We were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever, which, in a word, means worship. From Adam and Eve to Israel in the Wilderness to Roman slaves who became Christians, the pattern was to live all of life, as to the Lord, as an act of worship, and to gather with other believers on the Lord’s Day for corporate worship and rest from their labors.
When it comes to worship, especially corporate worship, we see a principle throughout Scripture that God’s word regulates God’s worship. He tells us what He wants in corporate worship and our joyful duty is to give that to Him out of love for who He is and gratitude over what He has done. Our approach to worship is not, ‘as long as it’s not forbidden its ok.’ Neither is our approach, ‘whatever works in our cultural moment we will do.’ Our approach to worship is, ‘what God says He wants, we give as best we’re able.’
When you survey the Scriptures you see a number of elements present in and commanded for the corporate worship of God. God calls His people to worship so we do. God calls us to sing psalms hymns and spiritual songs so we do. God calls us to confess our faith and confess our sin, to proclaim the gospel of the forgiveness of sins in Christ, to give and to pray, to baptize and partake of the Lord’s Supper, and his ministers to publicly read Scripture as well as preach and teach Scripture. God send us out with his blessing. So we do.
What God has not commanded in his word is exactly how these elements are to be ordered and presented and this leads to a wonderful variety of worship services even among churches that hold to the same convictions about Scripture. Here is how we approach worship:
In terms of order, every Sunday the elements of the service are arranged in what we’ll call ‘gospel’ order. The gospel begins with God’s call to sinners, which immediately leads to something of a crisis. When we hear God’s call and draw near, we’re mindful, and our opening hymn is usually along these lines, that He is God: holy, holy, holy, the enthroned Creator of us all. This leads us naturally, as it does with everyone who encounters God in the Bible, to be mindful of our sin and leads to a time of confession. God calls us and apart from a Savior to cover our sins, we cannot come near. Thankfully, God does not leave us in despair but preaches Christ to us and assures us that by faith in Him we are called to come near and we are forgiven and able to do so. This is why we have the assurance of pardon. Having heard the gospel afresh we then respond in gratitude, giving gifts to the Lord, giving prayer to the Lord, giving psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord, and giving our attention to His word. Not only do we preach the gospel every Lord’s Day but our order or worship itself preaches the gospel.
In terms of worship style, another component of corporate worship that sets us apart is how we think about music and instrumentation. For each psalm, hymn or spiritual song that we sing (and we do actually sing the psalms) we’re asking a number of questions. 1) Is the text Biblically faithful and Biblically rich? This eliminates many songs that may be musically resonant to a particular generation but not as spiritually nourishing and edifying as they could be. 2) Does the arrangement lead to congregational singing? This filters many songs that are great to listen to but because they lend themselves to being performed they usually don’t lend themselves to congregational singing so we don’t do them. 3) Does the instrumentation fit the text? Sometimes there’s nothing better than a piano. Sometimes, when you want to sustain a note, there’s nothing better than an organ. Sometimes guitar or djembe or drum kit add just the right element of levity or rhythm to facilitate congregational singing. Our instrumentation is as varied as we think will help us better sing the songs we choose.
In terms of preaching style, the pastors preach from a historical pattern called 'consecutive expository' and deviate occasionally for a 'topical expository' series that either fits the church calendar best (like in advent or easter) or meets a particular need. 'Consecutive expository' means that we preach through texts of Scripture from beginning to end. We start Romans, for example, and we preach verse by verse, passage by passage consecutively until we conclude the book of Romans. There are a number of advantages to this practice. 1) Since all of God’s Word is profitable, God’s people benefit from having all of it read and preached. 2) This keeps pastors and parishioners alike from resting on hobby horses, or favorite themes and verses at the expense of the whole counsel of God. 3) This keeps pastors and parishioners alike from avoiding topics that they might be tempted to avoid. 4) This fits with the texts themselves which are meant to be read and understood in context. Topical expository means that we still exposit or ‘unpack and explain’ a passage of Scripture, but around a particular theme and only for a season.