What principles should direct our leading of worship?
There are many good books dealing with this (and I still like Robert Rayburn's 'Come let us worship', Baker 1980, as well as any). Here are some basic guidelines I put down recently as a discussion starter for some men in my congregation who sometimes lead worship, either in our church or elsewhere.
Some key principles
What is worship?
Rendering to God the glory, honour and submission that are his due. Pss 29:2; 95:6,7.
How is it to be done?
With reverence and awe – Heb 12:28. We come to God as he has revealed himself in the person and work of Christ. We worship in the power of the Holy Spirit and in faith: ‘For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father’ (Eph 2:18). Worship is above all a spiritual activity.
What directs our worship?
The Bible. Apart from incidentals and the ‘circumstances’ of worship (eg whether we use chairs of pews, the times of our services) we should only do what Scripture commands. This is called the Regulative principle and has been basic to Reformed worship since the 16th C. It is an expression of the seriousness with which Reformed Christians take (i) worship, (ii) the sufficiency of Scripture, (iii) human ignorance of what pleases God unless he tells us and (iv) the need to ensure that so far as possible we do not offend the consciences of worshippers by imposing on them something which cannot be justified by God’s authority.
This is different from Anglican or Lutheran churches whose tradition has been that whatever is not forbidden is allowed.
In practice this has meant that Reformed worship is characterised by simplicity and reverence, using as little outward adornment or sensory stimulus as possible, in an attempt to do some justice to the spirituality, character and greatness of the God whom we approach, who seeks to be known by his Word, and to worship, as Jesus teaches, in spirit /Spirit and in truth.
Such worship will usually consist of (i) Scripture reading and preaching; (ii) prayer; (iii) the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; (iv) the sacraments; (v) in some churches, the offering. The Word is central. The Bible should be read, preached, prayed, sung and (in the sacraments) seen.
How we worship God is hugely important. In his tract On the Necessity of Reforming the Church John Calvin in 1543 stated that the two defining elements of Christianity were ‘a knowledge, first, of the right way to worship God; and secondly of the source from which salvation is to be sought.’ How we worship God will tell people a great deal about who he is and what we think of him.
The Lord has promised to be where two or three of his people meet in his name (Matt 18:15-20). If the Lord is graciously present, then that is the most important thing about our meetings. No-one should be willing to be easily absent from such a gathering. As we lead in worship it is our task to lead people into the awareness and experience of this presence of God and to enable them to offer to God what is his due – true worship.
What are you aiming at in leading a service of worship?
How do you dress?
How do you order the service?
The ‘dialogue’ principle – God addresses us, we respond.
How do you begin?
How do you choose the readings?
What should the content of the times of prayer be?
Assurance of forgiveness
How do you choose hymns? What factors influence you?
How do you choose each hymn for different parts of the service?
How much talking should you do?
What principles guide you in preparing a children’s talk?
What about getting others to take part in the service?
How will you close the service?