The Series

Too often, we, as worship leaders, can get into a rut in our worship planning. In this series of posts, I want us to evaluate our methods and thought processes as we design our times of worship. Our church’s corporate worship times are the primary means by which the church can disciple the majority of our people, and we must be intentional in our planning and leading in a way that truly transforms lives.

Check out the first post to better understand the term, Playlist Worship.

The second installment discusses how to help your congregation connect their hearts to the messages of the songs through times of ministry, testimony, scripture and prayer.

Part three explores ways to make worship songs more impactful by creating textual, thematic, and response links that connect the heart and mind of the worshipper.

Part four examines musical transitions that create a more logical, seamless flow in worship and engage the worshippers more fully.

In part five, we look at utilizing planned spontaneity in providing some great worship moments.

Part six discusses incorporating more non-musical worship elements into the service, such as prayers of confession, creeds, and scripture readings. 

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Guest post

Recently, I led a breakout session entitled, Engaging Your Congregation in Transformational Worship (also the subtitle of the book, The Worship Ministry Guidebook). In it I talked much about the fact that the corporate worship service is the primary way by which we disciple our people. I firmly believe the content of our services shapes our people profoundly. Look at your services and its various components. Zac Hicks, in his book, The Worship Pastor, asks this question:

If all that the people of God had were the worship services we plan and lead, what would they know about Him and how would they relate to Him?

If your church is engaged in playlist worship, I am afraid you may be missing out on the opportunity to profoundly shape your people to be more like Christ. I will discuss this in a future blog series.

Today, I have invited my friend Lem Leroy of Redeemer Church in Matthews to speak about incorporating prayers, readings, and creeds into the worship service. He is a practitioner who has seen the shortcomings of playlist worship and has embraced the shaping power of these elements of worship in the lives of his congregation.

Lem is a pastor and elder as well as the co-planter of Redeemer Church Charlotte in Matthews, NC, since its inception in 2019. Previously, he served for 17 years as the Worship Pastor at Carmel Baptist Church. (See full bio at the bottom of the post.)

This article is lengthy but well worth your time to devour the content!

Kenny

By Lem LeRoy

My journey of nearly three decades in worship ministry is deeply rooted in tradition and personal experiences within the church. Growing up in a small, rural Southern Baptist church in northeast Georgia, the corporate worship service was more than just a Sunday routine—it was a cherished family tradition that spanned generations. Our family had worshiped and served in this same church for over a century.

As a young musician, I fondly remember my years serving the church’s music ministry. Starting around the age of twelve, I accompanied choir “specials” and played offertories on the piano. It was during this time that my piano teacher taught me to improvise hymns from the 1975 Baptist Hymnal. Soon enough, I found myself accompanying congregational singing for the Sunday morning and evening services. It was in the Sunday evening service where we integrated praise choruses, such as “Glorify Thy Name” and “I Love You, Lord” into the order of service. We used an overhead projector to display lyrics from transparencies on the wall between the Christian flag and the baptistry. We knew that as “piano side.” Of course, the other side was “organ side.” I called it Aunt Millie’s side because she played the organ, and the large 1920s stained glass window behind the organ bench was dedicated to her family.

The worship services at Tignall Baptist Church during the 1970s and 80s had a profound impact on my life, but it wasn’t just the music that shaped my Christian journey. It was the entire order of worship—the liturgy—of the church. It included elements such as a call to worship, a prayer of invocation, responsive scripture readings (from the back of the hymnal), and a benediction. It looked something like this:

Prelude
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship (a scripture reading, a short choral piece, or a congregational hymn)
Prayer of Invocation
Hymn of Praise
Scripture Reading (usually a responsive reading from the back of the hymnal)
Pastoral Prayer
Hymn of Dedication
Offertory Prayer
Offertory
The Doxology
Choir Anthem (or other ‘special music’)
Sermon
Prayer of Invitation
Hymn of Commitment
The Lord’s Supper (quarterly)
Benediction
Postlude

The order of service I grew up with was common in Southern Baptist worship at the time, and it laid the foundation for my understanding of worship as a holistic and formative experience.

