Why do our children find themselves bored in our worship services? Is it because we don’t have enough cool videos or tantalizing children’s sermons?
No. It’s because we’ve lost the art of storytelling.
Children love to hear and watch great stories repeatedly–I have dozens of worn out videos to prove it. So, it’s not telling the same story that is the problem. I think it’s how we’re telling the story.
For too many churches, we develop a liturgical formula that works for our community and staff culture and then we focus on creating the right parts (songs, prayers, readings, sermon, etc…) and don’t think about the whole often enough. You know the adage, “missing the forest for the tree.”
But we need to re-enter the cycle of Creation-Fall-Redemption every week. We need to be reminded of God’s power displayed at the Exodus and the Cross. We long to know and experience God’s pursuing love that brought us back out of Exile. Though we’re tempted to bow down to our modern governmental structures, we all desperately seek a perfect King–one who rules with perfect justice and yet provides a perfect substitute out of his mercy.
Why don’t we retell the story of the Gospel well in our worship services? It takes time, effort and creativity. It also requires us to learn from our more liturgically minded brothers and sisters.
We don’t have to become Anglican, Catholic or Lutheran to appreciate the richness of the well-told story of redemptive history in worship. Soren Kierkegaard called worship the “greatest drama on the stage of eternity.” We’re not talking about the use of drama in worship, but seeing worship as the grand drama that it is.
Francis Schaeffer used to say that redemption should set our creative imaginations aflame. I’d say, the worship event should capture the imagination of the best musical, artistic and poetic talent in the world. It’s a shame that the church has shunned many of these voices and has settled for mediocrity in this important arena.
Barry Leisch in his book People in the Presence presents some helpful ways of incorporating this line of thought.
I love how Kirk Whalum has brought together his passion for the gospel for jazz and the Gospel together in 3 album projects called The Gospel According to Jazz. While not a worship service, it models an attempt to create an event that brings together storytelling, excellent music and an understanding of the redemptive story. Hear how he describes it:
5 ways to improve your Gospel storytelling in worship:
1) Stay connected to the Church calendar. For too many evangelical churches, we have ditched the Church calendar and have created our own, often more influenced by Hallmark (Mother’s Day) and Washington (Thanksgiving) then by Scripture (do you know what happens on Epiphany, Christ the King or Pentacost?).
I’m not suggesting you become Anglican, but do learn from these deep-rooted brothers. The current liturgies have been birthed over many centuries, not just a few hours. Most of these liturgies come straight from the Scriptures. I’m not sure why we think our modern words are better than the Bible. All our services need plenty of Bible reading, singing and praying.
2. Learn from the elements of a good story. All the great stories have a hero and a villain, tension and release, conflict and resolution, tragedy and victory. So does the Gospel! So think through how these elements your worship storytelling.
You can do this within the normal service order. I’m not suggesting you rewrite the service structure weekly, but think through how the elements work together to tell the Gospel. For example,
The Call to Worship can remind us of our position before God as loved, adopted, purchased and forgiven.
The Invocation can express our longing to be with God and to receive the blessing of His presence.
The Opening Song(s) calls us to fix our eyes on Jesus and not the tragedies of life in this world or the trivial meanderings of our daily plodding.
A Prayer of Repentance invites us to inspect our lives and see how we fall short of the Law’s demands. It also reminds us of the waging war for our hearts, souls and minds (the Villain).
The Words of Assurance provide us confidence in God’s complete redemption – there is nothing we can do.
Songs of Preparation move us from repentance to faith as we open our hearts, minds and souls to hear God speak.
The act of Offering ourselves becomes more than a way to support the ministry of the church and exists to surrender our whole life to God.
The Sermon becomes not a time for Pastor XYZ to espouse his beliefs on his pet theological topic, but a time to hear God’s heart for His people and the world. Sometimes this is a rebuke and others it could be a loving reminder.
Songs of Response point our eyes and minds up and out. We look up in wonder at the God of the Gospel who longs to be with us. We look out and see a world who needs to hear this story.
The Benediction is God’s “good word” to us as we leave. In one sense we never leave His presence, but when we depart from the gathered church we need His reminder that “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
3. Keep the whole story line in view while you develop a specific scene. I love thematic worship planning, but one of it’s dangers is that it can cause us to dwell on a sub-theme while forgetting the contour of redemptive history. That’s not a problem for one or two weeks, but a steady diet of this creates a Gospel-starved community.
4. Go see a play or musical regularly. And if possible, get involved with producing a musical. This will help you stay connected with the effort involved with telling a great story. We have found Christian Youth Theater to be a great organization toward this end.
5. Study the liturgies of other generations and other cultures. We easily become narrow-minded in our approach to worship. Make it a habit to visit churches of other denominations, cultures and read about other generations and their worship. Instead of defending your practices, see what you can learn from each. It may strengthen your current practices or it may open you to some new directions.
Another helpful resource not as commonly known is Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s manual for worship leaders. They provide thoughtful articles to help you think through all aspects of worship ministry, including the elements and structure of worship.
How do you approach the drama of worship?