Bryan Chapell, whose book Christ-Centred Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon has proven helpful to many, spoke a while ago to Christianity Today about his more recent book, Christ-Centred Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice.
What is Christ-Centred Worship?
Christ-centered worship is not just talking or singing about Jesus a lot. Christ-centered worship reflects the contours of the gospel…Opening moments offer recognition of the greatness and goodness of God that naturally folds into confession, assurance of pardon, thanksgiving, instruction, and a charge to serve God in response to his grace in Christ.
Nothing new here, of course. But in recent times there has been tendency to replace these gospel contours with a more pragmatic approach based on personal tastes and preferences. It follows that Christ-centred worship will have a shape which will be determined by these gospel contours.
Worship should not be considered as merely a ‘preliminary’ to the preaching of the word. Nor should the concept be restricted to the musical aspects of what the church does. Just as the sacraments represent the gospel in symbol, and the sermon in words, so worship re-presents the gospel in its pattern.
Old and New; Rootedness and Reach
Christ-centred worship will honour the past without idolising it. We must be able to honour our forefathers and also minister to our children. We can reflect this double commitment by using new tunes for old hymns, new words for old tunes, drawing on the profound expressions of the early church, and seeking to understand contemporary communication patterns.
Beyond the Worship Wars
Most worship wars are driven by personal preferences, and these are largely determined by what we became been used to in our early Christian experience.
If church leaders try to establish a style of worship based upon their preferences or based upon satisfying congregants’ competing preferences, then the church will inevitably be torn apart by the politics of preference. But if the leadership is asking the missional questions of “Who is here?” and “Who should be here?” in determining worship styles and practices, then the mission of the church will enable those leaders to unite around gospel goals that are more defensible and uniting than anyone’s personal preference. These gospel goals will never undermine the gospel contours of the worship service, but rather will ask how each gospel aspect can be expressed in ways that best minister to those present and those being reached for Christ’s glory.
Let pastors, then, seek to structure worship according to their understanding of the gospel, and let them take the opportunity to explain how each element advances that understanding.