So why have we (almost) all adopted this pattern?

One of the things we noticed during our sabbatical period when we were visiting various churches in Bordeaux is that almost all have adopted the P&W followed by Teaching model of form of service.

Essentially this form of service or liturgy is composed of two halves.

Part one : Praise & Worship (in French one would say la louange)

This is a series of songs, often recently written, sometimes favourites from youth camps of the 1970s and 1980s and occasionally classics, either reset or with their original tunes.

The number of songs can range from 4 to 9 or more, and sometimes the sequence of songs is punctuated by short prayers, sometimes by short readings and occasionally the readings are the substance of short meditations. But sometimes it's just song, song, song, song.

The time of worship is generally led by someone other than the pastor. Some churches have Worship Leaders who conduct this part. In other churches members take it in turns to lead this part of the service.

Part two : Teaching (in France, l'enseignement)

This part is led by the pastor and consists of the main reading followed by the sermon.

Part two might end with announcements or with a benediction. Sometimes a prayer of intercession. Sometimes the Lord's Supper, though in some churches the Lord's Supper is part of la louange.

In conferences both in the UK and in France I have noticed this form of meeting being adopted. It's the form at Keswick, basically. At the recent TGC conference a modified form was used, where there was louange at the beginning of the day for 1/2 hour, then the conference addresses and seminars followed in unbroken succession.

I've not lived in a church that uses this pattern. In the UK we had the old "hymn sandwich" style of service. Indeed, I think our church still does. In France our church is liturgical, with a loose form of worship based around a classic reformed liturgy. In the International Church we have a somewhat modified hymn sandwich structure.

However it seems to me that we are allowing a few unhelpful ideas to take root :

1) Separation of "worship" and "teaching".

Say what you like about the old hymn sandwich ............................................... (there, didn't that feel good) but it did give you a planned response to the preached word. There was a hymn and prayer that followed the sermon.

Not only that, but we are giving the impression that our worship teaches us nothing (sometimes sadly true, it has to be said) and that our teaching is not worshipful. Paul thinks differently. Colossians 3:16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

2) Prayer! Prayer!

What are we doing? Prayer is getting very neglected in our worship services. Whether we decide on one long prayer, or several shorter prayers, or written-out set prayers, or collects, or times of open prayer, or designated people to pray, shouldn't prayer characterise our worship?

Look, I'm not arguing for tradition, for old songs, for one man to lead the service, against participation or even against worship leaders, but if there's little or no prayer then what is the difference between our sessions of p&w and a concert of contemporary Christian music?

There's a real danger that our "sacrifice of praise" is a sacrifice that we offer to ourselves to please our own tastes and desires and has little to do with the God we aim to address. Or not, as the case may be...

3) The flow of worship

Christian worship has a flow, a dialogue. It's a conversation. And one of the great arguments for liturgy is that it retains that flow, that dialogue, and in the right order.

What do I mean?

It's really important to keep in mind that all our worship is a response to God. He speaks first, and calls for a response from us. He initiates the dialogue. His voice is heard first.

This is really important because, after all, we only know anything about God because he has revealed himself, and his special revelation is in his word that he breathed out, and his supreme revelation is in his Son, the Word.

So if we begin our service with the drumbeat "du du du du" and a high octane worship song, then in a sense our worship has lost its Christian shape. We are calling on God, trying to attract his attention, rather than the Christian faith's unique approach which is that God calls on us, and we respond to him.

I was quite surprised to see that even some of the most conservative churches in Bordeaux seem to have adopted a two-part, p&w/teaching shape to their worship, and concerned to see how little prayer is present in our p&w sometimes.

Is the same thing happening in the UK?


Martin said…
I do wonder sometimes if the energetic singing in the first part of the service may not be responsible for a feeling of lethargy in the second.

And is not listening to God's word as much worship as singing the latest pop inspired songs?

Some of those old hymns have a wealth of teaching for us. My daughter recently mentioned a hymn they had sung "Whate'er my God ordains is right" (tho' doubtless to a modern tune) that is replete with doctrine so let's not abandon them for the sake of some modern writer with an axe to grind.

Perhaps the hymn sandwich itself can be more liturgical, with more thought being given to its structure.
Alan said…
Yes, I've heard more than once the pre-sermon part fo the service dismissed as the "preliminaries" or the "prelims"

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