After graduating college with a degree in music in 1995, the Lord called me to serve him vocationally through music and worship in the local church. I have served him and the church in that capacity to this day. One of the frustrations and challenges I faced as churches moved to a more modern style of musical worship is the topic of this blog series – a worship rut caused by “playlist worship.” I felt the weekly pressure of choosing the latest and coolest worship songs for the four-song “set” that was considered the “worship” portion of the service. I began to develop a strong conviction that song-driven worship, regardless of style or lyrical content, isn’t the best way to disciple a congregation during the worship service (outside the sermon). It felt limiting; failing to engage our entire being—heart, soul, strength, and mind—in expressing our love and devotion to God. Reflecting on the traditional order of service that had shaped my own Christian journey, I began to consider whether reintroducing some of the non-musical elements could break the monotony of our music-centered approach and lead to greater spiritual growth in the congregation.

The search for a broader scope of Christian worship led me to discover the ancient liturgical practices of the church. Studying historical Christian worship, I found that many of these ancient practices were actually part of the order of service I grew up with. For those of us from Baptist or non-liturgical backgrounds, the term ‘liturgy’ might carry negative connotations, perhaps associated with formal worship in high church denominations. However, at its core, liturgy simply refers to the structure of our worship services—how we arrange the various elements. The format of singing three or four songs, a sermon, and a response IS a liturgy. However, I recognized its limitations, particularly its tendency to foster a “playlist worship” mentality, where we equate worship solely with singing popular songs. As worship leaders, we have an incredible responsibility to help shape and form our congregation’s growth in Christ. While the songs we sing play a crucial role in this journey, they’re not the sole tool at our disposal for planning worship services.

In his book, You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith emphasizes the formative power of Christian worship in shaping believers’ worldview and faith. He says, “If we want to be a people rented by a biblical worldview and guided by biblical wisdom, one of the best spiritual investments we can make is to mine the riches of historic Christian worship, which is rooted in the conviction that the Word is caught more than it is taught.” We have a treasure trove of worship elements and practices from Christian history at our disposal. Not all of them may work in your context, but integrating a non-musical element or two into your worship service is a great way to add something fresh into your church’s worship diet, provide better enhance spiritual formation and help avoid a “playlist mentality.” The most basic and familiar non-musical elements are prayer and scripture readings. While Kenny delves into these in Part Two of this series, I’ll share practical examples from my church on how we integrate these elements into our services. Additionally, I’ll discuss a few other historic Christian worship practices that you may find valuable.

Scripture Reading

At Redeemer, our service incorporates various types of scripture readings, such as a Call to Worship toward the beginning of the service. It is usually a responsive reading from a Psalm. An example would be:

LEADER:
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
ALL:
My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
LEADER:
Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
ALL:
I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! (from Psalm 34)

(This is a great segue into the song, “Psalm 34 – Taste and See” by Shane and Shane.)

Before the sermon, a member of the congregation comes to the front to read the scripture passage that the speaker will use in their message. During the seasons of Advent and Lent, we include four scripture readings from The Revised Common Lectionary in various places throughout the order of worship. Sometimes we read them responsively and sometimes they are read by a single reader.

Prayer

Historically, there are four types of corporate prayer:

  • Prayer of Adoration (praising God; this is usually at the beginning of the service and sometimes called a Prayer of Invocation or Opening Prayer)
  • Prayer of Confession (asking for forgiveness)
  • Prayer of Thanksgiving (for what God has given and done)
  • Prayer of Intercession (sometimes called a pastoral prayer or prayers of the people; these are prayers of petition in which we intercede for the needs of others e.g. the community, the church, the world, leaders as well as for ourselves)

Spontaneous prayers are the most common form of prayer in non-liturgical evangelical churches, but consider using other forms of prayer to integrate those four types of prayer throughout the order of service.

