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Why Your Church Needs to Think Beyond the Worship Set

2. The worship set can lead a church to undervalue nonmusical worship elements.

Another danger of the worship set is that it can lead a church to undervalue nonmusical worship elements.

Paul told Timothy, “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim. 4:13). He instructed the young pastor to lead his church in offering up “requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 2:1). His expectation was that the members of the Corinthian church would set aside their offering “on the first day of every week” (1 Cor. 16:2), from which many have inferred that giving was an integral part of the New Testament church’s public worship. Jesus commanded his followers to baptize new disciples (Matt. 28:19), and he gave them his Supper so they could proclaim his death until he comes (1 Cor. 11:26).

There’s a lot more to do in church than sing and preach.

The danger with the worship set is that these other elements of biblical worship can fade into the background. If the congregation expects (or even demands?) to experience a well-rehearsed, creative musical progression, that can force out these other mandated expressions of worship. Of course, I’m not suggesting that anyone intentionally sidelines biblical elements of worship. I only mean to highlight a pattern I’ve noticed: When a church privileges worship through song by giving it the lion’s share of time and focus, these other elements of worship tend to become thin and perfunctory. 

How can pastors and those who lead worship through song work against this tendency?

If you use a worship set, resist the idea that the set must only contain music in order for it to have maximum impact. This isn’t a concert. Intersperse prayers and readings between the songs.

Promote a culture of worshipful, robust prayer in your services. If you devote substantial time to prayer during the public meeting, it shouldn’t be a surprise if your church members learn to prioritize prayer in their private lives.

How do we bolster our public prayers? By saturating them with scriptural truths: “Do we not learn the language of confession and penitence from the Bible? Do we not learn the promises of God to believe and claim in prayer from the Bible? Don’t we learn the will of God, the commands of God and the desires of God for His people for which we are to plead in prayer, from the Bible? Since these things are so, public prayers should repeat and echo the language of the Bible throughout.”[2]

There is also a correlation between rehearsal time and value. If your church values well-crafted music, it’s likely that your band or choir spends hours in rehearsal. Why not spend as much time and effort on preparing public prayers?

Finally, promote a culture of worshipful Scripture reading in your services. If we believe that the Word of God is “sharper than any double-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), let’s take it out of the sheath and let it do its work. Read in such a way that the majestic truths of Scripture echo in the ears of your congregation. Consider training up a number of congregants to read Scripture well: with meaning, emphasis, gravity and joy. We hand out Tim Challies’ excellent article on how to read Scripture publicly to everyone who reads at our church.