overweight When some of you saw the title of this article you may have assumed it to be a diatribe concerning how well the members of the worship team perform, making it an essay addressing singers, instrumentalists, or tech personnel.  You may have thought it to be about the shape of the building in which weekly worship takes place for your church.  At first glance you may have even thought it might be an appeal for worship leaders to start an exercise program (ok, I added a little trickery with the picture).  While all of those things are considerable issues for any worship ministry, I want to address the form of your church’s worship, especially addressing those of us who worship in settings where weekly worship planning determines the order of what comes when in worship.

As a worshiper who grew up his whole life in a tradition of free church worship where the order of service was left to the discretion of the pastor and musicians who would lead the worship, and who served the church in those ministries, I have found a richness available to worshipers in the form or shape of worship.

Serious students of worship have likely read works of Robert Webber, and know something about his discussion of four-fold worship, based on historic models and patterns consistent across denominational lines.  The form is simply; Gathering, WORD, TABLE (response), and Sending.  There are biblical examples in both Old and New Testament of this pattern in addition to those numerous liturgies through church history, and even contemporary forms we see in present day.  Lest we think of this as a “traditional” vs. “contemporary” question, most every book I have read by current authors on the subject come down to invoking this pattern, or some very close facsimile thereof.  I would like to point out some of the most important reasons I believe that shaping worship after this pattern holds value for any worship planner.

1.  The first advantage of using a four-fold pattern as the shape for Gathered worship is that there actually is a set plan.  Week in and week out, worship has a pattern that is predictable in its shape.  This in no way limits creativity, or gets in the way of “making all things new.”  To the contrary, form gives rise to freedom.  While expressions like “fresh” and “next level” have been used to sound “cutting edge” (another one), rescuing the tired expressions of “dynamic,” “exciting,” and “inspiring,” the truth is that all of these become cliché quite quickly.  Chasing novelty is a cultural temptress that often serves an inclination in worshipers that can easily simply become worshipers worshiping worship, or in essence worshipers worshiping themselves.  God forbid.  Monkeying with the order of worship for the purpose of bringing surprise – unexpected presentation, can easily degrade into little more than an engineered distraction.  Indeed, the surprise we need is the visitation of the Holy Spirit to speak in our present circumstance, and this not just to “meet our need,” but to move us toward Jesus, the ultimate direction of Christian worship.

   Having a set plan for the shape of worship relieves this novelty-driven pressure.  Granted, it is just as        possible to worship the worship when it is the historic and/or set plan that we admire.  In adhering to a form, however, it seems one shaped purposefully on biblical conveyance and historical consistence serves as a better anchor than the most recent variety show on television.  Christian worship seeks to connect God and people based on what God has provided, not what entertains us.  As the adage to preachers asks, “Sir, we would see Christ.

2.  The shape of the plan displays the Gospel.  The simplicity of the four-fold worship plan demonstrates in its form the Gospel (Good News) itself.  Gathering is only possible because God is already present and invites us into His presence to meet with Him and further blesses with the fellowship of fellow worshipers – humans who, like us, are sinners for whom God has made provision to enter into His presence.  The WORD is the very revelation that God makes of Himself to us.  It is the food of knowing Him, and sustenance to the soul.  In its revelation the Spirit speaks and Christ is revealed.  The Table invites our participation in that which has been offered, and we are given glorious opportunity to respond to the sacrifice of our Savior  in whose resurrection we find power and strength to live in covenant with Him and with one another as church, brothers and sisters in Christ.  The sending places us on our mission to be salt and light to the world, no longer living to ourselves, but as a living sacrifice for this is our spiritual worship. (Rom 12:1)  This shape models our initial acceptance of the Gospel, and can serve as ongoing reminder of our life position in Christ.

3.  The shape of the plan invites the Church to unceasing worship.  Thus we come to gathered worship already worshiping, we worship gathered in His presence finding strength in Him and in one another as we “spur one another on to love and good deeds,” hearing from Him through the Word, responding to Him (Table), and departing again to serve Him, still worshiping (serving) as we go.  We are always worshipers.  It is the life-journey of disciples of Jesus, for this follows His pattern of living as well.

4.  The shape of the worship connects the Church – local with universal.  While we Baptists shutter a bit at the notion of connectivity, it seems that if in Christ all things hold together, then being in Christ may well bring us toward a together condition.  Worshiping in the form that has historic roots all the way to the first century as well as extending to churches of many other faith traditions, its Gospel-form can accentuate our oneness in Christ, despite differences and divisions of disagreement.  What’s more, the historic rootedness reminds us that we are worshiping now, but as part of eternal worship which has been before us and continues into eternity.

 As I write this article I am beginning a week leading senior high students in choral music for Georgia Baptist Convention.  In selecting music it was helpful to consider choosing songs that fit well to serve a four-fold worship pattern in the shape of the Gospel.  I am praying the Lord will speak each day as these students gather, sing and consider the Word through music, respond to what God calls them to, and then will be sent back to their churches and communities to live out their worship.  I certainly know this will be a time for me also to “shape up.”

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship


  1. […] as kingdom people. Reading, prayer, preaching, song and sacrament are the actions of our worship. Paul Clark Jr expands on a similar pattern: gathering, word, response and sending; and points out how this shape […]

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