  • Use a written prayer from other pastors, theologians, early church saints or write out your own; we are using portions of St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer on Sunday, March 17
  • Adapt a written prayer from a prayer book such as The Valley of Vision, The Book of Common Prayer, or Augustine’s Confessions to name a few
  • Silent prayer; take a few moments for the congregation to sit and pray in silence; this is especially good for prayers of confession or intercession
  • Pray the Lord’s Prayer together; you can use this prayer at any point in the service, but it’s especially good to close a time of intercessory prayer or a pastoral prayer by asking the congregation to pray it together
  • Use a unison corporate prayer; this is when the congregation prays a written prayer together; a great example of this is a Corporate Confession of Sin, which is simply a corporate prayer of confession. We usually follow this prayer by a verse or two of scripture that reminds us of our forgiveness in Christ (often referred to as the Assurance of Forgiveness). Here is an example of a Confession and Assurance from one of our services. We transition from a song or hymn of praise into a “Call to Confession” where the worship leader sets up the prayer.

[Worship Leader – “The proof of God’s amazing love is this:
While we were sinners, Christ died for us. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (based on Romans 5:8; Hebrews 4:16)

Trusting in God’s faithfulness and compassion, let’s take a few moments to confess our sin before God and one another…]

ALL:
Eternal and merciful God,
you have loved us with a love beyond our understanding,
and you have set us on paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. Yet we have strayed from your way;
we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed,
through what we have done and what we have left undone.
As we remember the lavish gift of your grace
we praise you and give you thanks that you forgive us yet again. Grant us now, we pray, the grace to die daily to sin,
and to rise daily to new life in Christ,
who lives and reigns with you,
and in whose strong name we pray. Amen.

[Now hear and respond to this good news!…]

LEADER:
“He will again have compassion upon us; he will tread our iniquities under foot.

ALL:
He will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (from Micah 7)
Amen!

(We then sing a couple of songs about God’s grace and mercy. We sang “His Mercy is More” by Matt Papa and Matt Boswell here.)

Creeds

The historic creeds of Christianity are summaries of our faith. Dr. Al Mohler, in his book, The Apostle’s Creed says,

The Apostles’ Creed collapses time and space, uniting all true believers in the one, holy, and apostolic faith. This creed is a summary of what the Bible teaches, a narrative of God’s redemptive love, and a concise statement of basic Christianity.

On why the use of creeds is important, theologian Carl Trueman explains that creeds “are the best way for churches to preserve the faith and to make sure it’s communicated in a stable way, both to the people in the pew today and for future generations, is to have creeds and confessions, or the equivalent thereof, in our churches functioning as a way of capturing the essence, the deposit of the faith.” Asking your congregation to recite a creed is a great way to affirm your faith together. The two creeds we recite on a regular basis in our church are:

  • The Apostles’ Creed
  • The Nicene Creed

At Redeemer, we place a creed after the song that follows the sermon, just before a time of intercessory prayer that leads into the Lord’s Supper (which we observe weekly). The Apostles’ Creed is great to use before a baptism. In the early centuries of the Church, people preparing for baptism learned a short summary of the Christian faith. One version became the Apostles’ Creed.

Take a look at the two creeds here.

These are just a few ideas of gospel-centered, historic Christian worship practices that you can include in your worship service and, hopefully, some practical ways to do so. The goal of including these or other non-musical elements isn’t just to have variety and avoid monotony (a worship rut); it is ultimately to give us a broader and deeper expression of worship to our God. The adage “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi” is an ancient Latin saying that directly translates as, “the law of prayer leads to the law of belief leads to the law of living.” But the essence of the phrase means, “how we worship directly affects what we believe, which then affects how we live.” It is vital that we give careful consideration to the content of our worship services. When we shape and form our orders of worship, we are shaping and forming our congregation in their understanding of God, and how they reflect Christ in their homes and communities. May we give Jesus the glory he deserves by shepherding his bride well through the thoughtful and intentional planning of our weekly worship gatherings.

Lem LeRoy is a pastor and elder as well as the co-planter of Redeemer Church Charlotte in Matthews, NC since its inception in 2019. His passions and responsibilities at Redeemer include musical and liturgical leadership and pastoral care. Lem has his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Georgia and is a proud Dawg fan. He has been pastoring and leading worship for almost thirty years in churches in Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Lem has been married to his wife, Ellen, for seventeen years, and they have three children: Kate, Meredith, and Owen.