Do we need an order of worship?

Raised in a Conservative Baptist church that practiced a style of worship very much influenced by the frontier free worship tradition, I will never forget two of my first experiences with liturgical style. The first was at a mainline Presbyterian Church in New Jersey where my mother’s sister and her family attended. After quite a few series of standing and sitting for unison prayers and creeds, all of which I was very unfamiliar with, I said “This is crazy!” a bit too loudly and received a stern look from my parents. About six years later, now a college student and bit more mellow, I attended a cousin’s wedding in an Episcopal Church. One feature of the ceremony was communion, first for the couple and then for anyone else who wished to participate. My dad decided that our family would not participate. I remember feeling quite relieved as this church’s sights, smells and sounds were very foreign to me, and thus uncomfortable. I didn’t want to have to experience its venture into the sense of taste as well. What if it was…(gasp)…wine! But I suspect my dad had us abstain due to theological reasons, feeling we shouldn’t align ourselves with the Episcopal Church.

As I reflect on these two occurrences and many subsequent forays into different Christian liturgies, it is clear that the corner of the world of worship that I grew up is just that, only a corner, a small expression of a much larger body. It is interesting how quickly we can assume that our particular expression of worship is the only one, or at least the only right one. Still more interesting is that God never inspired a biblical writer to direct us into one particular liturgy. In that we see his genius, allowing worship that can change from one time to the next, and from one culture to another. At times I wish I could see exactly how the earliest Christians worshiped, or perhaps discuss my church’s particular liturgy with Paul or Peter. Do we have it right? What could we change? Would we even like what they did?

Does your church have an order of worship?  Is the order of worship printed in a bulletin or program so people can follow along?  Does the order change much week to week?  Does it matter?

Should a church allow space in a worship gathering for the people to choice on the spur of the moment how they want to express themselves in worship?  Or should everything be planned in advance, following an order?

Frank Viola in his book Pagan Christianity, which I have currently loaned out or I would be able to quote directly, talks about the history of the order of worship as having been born from pagan gatherings.  Viola points to a few lines of Scripture that seem to teach a much more open, participatory style of worship.  Those verses are the next section of 1st Corinthians, 14:26-40.  The first few lines are compelling: “When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.”  Does that mean no one was leading the service, that there was no order of worship that they followed?  Viola thinks so.  He suggests that worship gatherings are actually damaging to discipleship when most of the people sit passively while a couple paid professionals do all the work.


But if we don’t have an order of worship, won’t our worship services get out of control?  They sure did in Corinth. Can we possibly open the worship service to let everyone be involved?  What if someone talks too long?  What if they say something crazy?  What if the same people monopolize the time every week?  What if they are obnoxious?  What if they teach something that isn’t true?  Isn’t it really better to have an order of worship that is led by a few people while the rest join in by singing a couple pre-selected songs, giving, and following along with the rest?

What is the purpose of worship?  To give everyone a chance to get involved?

Join us Sunday at Faith Church as we talk about this further!


Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

6 thoughts on “Do we need an order of worship?

  1. I sat around my kitchen table with some guys from my huddle talking about this very subject on Wednesday, after having a particularly awkward combined (contemporary + traditional) worship service this past week. Wish I could here more what you have to say about this. Unfortunately I’m working Sunday. I feel God has laid on my heart a vision to create a gathering of worshipers in my circles of life that can do just that: worship without leaving anyone’s psalm, teaching, revelation, tongue, or interpretation out. I don’t necessarily see this happening in a stained glass sanctuary on a time-allotted weekly morning. No matter our intentions, baggage comes with doing it in this location. Church has to stop being about taking my dirty shoes off at the front door, putting on my Sunday face, and getting my battery restored, particularly by a few.

  2. I think as a believer in both absolute truth and the fallenness of man, I would resist the idea of opening up the floor to hear anyone’s teaching, revelation or interpretation. James 3:1 and Titus 1:9 come to mind as passages which have high regard for the position of a teacher and imply that it is not a role suited for many believers. So I think the greatest risk is that doing so opens you up to confusion or even heresy being taught in churches.

    Additionally, and this is probably more of a pet peeve, I find it pretty difficult to follow along in the order of worship at many churches. I know many people view spontaneity as being more genuine, but I honestly appreciate when thought is put into the content of what we’re saying, hearing, or singing. I think it makes sense that, for example, we confess our sins first and then hear assurance of God’s grace. Basically in a more spontaneous or open service I think there is a lot of room for confusion.

    Finally, there is a common understanding today that sitting in the pews of a stained glass sanctuary, wearing your Sunday best, reciting the same creeds each week results in emotionless, distant worship of God. And certainly it can! But spicing up the service with new, fun songs or theatrical performances doesn’t really solve your problem. As one pastor puts it, that is like trying to clean the carpets by rearranging the furniture. It’s a deeper heart issue that is preventing someone from worshipping God while they stand around hundreds of fellow believers reciting their belief in “the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Hearing that profession of faith from the Apostle’s Creed each week is a powerful thing to witness, and something that I have really grown to love while worshipping in a church that is pretty liturgical.

    1. Man, Brett, have you ever drunk the kool-aid! Ha! Just kidding of course. Actually as I read your post, I wonder how much of this discussion is related to personality, personal opinion. Some people seem predisposed emotionally to certain kinds of worship. Perhaps, then, the Kingdom of our God needs a variety of expressions of worship? If so, maybe what was happening in Corinth was very much in line with the personality of the culture there? Or maybe there is something more important about every-member participation in worship than we realize because we have been so accustomed to professionals leading worship for us? I think you should give Viola a read.

      1. Haha, guilty as charged! I think you’re right in saying that much of this discussion is personal opinion, and I certainly want to avoid being dogmatic about something like the order of worship.

        The worship style that I grew accustomed to during the first 20 years of my life is very different from what I’ve experienced during the past three years. So at least from my own experience, I’d say that despite my predisposition to a less liturgical worship style I have really enjoyed and seen the wisdom in having a more liturgical service. That being said, it has taken a lot of effort on our end to adapt to these differences and to avoid simply going through the motions.

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