Most of you know that liturgy is a favorite topic of mine. Over the past few years, I’ve read numerous books, engaged in hundreds of conversations, and worked hard to craft Christ-centered liturgies for the church I pastor, Lake Wylie Baptist.
It may come as a shock, then, to see a blog post exhorting you to stop explaining the liturgy, but let me explain. By the title, I do not imply that ministers ought not to talk with one another about liturgy. Here’s what I mean:
Stop explaining what’s happening while the liturgy is happening. Stop acting as the narrator or expositor of the liturgy when it’s in progress. Stop MC’ing the service every single week. Nothing bores a congregation more than to be treated like toddlers and have a minister give a comprehensive explanation of every element of the worship service.
- Instead of saying, “Now we will sing…” just sing.
- Stop saying, “We will now observe the public reading of Scripture,” and just read the passage in power.
I know what you’re thinking. “But I want the congregation to understand what we’re doing!” Yes, yes. I do too. This is why I do the hard work of making sure the liturgy is Christ-centered, thoughtful, and sincere (to the best of my ability) so that they can come in and simply put their feet on the pedals and ride.
In his philosophy of worship for Bethlehem, John Piper placed the highest priority on the vertical focus of Lord’s Day worship. In describing that priority, Dr. Piper sought to “remove horizontal intrusions between vertical acts.”
Piper encourages pastors to cut out anything that disrupts the “flow [of the people] in a sustained godwardness and vertical attentiveness.”
Worship is about movement. God > Man > Christ > Response. Move. Move. Move. Every time you interject exposition of an element of the service movement stops. When Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord on the throne, the seraphim didn’t stop their antiphonal chant to exposit the meaning of “holy” for Isaiah. That would have broken his gaze upon the Lord. He was in the temple. He could see it. There’s a time and place to explain holiness. Do it in a sermon. But be very selective of when to interrupt the vertical gaze of the congregation
Imagine having your best friends over for a meal. You prep the meal with intensity, care, and an eye towards the beauty of the presentation. The friends gather around the table, grab a fork, but before they take the first bite of salad, you stop and begin explaining why you arranged the tomatoes next to the peppers. Then, as the fork moves to the chicken, you give them a small lecture on why the chicken is the centerpiece of the salad. Do you see where this is going? None of us want meals explained. We just want to eat them. We just want to taste and see.
This is not to say that you should never explain the liturgy to the church. You should. I’m simply advocating that you don’t do it every Sunday between every element. Work for sustained vertical attention.
This post is being filed under “If I Were a Pastor.” I intend these posts to speak to brother pastors who are seeking to reform their church. Whether it’s liturgy, ecclesiological practices, preaching or some other topic, these posts will be fairly unfiltered comments about how we’ve done things at LWBC. Feel free to dialogue with me, I’d love to share my foolishness and maybe even some wisdom.