Gospel Shaped Worship Services
Worship is drawing near to God in fellowship with him and obedience to him such that he is magnified and glorified.
God created people to worship him.
Ultimately, this is why God created people. God created the world to put on display the excellencies of his own glory, and he created people therein that they might witness that glory and praise him for it. Worship—magnifying God’s worth and glory—is the reason God made us.
Sin is failure to worship God.
All sin is essentially failure to bring God glory (Rom 3:23)—it is failure to worship him. This failure creates barriers from drawing near to God in worship, and it brings with it severe punishment: eternal separation from the presence of God in hell.
Christ’s sacrifice enables those who trust in him to worship rightly once again.
However, worship is possible through a sacrifice, the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of the Son of God. Thus those who repent of their sin—their failure to worship—and put their faith and trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on their behalf are saved from separation from God and enabled once again to draw near to him in worship!
The gospel is a call to return to right worship.
The gospel—the good news of Christ’s death on our behalf—is a call for people return to the reason for their existence; it is a plea to accept the simple truths, repent of failure to worship God aright, and call out for forgiveness.
In corporate worship, believers reenact this gospel.
Because this faith in Christ requires belief in facts about Christ and his work and trust in him as Savior and Lord, evangelism requires preaching the gospel. But corporate worship also proclaims the gospel, not that the sermon and hymns will necessarily always be explicitly evangelistic, but in the act of corporate worship itself. Corporate worship is the public acting out of the spiritual realities of worship; it is a dramatic re-creation of drawing near to God through Christ by faith.
In other words, a worship service can be structured so that it proclaims the gospel simply in its order, whether or not the content of the hymns or sermon is explicitly evangelistic. Such a gospel-shaped worship order will look something like this:
- Revelation: God Making Himself Known to Us
- Adoration: Exalting Our Glorious God
- Confession: Lifting Contrite Hearts to the Lord
- Propitiation: Forgiveness Through Jesus Christ
- Proclamation: God Speaking Through His Word
- Dedication: Responding to the Word of God
- Supplication Praying for the Church and the World
- Commission: God Sending Us Forth to Serve Him
This basic flow of a worship service (one that has characterized worship in many traditions for centuries) reflects the flow of the gospel: God reveals himself in his Word (Revelation), which leads a person to recognize God’s greatness (Adoration) and his own sinfulness. He then confesses his sin and puts his faith in Christ (Confession), which leads to forgiveness in the gospel through the merits of Christ (Propitiation). This Christian is now ready to hear God’s Word (Proclamation) and obey (Dedication), bringing his burdens before the Lord (Supplication) and ready to go into the world to serve God and fulfill the Great Commission (Commission).
This reenactment of the gospel in corporate worship is profoundly evangelistic.
Structuring worship services in this way both allows believers to truly draw near to God through Christ by faith, which is the primary purpose of a worship service, and ensures that unbelievers who attend the service will always be confronted with the gospel.
Corporate worship and evangelism are, therefore, not mutually exclusive. The gospel is what makes worship possible, and gospel-shaped corporate worship is evangelistic. If churches would return to this kind of corporate worship, they might see more examples of what Paul hoped for the Corinthian church when an unbeliever witnessed their worship:
He is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor 14:24–25)