Recently, I was asked about why we punctuate our service with songs rather than use the typical three to five song set before a sermon. First, singing five songs in a row is not bad. I've led services like this, and will enjoy leading more. However, for our main weekly worship diet, there are a few reasons to continue the old practice of what could be called a "call and response" approach to our order of worship (liturgy, habits, etc.). Here are four:
1. Because of Church History
Worship has certainly taken on many forms throughout the history of the church. Further, it looks and feels different around the world. Yet, by and large, reading Scripture, then praying, then singing, then confessing, then teaching, then singing has been the basic approach. This was true in the synagogue, the early church, the reformation and beyond. This is true because it's based on #2.
2. Because it's a Scriptural Pattern
There is an obvious call and response pattern throughout the Bible, not only in the various moments of worship but also in the way humans interact with God.
God calls Abram - he responds with worship and by moving.
God meets with Moses - he responds by removing his sandles and arguing.
God leads the exodus - Moses responds in song.
God calls Isaiah - he responds by saying, "woe is me."
God's law is read - people respond in commitment, repenting in dust and ashes, or in song
Jesus asks his disciples about his identity - Peter responds with confession of faith.
Jesus serves communion - and the disciples respond in singing a hymn.
The pattern is littered throughout. Ultimately, this is reason we punctuate worship with a call and response.
3. Because worship is not separate from preaching.
Worship is not music. Rather, worship includes music. It has been said many times, but worship also includes preaching, praying, reading, etc.
One of my brothers was a member of the crew of a popular Christian and Charismatic band. He reported that folks openly spoke of "worship" as the main course, the real deal, the "most important thing we can do." At the churches they visited preaching was an element, but often relegated to an after thought, a short word of encouragement, or even nixed altogether if the "main course" went long.
In those contexts the written and preached Word became less and less important. Inevitably, this approach is a servant to experientialism. If one is not "moved" they move on to another church. Being moved becomes more important than being shaped.
4. Because we are worshippers.
One consistent reason I've heard for the three to five song set is that we need to prepare hearts to receive the word. In its best light, this is helpful. However, in its worst light it can turn into manipulation. It's true that we can come to church with all sorts of things on our minds. It's also true that a song can help us focus. But, so can silence, scripture reading, or praying. And yet so far I have not heard anyone argue for a set of five periods of silence in a row. Clearly, the emotional aspect of the music can become the focus.
I'd like to suggest that we stop trying to get people "ready to worship and receive the word."
Some may think this is splitting hairs, but what lies behind this suggestion is the truth that we were created as worshippers. That is, we walk into a worship service already worshipping. We may be worshipping ourselves, our stomachs, or our plans, and we may even need a song or a moment of silence to help us have a good frame of mind, but we don't have to try to press the worship button. As leaders, once we accept this, we should be able to side step all forms of manipulation and begin to see our task as discipleship.
From the very first words, silence, or song in the service we are engaged in shaping souls, appetites, and affections.
Therefore, it makes sense that we should consider the practice of the universal church, emphasize the pattern we find in the Word, connect many of our elements in the service to the word preached, and thereby engage in the great task of shaping souls after Christ. As leaders, this is our calling. What is the response?