It has been trendy over the last twenty or so years to remove liturgy from our worship services. Around the time of the seeker sensitive movement it became normal for evangelical churches to remove all liturgy from their worship services. It just became 3 songs, a sermon, and get everyone out for lunch in less than 60 minutes. I think that this removal of liturgy has hurt the mission of the church. Liturgy matters for the mission of the church.
When I say liturgy what I mean by that is the historical liturgy that one thinks of when they hear the word liturgy. The typical contemporary evangelical worship service of 3 songs and a sermon is a liturgy by the technical definition of liturgy. My argument is that we need to get back to more historical liturgy in our worship services. This liturgy will lead to mission.
Any church leader who starts to lead their church on mission learns fairly quickly that the contemporary form of the evangelical church doesn’t do it for mission. There are a few responses to this. First is they either respond by removing all forms of liturgy and just purely go on mission organically. These churches have gathering times but no formal worship service. Another is to add liturgical elements to the worship service as it fits for their church body. If the church is more charismatic they might add more prayer liturgical elements to empower their people for the mission. Others turn their worship gatherings into training times more akin to seminary class.
All of these responses have their benefits for mission. I’m never going to fault the pastor for applying their passions, looking at their context, and following God’s call. But I want to argue for churches to add historical liturgy to their contexts for five different reasons.
1. Routine creates rhythm
This reason is why many have thrown out liturgy is that they think routine leads to boredom. At times routine can get boring sure. The routine of liturgy leads to a rhythm of putting God’s word deep in your soul. It leads to what Deuteronomy 6 talks about in verses 7-9.
“7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
When you recite something regularly it will be implanted into your mind and heart. The routine creates a rhythm in your brain that will allow you to recall truths of scripture when you need it the most. This routine leads to disciples better able to live out the mission.
The liturgy allows you to rest. Our worship service spaces need to be places people can slow down and rest. It is easy to rest when there is a liturgy that everyone can lead. In our current model of evangelical worship services it is impossible for people to rest. It is a massive production every week. A liturgy can be shared to many throughout the congregation so that it doesn’t fall to a few gifted folks.
A good liturgy also allows the congregation to rest. When I walk into to a liturgical worship service I know where the service is going and I can rest. I can actually open my heart up to hearing God speak to me. In certain environments the service has an order only known to a few people leading the production. This causes anxiety and stress on people for a variety of reasons. If I’m attending a church and I have no clue when things will end or where we are heading it can be really distracting. I have found for some churches it is helpful to put their weekly liturgy on their website so people can see it.
3. Connects to all the senses
In a liturgical service you can really spend time engaging all the senses. As you develop your liturgy you can go beyond just one or two things in your service to connect people to God. For some reason most evangelical services think that the only things that can connect people to God is singing and preaching. There is power in engaging all the senses including smells, sight, touch, hearing, and taste. Many churches think hearing is the only sense they can connect people to God with. People learn all different ways and need to be led that way.
4. Easy for new people to enter
Every liturgical service I have ever entered I have been handed something with the liturgy written on it. As the worship service moved through the liturgy I was able to follow along and see what the different things meant in the liturgy. Nothing is more awkward than as a new person in a new environment not knowing what in the world is going on. Because liturgy has routine it is easy for a new person to learn it and enter into the liturgy.
More and more people in our culture are being attracted to more liturgical forms of worship. Sure, every context is different but the data nationwide is showing more of a draw to liturgy. As we go on mission as church our worship service should be a tool for mission. For everyone who wants to contextualize their worship service they should give more historical liturgy a serious look.