What We Do and Why We Do It
The following teaching service was originally used on a Reformation Sunday, but it could be used in many other contexts. Your service may not include all the elements referenced here, or it may use different names for the elements or include them in a different order. We encourage you to adapt this service to fit your own context.
If you do not want to do an entire teaching service, consider adding one of these “teachings” in each service throughout a month-long period or including them in your bulletin or church newsletter.
This service may also be a good discussion starter for your worship committee or other groups of adults. What is surprising? What would you add or change?
Welcome to the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ! On this Reformation Sunday we’re going to explain why we do what we do before each section of our liturgy.
The word liturgy is a composite of two Greek words meaning “the work of the people.” So worship is our work together, which the Reformation gave back to us by allowing people to worship in their own language and give voice to their own prayers and songs. Worship is our work as the people of God together listening and responding to what God has to say to us.
Prelude (God speaks to us and we respond to God; we speak to each other)
In worship, music is never presented as a performance for the congregation but as an offering of praise, thanksgiving, penitence, or petition to God. While worshipers are often caught up in the beauty of the music or the words, the purpose is not to bring attention to the musicians or singers but to point to the Creator who makes all things beautiful and enables us to be creative as well.
The purpose of the prelude is to enter into a holy space by quieting ourselves and preparing for worship. We enter this holy space in a number of ways: through prayer, through music, through meditation on what God might be saying to us. Let’s enter into that quiet space together now.
Call to Worship (God speaks to us)
The worship of God is the central purpose of the church. The primary focus of worship is not to inspire or motivate us (although we may be inspired and motivated) but to love God for God’s sake. The call to worship, then, grabs our attention and beckons us to focus on God. It reminds us why God is praiseworthy and deserving of our worship. When the prophet Isaiah receives his commission in Isaiah 6, he has a vision of God as high and lifted up, holy and far above humans in a smoke-filled temple:
Leader: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
People: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.
Leader: At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
People: Let us praise our holy God!
Hymn of Adoration: “Holy, Holy, Holy” (we respond to God)
Call to Confession (God speaks to us)
In the call to worship and the opening hymn, when we see God lifted up in holiness and majesty we are reminded that we are the creatures and God is the Creator. Our God is holy, full of self-giving love, justice, and loving-kindness. We recognize that we are not patient, kind, peaceful, gentle, joyful, faithful, or good. This drives us to confession, when we admit that we have not measured up and we tell God we are sorry. After his vision Isaiah confessed: “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!” (v. 5).
Prayer of Confession (we respond to God)
Please join me in our prayer of confession:
Gracious, majestic, and holy God, we worship and praise you for your loving-kindness and longsuffering love toward us. We acknowledge that you are the Creator and we are your creatures. Too often we live as if you didn’t exist or have any claim upon us. We are people of unclean lips and dwell among people with unclean lips. We say and do things that are hurtful and not well thought out. We leave things unsaid and undone, things that could have brought joy, comfort, or encouragement to someone. Yet we have seen you in your majesty and you call us your children. May you experience our worship as an expression of our love for you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Time of Silent Reflection (God speaks to us and we respond to God)
Words of Assurance (God speaks to us)
After Isaiah made his confession, God did not leave him in the dust, but gave him words of assurance that his sin was removed and that he was forgiven:
“Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’” (v. 6).
Dear friends, these words apply to us as well: no matter what we have done or not done, there is nothing we can do to make God love us any less, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more. God simply loves us. Walk in that freedom. Amen.
As a sign of our gratitude and the joy of accepting love, we sing a song of joy in response.
Song of Rejoicing (we respond to God)
Children’s Message (God speaks to us and we respond to God; we speak to each other)
In Israel, the extended family unit was paramount—mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, aunts and uncles, and, of course, kids. The covenant extended to them as well. Moses instructed parents to teach their children well so they would grow in their faith and love for God: “Now these are the commands, decrees, and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life” (Deut. 6:1-2). That is the reason why we have a message for children every Sunday.
Scripture Readings (God speaks to us)
At this point in the service we read several selections from the Bible. Often a lay reader from the congregation reads the passages to remind us that the Bible is for all of us to read and interpret, not just the minister, though he or she is trained to help us better understand the history and meaning of Scripture. The Bible is still the way that God speaks to us today. Before we read from the Bible we often include a prayer for illumination to ask the Holy Spirit to make the words come alive.
Gloria Patri (we respond to God)
Many Christians sing the Gloria Patri every Sunday morning right after the reading of Scripture (usually the gospel selection) for that day. In the Reformed tradition they often sing it after the reading of a psalm.
The Message (God speaks to us)
A pastor called or appointed by a church to bring God’s message prepares the meditation or sermon. The church has charged this person to take the time to study God’s Word, to pray, and to listen to what God is saying to them. Understanding this unique calling, the congregation rightly receives the words of the pastor as God’s words to them.
Prayers of the People (we respond to God)
After the sermon we come to God in prayer, saying, “God, we have heard your Word and it is good. There is a lot of work to do to make this world the way you want it to be. We will need your strength, your love, and your perspective.” But before we run out to do something, we need to spend time with God to understand God’s will.
During the prayer we come with praise for who God is; with thanksgiving for what God does; and with requests for God to heal, to transform, to renew us and work out all the complicated details of our lives. Jesus said, “When two or three of you agree upon anything on earth, it shall be done for you in heaven.”
Let us pray.
The Lord’s Prayer (we respond to God)
Often the prayers of the people are concluded with the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
The Offering (we respond to God)
We respond to God in thanksgiving by giving back to God some of what God has allowed us to earn. Our offering is not an obligation but rather a joy-filled statement of thanksgiving to God.
The Doxology (we respond to God)
Whether we use those words of the well-known doxology, “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” or another song, the intent is the same: to offer God our praise and thanksgiving for meeting our bodily needs and for using us to bring God’s mission to the world.
Offertory Prayer (we respond to God)
Here we offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the good gifts God gives us and ask God’s blessing on the gifts given, that they may be used for the building up of the kingdom. And we pray that we may use the many other gifts God has blessed us with for God’s work here on earth.
Parting Hymn (we respond to God)
We conclude our worship with a hymn that might sum up what we’ve learned, express some new commitment that we have made, or offer God praise and thanks for being here.
Charge and Benediction (God speaks to us)
A charge is like an order or a commission given to the people of God at the end of worship, just like a football coach might give to his team before they go out onto the field. Usually these are words of encouragement to live up to our calling as Christians during the week. Benediction means “good words,” and these are words of blessing and promise reminding the people of God that they are beloved and can count on God all week. So let us rise to receive the charge and benediction.
Choral Amen (we respond to God)
The choir often sends us out with a sung “Amen” or some other appropriate song, which really means, “So be it. We get it, and now we’re going back to work.”
Postlude (God speaks to us and we respond to God; we speak to each other)
The postlude captures the grandeur of God’s majesty and of the day’s worship. Increasingly, many congregations remain seated during the postlude as a fitting time of reflection at the conclusion of worship and out of courtesy to the organist or musicians.