Recently in our elders’ meeting, we discussed the need to rethink and restructure our order of worship early in 2017. What’s the reason for such a move by the pastors within our church? The goal is to craft the most healthy worship service that makes the best use of the time given to us each week. As we rethink the restructuring of our order of worship, certainly this must be approached with care and doctrinal precision. Some things are certainly optional elements, but other things must never be tampered with. Front and center is the idea that our worship must be God-centered, Christ-exalting, and built upon the firm foundation of God’s sufficient Word. When was the last time you honestly looked at what’s included in your worship service? Why are specific elements included, or in some cases why are some elements excluded?
Young Pastor—Don’t Overlook Old Traditions
One of the first things I did when I was called to serve a small country church in Kentucky was to change the decorations in the church building. This particular church had many cheap pictures of Jesus hanging on the walls that I immediately removed. Although I had a biblical foundation to stand upon for removing the pictures, I didn’t have as much of a theological foundation to support my removal of the “number” board from the front wall of the sanctuary. This board was used to report the weekly attendance and offering. I felt as if it was a distraction, so I removed it. It was not a popular decision.
I stand by those decisions to this day, but I also made other decisions that I’ve been forced to rethink over time. As a younger pastor, I once looked at the responsive reading as an awkward time in the service because I witnessed it being done in a less than edifying manner. In the same way, we once had a prayer of confession at the beginning of the church that was accompanied by other unhealthy practices that I replaced with Scripture reading. However, I never replaced the prayer of confession or restructured it. Just because it looks like an old tradition, before it’s removed, perhaps a younger pastor should think twice (maybe three times) before scrapping it.
Make Preaching Central in Your Order of Worship
That may seem like a strange appeal, but we in our local church want to continually ensure the primacy of preaching in our church. That should be something that is revisited and evaluated among elders on a yearly basis. Most of the time churches don’t drift miles away from biblical worship overnight. It’s typically a slow progressive trend that moves a church to replace preaching with drama, or at least place preaching on a lower level of importance. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who soon after going to serve as pastor in Sanfields, instructed the church leaders to heat the church by using the wooden stage used by the dramatic society in his church as fuel for the furnace. Preaching, as Lloyd-Jones would remind us, must be central.
Pastor—Music Is Your Business
Worship matters, and singing is a central aspect of weekly worship among the church. Not only is the order of songs important, but the selection of the songs and the number of songs are likewise important for worship. Not all old songs are good songs, so the age should not determine the usefulness of songs. Not all new songs are worthy for use in the gathered worship service of the church. Some songs may be full of sound biblical doctrine, but the arrangement and tempo is not conducive for singing among the church. Pastors should honestly speak to this and exclude certain songs on the basis of doctrinal impurity and congregational usefulness. It is the duty of pastors to think, examine, pray, and make wise choices for the weekly singing of the church.
We Need More Scripture and Prayer
I recall visiting a Roman Catholic worship service when I was in seminary. It was a required subject for my semester. I walked into the building expecting that they would get everything wrong, but I walked away humbled. While they did get worship wrong in many ways in the mass that day, they got some things right. The preaching was not good and certainly not expository. The Lord Jesus was blasphemed through their doctrine of transubstantiation, and I did not participate in the observance of the Lord’s Supper for that reason. However, they had more Scripture reading and more intentional prayers than we typically have in the average evangelical worship service.
As 2017 begins, we are rethinking how much Scripture we will have read in our worship services and the intentional place of those Scripture readings. We want to establish the primacy of God’s Word in our worship, so the placement matters. Likewise, we don’t want to appear to be using prayer as mere transitional pauses in the worship service. As we rethink and craft a new worship service, we want to have planned and intentional prayers on a weekly basis that will be led by the elders of our church.
As we think honestly about our corporate worship, specifically the order of worship, we must strive to craft the worship service that best honors and magnifies our God. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The foundation of worship in the heart is not emotional (‘I feel full of worship’ or ‘The atmosphere is so worshipful’). Actually, it is theological. Worship is not something we ‘work up,’ it is something that ‘comes down’ to us, from the character of God.” 
- Sinclair Ferguson, A Heart for God, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1987), 110.