In God’s providence, I have shifted jobs, locations, and churches, and my days of regular preaching and participation in formal liturgy have come to a definite pause. I wasn’t at it very long — less than a full year — but it seems an appropriate time to stop and ask what I learned.
At the end of last December, when I’d only been doing it for four weeks, I wrote the following:
I’ve been at this for mere weeks now, and I’m sure there are all sorts of things about preaching in a formal liturgy that I still don’t know. But I have found a series of interesting things as we’ve made the transition.
Obedience is a lot of hard work. Not exactly news, but there it is.
Preaching a sermon that fits in with a more formal liturgy takes conscious preparation. It sounds obvious when I say it like this, but if you’ve done both, you know what I’m talking about. There’s a very real sense of changing gears here.
The sermon has to be a bit shorter to accommodate everything else we’re doing. Courtesy of the way I was trained to do exegesis, I started learning how to condense in my second year of seminary (2000), and I’ve been working at it ever since. I can condense the same content into a shorter time span. All it takes is time in the study…
Crafting a liturgy also takes time. Lots of time. The first week, I spent all of my sermon prep time, Monday through Thursday, on the liturgy. Come Friday, I’m pulling out my sermon notes that I normally would have picked up again on Monday. Better scheduling needed here, but I expect to have to work twice as hard until we get the liturgy up and running.
The [liturgical] framework enhances the preaching. A lot. I can’t put my fingers on the differences yet, but I can feel them. There is something about doing it this way that makes a huge difference. More on this when I have something intelligent to say about what the differences are.
I’ve had six months since then, and while there are still many, many things I don’t know, I do have a few more things to say.
The liturgy makes counseling easier. The training in confessing our sins and receiving assurance of pardon sets the stage for church-wide application of James 5:16. Believers are priests, and this is a priestly function. But evangelicals don’t know how to do it. The liturgy gives them a model; they are trained every week.
The counseling causes the liturgy to take hold. After I counsel a congregant through some sin issue, assist them in confessing the sin to the Lord and assure them of His pardon, and (of course) help them to begin growing beyond it, I have the privilege of watching their eyes light up when we get to the assurance of pardon in the service. Their certainty that He has forgiven even that sin is palpable.
Doing formal liturgy well requires a spiritually mature, musically talented worship leader as well as a capable pastor. We were missing that, and I could feel the lack. Good liturgy takes teamwork; it’s not the kind of thing that one man should do solo. I learned this a little too late to do anything about it, and I’m grateful that God blessed our obedience in spite of me missing this (in retrospect) pretty obvious point. I was blessed with a willing body of congregants who were committed to being obedient to the Scriptures in our liturgy. We could never have done what we did without their willing help and participation, and I’m eternally grateful to them, each and all, for their suggestions, support, participation and commitment.
God blesses obedience. Our execution was often fumbling and inept. How could it be otherwise? We’d never done anything like this before. But God was kind to us, and we saw results beyond all proportion to our skill. Put another way, skill is no substitute for obedience. We’ve all been to services where there was vastly more skill in evidence, and yet we were left empty. Taking heed to God’s commands makes a real difference in weekly edification.