The shape of our gatherings

I’m posting a few thoughts on how we put together our Sunday gatherings in The Crowded House in Sheffield. The first post looked at how we view the aim of our Sunday gatherings and the principles behind how we shape our gatherings. Here’s how we put this together to create the ‘template’ for our meetings.  

1. Call: we come to worship

We begin with a call to worship or an affirmation of God’s glory. This may take the form of songs, prayer, short readings from the Bible, liturgical readings (reading words of Scripture together) or a creed. So our opening song or songs are often addressed not to God directly, but to one another (‘Come praise and glorify our God’). Or they may praise God for his power, beauty, holiness, love, glory and so on. We are calling one another away from the worship of created things or away from the distractions of this world and back to the worship to God. This is true of creeds. When we say a creed together we are affirming together the truth about God. This is a subversive act for in so doing we are refuting the lies of this world.

2. Confession: we confess our sin

As we come before a holy God we come aware of our sin and our need of his grace. So we confess our sins and receive the assurance of grace. This can be spoken or sung. It is not that Christians are out of favour with God until we have confessed our sin. We come to the gathering righteousness in God’s sight whatever kind of week we have had. But we confess our sins to restore our relationship with God, to reaffirm our commitment to holiness and to remind ourselves of God’s grace. This act of confession and assurance normally comes after the opening worship, but may instead come as part of the response to the word when that is more appropriate.

3. Word: we hear God’s voice

The centrepiece of our gathering is hearing God’s voice through his word. This involves hearing the Bible read aloud and hearing the preaching of the word. It may also be introduced by a song or prayer asking God to speak to us through his word. We want to use the language of ‘God speaking’ to us (rather than simply ‘reading the Bible’) to convey the idea that this is more than receiving information. God himself is speaking to us in this moment, both individually and corporately. The Holy Spirit has not only spoken in the past in the writing of the Scriptures, he also speaks in the present through the reading and preaching of the word. So we want to have a strong expectation that we will hear God’s voice as we gather together.

4. Response: we respond in faith

James 1:22 says: ‘Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.’ So we respond to God’s word. We may do this through song, led prayer, open prayer, confession of sin or reciting a creed. We also want a strong sense of being sent out in some form of dismissal to live the word in our everyday lives. Worship in the New Testament is to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Our sacrifice of praise is both the fruit of our lips and the fruit of good lives (Hebrews 13:15-16). Coming together recalibrates our hearts to the worship of God. But then we go out to worship him in our lives by declaring his praises to a lost world.

Stages Potential Components
1. Call:
we come to worship
song, prayer, Scripture readings, liturgical readings, a creed
2. Confession:
we confess our sin
song, led prayer, liturgical prayer, Scripture readings
3. Word:
we hear God’s voice
Bible reading, preaching, introduced by prayer or song
4. Response:
we respond in faith
song, prayer, open prayer, confession, a creed, dismissal

To help plan our gatherings we have created a list of the songs we regularly sing and organised them according to these core components and according to common themes in God’s word:

Stages:            Call, confession, assurance, word, response and dismissal.

Themes:             Christ’s kingship and exaltation, church and community, creation, cross, fulfilment, hope, incarnation, mission and the nations, prayer and petition, refuge and suffering, satisfaction in God, and the Holy Spirit.

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