As I shared in the initial post, as I share some reflections on what it means to be a pastor, the starting place is worship. Worship is the most visible portion of a pastor’s week and often what many believe is the most important. Note that I shared that many believe it is the most important. Worship is the time that the community comes together regardless of what all is happening in the life of the community. It is the time that we share a common experience of singing, praying, learning, sharing, giving. As much as many have tried to make it so, worship is not a “me” time but an “us” time – One community gathered together. I often imagine that worship is the hub of the church wheel and that every spoke goes out from that center, every spoke finds its rooting in that center, and all are strengthened together through the common center.
And that gathering is centered upon Scripture. So, when discerning, praying, and planning for worship, it always starts with Scripture. The liturgy that we choose, craft, and share. The music that is chosen (congregational, choral, and instrumental). The message that is preached. I am grateful to serve with others here at CC who feel similarly about the centrality of the scripture for our worship planning. Being very honest, that is not universal in churches. But I am grateful that is the reality here.
So, as we plan all these pieces of worship, we start with Scripture – our core story of who God is, what God has done, and how God continues to be at work in our lives and in the world. But how do we choose what to center on? There are several “schools” of thought about how to choose the centering passage(s) for worship.
- Lectionaries – These are pre-selected readings that have been put together to ideally over a period of years cover most of the message of the Bible. The most common, the Revised Common Lectionary, uses a 3 year cycle with 4 passages each Sunday (Gospel, Old Testament, Epistle/Letters of the New Testament, and a Psalm). Another, called the Narrative Lectionary, over 4 years, has one central passage (and sometimes an accompanying one) to simplify the selections and have consistency from week to week of the story of God’s work. In fact, we’re going to experiment with using the Narrative Lectionary through the next several months, starting this month with a focus on the Psalms for 4 weeks.
- Book Studies – In these, you just take a single book of the Bible and go through it section by section each week in worship until you finish the book and you then move on to another one. I know many churches that do this by simply starting in Genesis and going through the Bible section by section until they reach the end of Revelation. Just for information, if you went chapter by chapter each week, this would take approximately 23 years!
- Topical Series – In this, you start not with a specific passage or book, but instead a focus topic and then a series is structured from there. Sometimes, themes are chosen and then applicable passages are connected. Other times, a series can be crafted out of a book study. For example, the core theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church is on what it means to be free in Christ. So, a series can also emerge in that way.
This is far more than just random choosing. Prayer is central to this. When I am working out what we’ll use in worship, I am praying about what I have been hearing from the congregation, what is happening in our community and world, what are core needs that are present, what prophetic message God wants this community to take in, and much more. It is not a simple process, but one that I believe is Spirit led and driven for God’s Word to be spoken to God’s people on a specific Sunday.
For me personally, I generally feel led to one of the first two types for one specific reason. They led Scripture have the first word. When we start with a specific Scripture passage, it is honoring the fact that God’s Word comes first. With a topical series, I find it is far too easy for me (or any other worship leader) to simply cherry pick passages that fit what we think needs to be said. This was a lesson that was central to my training as a pastor in sermon preparation…let the Holy Spirit through Scripture have the first word…
So that’s where I’m going to wrap up this first reflection as we answer the question – what is the starting point? The next one will be focused specifically on how a sermon is crafted (and specifically how it comes about for me).
Grace, Peace, and Love,