I think some of the silliness passing for “worship service” in many evangelical churches could be solved by those in the planning stages asking better questions, which is to say, more first principle, self-reflective questions. I have some suggestions, naturally. Of course, these aren’t the only questions worth asking, but I think they provide some good guardrails for those involved in the entire liturgy of a worship gathering, from sermon prep to music selection to sacrament to announcements and all the other nuts and bolts of a service.
1. Is there support for this service element in the Scriptures?
Even if you’re not a regulative principle church, this is a non-negotiable.
2. Is this element comprehensible to outsiders?
Total understanding of every element is not possible, of course, and spiritual acceptance isn’t possible for those outside the faith, but unbelievers and other visitors should be able to discern what you’re doing, even if they don’t know why you’re doing it.
3. Is this element edifying to believers?
Not simply: Is this entertaining or amusing, or will this attract attention or provoke? But: Is this edifying? Is it conducive to the building up of the saints in Christ and God’s love?
4. Is this element offensive, alienating, or marginalizing to any section or subsection of the church body?
People scoff about music being too loud, but so often this is a legitimate concern for older folks. People may disregard music or sermons that are boring or boringly presented, but so often this is a legitimate concern for younger folks. You obviously can’t please everybody as it pertains to preferences, but our service elements should not be approached insensitively or with disregard for the reality of the body. In other words, we do not challenge the stylistic idolatries of one demographic by satisfying the stylistic idolatries of another. What serves? What ministers? What appropriately allows for participation in the service across the body of Christ? On that note:
5. Does this element exalt God or man?
Apply as needed to everything from sermon points to special music. It’s not about denigrating man, or not recognizing people for various achievements and the like. It is just a good question to ask as it pertains to the focus of a worship service. It could have come in handy in the planning stages of a worship service I once attended where a song about our being able to change the world with our own two hands was part of the worship set. It occurred to me then: “Wait– who am I worshiping right now?” And on that note:
6. Does this element adorn the gospel?
Is this element in service of the gospel or some other message or focus? Or, alternately, Does this element in the worship service make Jesus look big?