Whenever we Baptists set out to revitalize our times of worship, we are tempted to begin by addressing musical style. Often, we do so with little consideration of worship’s content. The heart of Christianity is its message — not its style. The crux of our faith is hearing and responding to the story of the triune God of the universe. Style is, at best, a secondary issue. Style doesn’t transform hearts. The message of Jesus does. If we truly desire worship renewal, we first should solidify the subject matter of our times of worship.
Naturally, the Bible is where humanity most fully encounters the story of the Christian faith. Paul explained in his second letter to Timothy that Scripture is God-breathed and valuable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training, and equipping. If we desire for Christ to renew our worship gatherings, we must provide regular and consistent opportunities for Him to speak to our congregations through this Word.
I’d like to offer some practical suggestions to ensure we are providing these occasions.
Preach the Word. According to a recent Gallup poll, the No. 1 reason Americans attend church is to hear “sermons that teach about Scripture.” This is good news since Baptists have some of the finest preachers in the world. But we must be sure our sermons showcase the Word of God. Because, if we aren’t careful, even Baptist sermons can stray. We can take secondary topics and make them primary. We can make interesting stories, soapboxes, (and even political rants) the main event. Stories and soapboxes have their place, but they must be subservient to — and point us to — the Word of God.
Apply the Word. In the same Gallup Poll, the No. 2 reason Americans attend worship services is to hear “sermons relevant to life.” A sermon ought to do more than merely describe a biblical text; it should explain how to apply the text in daily life. It should exhort the hearers to action (1 Tim. 4:13). We don’t preach merely to relay information; we want our people to be transformed into more faithful disciples and witnesses of Jesus Christ. We want our congregations to be both hearers and to doers of the word (James 1:22).
Read the Word. We Baptists celebrate our high view of Scripture. We call ourselves “people of the Book.” But, apart from our preaching, how evident is our commitment to God’s word? We are instructed to “devote (ourselves) to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). But how devoted are we? How much public reading of the Bible did we hear at our churches this past Sunday? Let us display our commitment to Scripture not only by our preaching and teaching, but also by our devotion to the public reading of Scripture.
Fill your services with the Word. Greet worshipers as they arrive with a verse or passage of Scripture in your bulletin or on your screen. Feature Scripture on banners or in artwork. Draw attention to the biblical references and allusions in hymns and worship songs. Make explicit connections between worship elements and the sermon text. Fill your prayers with words from Scripture. The opportunities to infuse your service with Scripture are endless.
Be Jesus-centered. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of Scripture. All Scripture in some way leads to Jesus, is about Jesus, or points to Jesus (Luke 24:27, John 5:39). Jesus, therefore, must also be the epicenter of our times of worship. Our sermons should feature Jesus; our prayers should feature Jesus; and our hymns and worship songs should feature Jesus.
Be gospel-saturated. If Jesus is emphasized in our times of worship, we will necessarily concentrate on the gospel — the heart of Jesus’ story. C.H. Spurgeon is reported to have described his approach in this regard: “I take my text and make a bee-line for the cross.” We ought to treat our worship gatherings similarly. They should be drenched with the gospel as we continually remind our people about the good news of Jesus Christ.
Worship renewal can occur in diverse stylistic contexts, ranging from traditional to contemporary (and every style in between). But we have absolutely no hope of revitalization apart from a clear and deliberate focus on God’s story as revealed in His holy word.
As Tennessee Baptists, let us be known as “people of the Book” — especially in our times of worship.