9 Tips to Take Your Worship Services to the Next Level

What’s the best way for pastors and worship leaders to plan services? Do you ever feel like your church services are down in a rut? Are you doing everything you can to imbue your services with the Holy Spirit, but feel they’re falling flat? Perhaps you’re just looking for a few wise words on how to take your worship services to the next level. No matter what your church’s situation, David A. Currie, associate professor of pastoral theology and Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program and the Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has some great advice on how to develop services that fully reflect what God is saying in his word in ways that can be received and reechoed in the uniqueness of particular communities. Enjoy this exclusive interview and don’t forget to check out Currie’s groundbreaking book The Big Idea of Biblical Worship: The Development and Leadership of Expository Services.

1. How did you become aware that a book on biblical worship was needed?

My Doctor of Ministry students at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in both preaching and worship tracks kept asking after my teaching if there were any books that covered this approach, and I kept admitting that there were none. My colleagues in preaching (Scott Gibson, Jeff Arthurs, and Matt Kim) and in worship (Gary Parrett, Emmett Price III, & Randal Quackenbush) strongly encouraged me to put my ideas into print because they didn’t know of any other books that adapted the big idea approach to preaching to the entire service either.

2. What are the consequences of the divorce between the sermon and other elements of worship?

Detachment is the main negative consequence. Not only do the component parts of the service seem detached from each other (e.g. sermon from songs, prayers from offering), especially preaching from everything else, but people feel detached from one another and, most alarmingly, from the Triune God.

3. How would you impress upon worship leaders and pastors the importance of a fully integrated worship service?

One image that comes to mind is of a two-person rowboat. If worship leaders have one oar and preachers the other, they can each row as hard as they can, with the best technique and endurance, but if they aren’t in sync, the boat just goes around in circles instead of toward the ultimate destination of bringing people into the presence of God.

4. How could worship leaders who want to follow your suggestions begin implementing changes in small, gradual ways?

The exercises and case studies at the end of the book provide ways for worship leaders to become comfortable with the processes and explore the themes of the book together before they actually begin to implement them. Then I’d recommend taking a 4-6 Sunday block to plan together as a pilot project, which would then be assessed using the evaluation tool that is also in the appendices.

5. What are some tips for leaders whose team or lead pastor is hesitant to follow the vision your book encourages?

If you can’t get them to do a pilot trial run, I would start using the big idea approach as you can and see what results. For example, if you have the preaching schedule of your lead pastor, go ahead and work as a team to develop the rest of the service around what you think the big idea of the sermon will be. My hope would be that the lead pastor notices the benefits of a tighter, more integrated service and becomes more engaged in the process. Having a reluctant team can be more challenging, but if they begin to see how coordination deepens worship and enhances their leadership—e.g. if the preacher uses one of their songs as an illustration—they too can be drawn in.

6. You spend a lot of time on the five liturgical development questions. Why is it important for worship leaders to consider all of them when planning services?

God’s revelation is multi-faceted, so our response should be similar. Different individuals, traditions, and cultures tend to gravitate more to some of these liturgical developmental questions than others, which mutes our full response to the richness of divine revelation. For some of us, worship is reduced to what we can praise God for. For others, it’s primarily about what service results. For Calvinists like me, it can become too repentance heavy J. Exploring how a passage can answer all five questions guards against unconscious bias that can restrict responding as comprehensively as God reveals.

7. How can people avoid using your suggestions in a way that leaves no room for the Spirit?

God’s word creates space for God’s Spirit to move freely among God’s people. Letting Scripture shape the service should open us up to the Spirit leading us authentically, with fewer fears that we are simply justifying our fleshly impulses in the name of “freedom in the Spirit.” If following my suggestions leads to a sameness in worship, then the process is probably getting in the way of the Spirit’s creativity. The Big Idea of Biblical Worship is not like a sausage grinder:  insert Scripture, turn the crank, and get a service. It’s more like creating the boundaries of a canvas, upon which the Spirit can paint a unique masterpiece.

8. As worship leaders move toward engaging the “whole person” in worship, how do you recommend they combat any discomfort or pushback from their congregations, who might be settled in the previous style?

Go slow. Make one change at a time. Indicate that the change is a trial and invite feedback, adjust accordingly. If a particular practice gets in the way of God’s word, explore other ways of moving toward the same purpose. For example, if a congregation isn’t ready for liturgical dance, invite people to try simple movements such as swaying or stepping to the beat of a song or as part of a reading.

9. What projects do you have in store for the future?

My colleague, Pablo Jimenez, and I have been kicking around working with our colleagues at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to put together an introduction to pastoral theology, drawing from our various fields of expertise such as preaching, worship, counseling, leadership, discipleship, and evangelism. I am also considering writing a book on the who, what, when, where, and how of first-person preaching.

The Big Idea of Biblical Worship: The Development & Leadership of Expository ServicesThe purpose of The Big Idea of Biblical Worship: The Development and Leadership of Expository Services is to help preachers and other worship leaders focus on shared biblical content that everyone, regardless of denomination or theology, holds in common. The result? True communion and unhindered relationship with God and fellow worshippers.

The components of worship emerge from its content as filtered through a complex variety of contexts: denominational, cultural, ethnic, regional, generational, seasonal, theological, and more. If those involved in worship are in agreement about its basis in Scripture, then they can bring that common biblical content to their particular set of contexts. This book will help worship coordinators and ministry leaders develop worship services that fully reflect what God is saying in his word in ways that can be received and reechoed in the uniqueness of particular communities.

David A. Currie is associate professor of pastoral theology and Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program and the Ockenga Institute at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Currie has nurtured Christian leaders through a variety of ministry roles, including over three decades of ordained ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), serving as the chair of the New Church Development Committee of the Philadelphia Presbytery and on the Presbytery Council, and fteen years as the organizing pastor of a new church development. He has served the Coalition for Christian Outreach as a pastor of several churches in the U.S. and abroad.

For more information about The Big Idea of Biblical Worship, don’t hesitate to visit our website!

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