the baby and the bathwater

Leading Worship COE style: Liturgy
March 15, 2008, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have a couple of things in common with the Bishop of Gloucester (who wrote the note that I have called ‘leading worship CofE style’). One of those is that we both belong to the Church of England, and have pursued a calling within that church which has taken a huge amount of commitment and service and devotion to duty. OK so he’s ended up with the bigger house and sexier job title, but I’m in no way bitter about that.

The other thing we both have in common is that we are both liturgists.

Yes really.

I am a self confessed, card carrying liturgust. I have the T shirt, the DVD, the car sticker, I am part of the facebook group. Everything.

I am a liturgist because I write songs for people to sing in church.

And I recon the type of liturgy writing that I am involved with is probably the fasted growing, increasingly influential liturgy in the modern day church today. Far more influential than anything that is in the Anglican prayer book or book of common worship. You don’t believe me? Well, if you ask most worship leaders these days to recite the ‘prayer of humble access’ they will look at you as though you need counselling. Ask them to play ‘heart of worship’ by Matt Redman and they will be able to sing and play it word and note perfect, in the right key, with all the same arrangements and dynamics as any other worship leader in virtually any other country in the world.

Ok so my songs aren’t quite as influential as Matt Redman’s. But then his are pretty good.

But it does lead me to ask this question: what makes good liturgy?

Well let me suggest a few things.

Good liturgy has it’s inspiration in the work of the Holy Spirit, who is always looking to glorify God. He is a creative Spirit and a sign of His activity is in the newness of the things He creates though His people. When liturgy isn’t inspired and anointed by the Holy Spirit, however technically good it is, it will not be full of life and will tend to point to people or things other than the One it is meant to point towards.

Our churches and songbooks are full of liturgy that shouldn’t be there because they were born of man and not the Spirit. One worship leader friend recounts the time when a songwriter came up to him, played some dreadful worship song that he had written, and then declared ‘God has given me this song’. My worship leader friend says how he had this thought: ‘well, if God gave that to you, it was probably because he didn’t want it!’ Yet another time, a songwriter came and played him a song and said, with a hint of false humility ‘it’s not me that wrote this song, but God’. My friend said that his initial reaction was ‘well it’s not that good!’

Joking aside, though, it is very probably true that too much of our liturgy has a little too much of the inspiration of man in it, and probably not enough of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in it. ‘Good and clever’ just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to liturgy. In fact ‘good and clever’ on it’s own is probably more annoying than anointed.

Good liturgy is full of truth. It draws together the truth of God’s gloriousness and the mystery that surrounds Him and entwines itself around the heart of the worshipper, compelling it to praise. Like it or not, liturgy sinks deep into people’s hearts and stays there, stoking passions and driving activity. That’s why any writer of liturgy needs a strong theological framework and preferably a few other theological brains around them to check things out.

Good liturgy gathers a whole bunch of people and voices and hearts into an expression of unity. And as the church recites it’s liturgy it finds a common ground and declares to God and to any human ear that is listening that it is better off being together than apart.

Good liturgy serves the church and it’s mission, packaging the things of God into a form that the world can relate to. It can’t sit outside culture, it has to be part of it. Once our liturgy has ceased to be accessible to the outsider, it needs to be revisited, refreshed, enlivened, or discarded. Liturgy is never sacred.

But above all.

Way above all.

Liturgy should sweep up the worshipper into an encounter with God, and then should fade away into the background as a truly divine exchange unravels. Heart to Heart. Deep to Deep. Because the real feast begins where the liturgy ends.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you. About time someone noticed that the church is very liturgical.

Spot on that the best liturgy is truth saturated – I love Jonathan Edwards sense that our affections should be lifted in proportion to the truth being sung….

I find it interesting that as we’ve swapped old sung liturgy for the new sung liturgy we have plenty of doxology type stuff, but very little that carefully articulates things like the meaning of the Lord’s supper (where, imho, the old CofE liturgy is soooo careful and thorough), little also on confession and not many songs that carry the same function as a creed. Those things are surely still important to the life of the gathered church…

Comment by thebluefish


thanks for your comments. whereas i have a view as to the place of liturgy, i would guess that my views on the type and purpose of liturgy that the church should be embracing do differentiate quite significantly from a large part of the more traditional church.

I clearly believe that it is a means to an end, and that it needs to be culturally relevant. For me that would, in my mind, make it hard to find a place for much of the liturgy that most of the tradtional church embraces, certainly in terms of the culture we operate in and are trying to win for Christ.

In terms of the specifics you mention, my overriding view would be that primarily our worship is for God’s benefit, and not something that is a teaching tool, and I would personally therefore be cautious about introducing too many prescriptive elements into any time of gathered worship.


Comment by Neil Bennetts

Hi Neil,

I agree the meeting is mostly for God’s benefit but I guess I’d want to say that there is a significant horizontal element to things – both in our experience of God through his people. Also, whether we try to teach in a meeting we surely do teach one another. We remember what we sing more than what is preached (much as I’d like to believe otherwise, as a preacher).

One of the things I like about CofE settings that are a little more traditional is the way that the meeting tells the gospel story… drawing us into encounter with God. That said what I currently enjoy in newfrontiers is great, and I’ve valued various CofE, baptist and toronto forms of worship in the past.

I don’t think that needs to be too prescribed in shape week by week, though in some areas it can be helpful. Confessions, Prayers, Creeds and Communion liturgy surely play a useful role in Godward worship.


Comment by thebluefish

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