“What kind of worship service do you have?”

posted by Teddy Ray

I’ve been asked the question a number of times. “What kind of worship does your church do?” Sometimes the question is a bit more specific: “Do you do contemporary or traditional worship?” Several church signs I drive by indicate the times of their traditional, contemporary, and perhaps blended worship services. The most hip are now doing contemporvant.

It seems that the most important question anyone has about worship is whether the music is led by a band or a choir. I know that people have stylistic preferences. In honesty, I have my own. But I think other aspects of our worship are much more interesting and important.

Changing the Conversation

I’d like to change the conversation when it comes to what kind of worship we do. In fact, when people ask me the question, I tell them, “We do Word and Table worship.” That’s usually followed by a strange look. People aren’t used to descriptions of worship that have to do with its primary substance. But this is the best description I can give. In fact, it’s the only description of our worship I can give and know will remain true.

Every week, we hear the Word of God. Week after week it comes to us to guide, rebuke, encourage, or correct. And every week, we come to the Table to commemorate Christ’s sacrificial death, participate in his body and blood, and receive the spiritual strengthening to do His will. Word and Table — these are the essentials of our worship and nothing else.

When people in the Offerings Community have asked how I describe our worship, I ask them, “Which would be more shocking to you: if a piano and choir were to lead our music one week, or if we were to simply sing, preach, and then give a benediction?” I suspect that I might not get a single question if we were to use the piano and choir. But if we didn’t come to the Table one week, I expect the majority would be confused, disappointed, and perhaps distressed.

I expect the same would happen if we chose to have a reading and message from Aesop’s Fables rather than from the Word one week. How, then, is our worship defined? By the Word and the Table. Everything else may change, but these will always remain.

Hearing from Many Streams

Since the question about what kind of worship we do typically has to do with music – and sometimes other liturgical elements (i.e. whether we say any creeds, use drama, etc.) – I’d like to say a brief word on these elements of our worship. In most of the Offerings Community’s worship services, a band leads the music. This does not mean that we sing exclusively – or even primarily – praise choruses written in the past ten years. We sing Appalachian spirituals, praise choruses, hymns, and Black gospel songs. We have chanted psalms and have even danced (or at least moved around a little) to African praise songs.

This variety is important to us. We believe Christians from many different places, times, and streams of influence have contributed something important. If we limit ourselves to one particular stream and style, we are likely to miss the great perspectives that have come from so many others.

We hope to embrace that same mentality when it comes to other elements of worship. We have a number of excellent elements to choose from as we worship each week – creeds, prayers, greetings and collects, drama and dance – and we would be remiss to neglect any of these. We don’t consider any of these essential to our weekly worship – only Word and Table hold that distinction. So we don’t necessarily recite the Apostles’ Creed or say the Lord’s Prayer every week, but we make sure to incorporate these into our worship throughout different times of the year.

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