Editors’ note: 

Throughout this article, “worship” doesn’t refer to (a) glorifying God in all of life or (b) singing in church. Instead, in keeping with the Reformed tradition, by worship the author means our Sunday gatherings or church services.

As Christians, we gather to worship God because of his identity and his actions. However, we also expect outsiders to join us. And we want them to be convicted as they hear our worship; and compelled not only to attend but to join us in glorifying God. This is exactly Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 14:22-25. He writes that sensible and orderly worship, with clear teaching, will mean that when “an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” This verse has a significant bearing on how we lead worship.

We want our worship to be accessible yet convicting, attractive yet challenging, awe-inspiring and compelling.

Paul describes worship that involves insiders. This is worship that allows us to participate in glorifying God and building up each other. Simultaneously, this worship invites outsiders to join us as we worship our great God. We want our worship to be accessible yet convicting, attractive yet challenging, awe-inspiring and compelling. So far in this series I’ve argued that our worship must be thoughtfully, theologically structured as well as genuinely personable and other-person centred. In this, the third and final instalment, I want us to consider how service leaders can practically contribute to worship that both involves and invites.

Involve the Insider

A typical service will involve a preacher, congregants, and a number of support leaders (music, sound, tea, etc.). You may have different roles and responsibilities; but you are united in that you have all come to worship our great God. As each person in the church service is involved in worship, you as the service leader should involve them too.

Supplement the Message

The first person you’ll want to speak to is the preacher. You can ask about the sermon, get an idea of the points he’s going to make, and potentially emphasise these in your leading. What this looks like depends on your specific situation. And while there are a few options, this is critical if you are intending to say something about the sermon passage in your leading.

Know from the outset where the preacher is going and try and reinforce rather than reinvent his points.

If you know the passage and you offer a few thoughts—that may even be quite valid—that end up being different to where the preacher takes the sermon, it’s likely that you’ll end up confusing people rather than broadening their understanding of the text. In the very worst cases, the preacher will have to sensitively add a paragraph or two to correct you. It’s far simpler to know from the outset where the preacher is going. Then you can try and reinforce rather than reinvent his points. I’d recommend a quick call or message towards the end of the week, by which time the direction of the sermon should be clear in the preacher’s mind. It’s also helpful to give him an order of service, outlining the structure of the service, particularly if he’s a guest!

Manage the Transitions

The second person you’ll want to speak to is a musician. Often there’s more than one musician around, but it’s ideal to find a contact person to represent the group. Part of your role in the service is managing the transitions, and you need to know what songs will be sung, how many there are, and their order. If you’re responsible for picking songs, you’ll need to speak to the musicians to tell them in any case! It can be helpful for the musicians to know the sermon theme if they’re picking music, and it’s certainly helpful if you can let them have an order of service so they know when to be up front and when to sit. I’d message the preacher first, and then chat to the musicians second.

Promote Participation

We often think of the people “on the stage” or “up-front” when we’re planning a worship service. However it’s important to remember that we’re meeting as God’s gathered people to worship him. Remember this corporate aspect of worship as you prepare. How can you include the entire congregation? Perhaps recite a Bible verser, prayer, or creed together. Maybe you’ll have a time of intercessory prayer, a time of corporate confession, or the Bible read aloud.

It’s critical to involve the congregation in worship. In our modern context consumerism is rampant.

It is critical to involve the whole congregation in our worship. In our modern context consumerism is rampant, where people gain status by accumulating wealth and consuming goods and services. This consumer attitude is easy to carry over into church, and one way we as service leaders can combat this is by challenging the congregation to participate in the service and to serve one another.

Lastly, there are specific individuals in the congregation responsible for parts of the service, reach out to them or confirm if the church staff have done so. I’ve been in settings where the church secretary organises who will be praying and reading each week, as well as in settings where this is the service leader’s responsibility. Speak with the pastor, or with someone who has led a service at before, and ask them what the process is in your context.

Invite the Outsider

I once saw a service leaflet which had explanations of the different elements of the service in the margins. As service leaders, we need to do much the same, showing where we are going, explaining what’s happening, and inviting outsiders to join our worship.

Pave the Way

First, you need to show where you’re going. Walking into church is probably something you’re quite familiar with, but that’s not everyone’s experience. Perhaps you can remember the first time you walked into church – or at least, the first time you visited a church that wasn’t yours. One of the biggest obstacles to participating is simply not knowing what’s coming next, and it’s an easy problem to solve as a service leader. Simply announce what happens next.

Explain Each Part

Second, explain what’s happening. You may be familiar with a sermon, but outside of a church context, how often is a word like that used? Or confession, which means different things in different church contexts? What about intercession—say that one three times fast. You can use the terms, and you should, we have many rich words that are wonderfully suited to describing what happens in our worship services. But you should also explain them.

Be sensitive to outsiders joining you. Assume they are unfamiliar with the worship service.

A short explanation will often suffice: “Joseph will come and lead our prayer of intercession as we ask God to provide for the needs in our country, our city, and our congregation.” Sometimes, a longer explanation is needed. Be both wise and sensitive to outsiders joining you. Assume they are unfamiliar with what’s going on in the worship service. But don’t take them for fools either and distract everyone by explaining every element of the service in extended detail.

Coupled with explanation of some terms and phrases is completely avoiding others. We should avoid what Kathy Keller calls “piousbabble,” words or phrases that are common for us as Christians but completely unintelligible to outsiders. This will vary depending on our context, but “journey mercies,” or “prayer warriors” might fall under this category: there’s probably a simpler and clearer way of saying what we mean, and we should use that simpler and clearer way!

Use Corporate Language

Third, invite the congregation as a whole to join you. Use phrases like “pray with me,” “let us sing together,” and, “open your Bibles or Bible apps.” Repeatedly invite the congregation, both insiders and outsiders, to participate in worshipping God. This kind of language doesn’t divide between insiders or outsiders. Instead it invites the whole church to participate and experience the service together.

Repeatedly invite the congregation to participate in worshipping God.

There are moments, however, where it is right to distinguish between these different groups and explicitly invite the outsider to join you as you worship God. You might say after the sermon, “You have heard the gospel preached this morning. I encourage you to commit to a response. Perhaps you have not yet accepted Christ—the offer is open. Commit to faith in him and be saved.”

Worship our Great God

The very first article I wrote for TGC Africa asked whether your Sunday service preached the gospel. As a service leader, you have a unique opportunity to present a grace-shaped service every Sunday. As Christians, we need to be reminded of God’s grace, given to us in Jesus Christ as our Saviour. We worship because we have received God’s grace, and we are enabled to worship through God’s grace. Outsiders who attend our services need to witness us joyfully praising God for the grace he has given us and challenged to experience that grace for themselves. A worship service that praises God for his grace will by its very nature involve the insider and invite the outsider.

A worship service that praises God for his grace will inevitably involve the insider and invite the outsider.

I pray that as you ready yourself to lead a service in your church context, as you work on the transitions, the prayers, as you yourself spend time in prayer preparing, that you would not only craft a service that is theologically sound, thoughtfully suited to your context, that involves the insider and invites the outsider to commit to faith in Christ and be saved, but that you would find yourself invited to praise and thank our great God for his identity and his actions. It is Christ that unites us and charges us to make disciples of all nations. We meet not only to encourage one another and to invite others, but primarily to worship our mighty and powerful God. As you lead God’s people in gathered worship, may you glorify him who has united and redeemed us through his Son, with great rejoicing.