide a time of confession in which we privately and corporately confess that we have sinned against God;
- we can provide a time of assurance of pardon in which we receive God’s guarantee that he has forgiven us;
- we can provide a time of prayer in which we seek God’s favor and plead for his grace;
- we can provide a time of Scripture reading in which we hear God speak through his Word;
- we can provide a time of preaching in which we are taught from the Bible;
- we can provide an opportunity to give financial gifts and in that way express generosity and experience the joy of giving;
- we can provide times of singing in which we rejoice together as we offer praise to God;
- we can provide the Lord’s Supper so we can solemnly celebrate together and be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf;
- we can provide a benediction in which we are assured that God loves us and will be with us;
- we can provide a time of fellowship in which we have the opportunity to minister the Word to one another and to be ministered to by others.
In this brief service, we have the whole Christian life neatly summed up. And as we progress through such a service, we trust that the downcast are lifted up and encouraged, that the apathetic are stirred and challenged, that the weary are fed and revived. We trust that they can take what they have experienced on Sunday morning and imitate it through the week as they live the Christian life—they, too, can pray and read and learn and sing and serve. On Sunday we give believers what they need not just on Sunday but on every other day as well. In this way our services are the training ground, the place where believers are equipped to live the Christian life every day.