Just as in any recipe, worship suffers when a key ingredient is missing. I believe a foundational element in God-honoring worship is Scripture. And there are more ways to use Scripture than asking one of the ministers to read it. Here are some ideas we’ve tried.
My wife, Vonda, and I are big fans of cooking competition shows. You know, the shows where they pick 15 aspiring chefs and pit them against one another to determine who is the best cook. The shows often put the contestants in difficult challenges that are almost impossible to accomplish, just to see who can overcome adversity and still produce a wonderful dish.
We were watching a show recently where the panel of judges took one bite of a dessert, and all three of them simultaneously grimaced. The inexperienced chef had left out a vital ingredient, and the result was “most unpleasant,” in the words of one of the more refined judges. The others were not quite as kind!
When a key ingredient is missing, the recipe doesn’t work. When it comes to worship, the same principle applies. There are many essentials—a Christ-centered
focus, the Spirit’s leading, thoughtful planning, great theology and depth in the lyrics, musical excellence, etc. But one of the more important and foundational elements of worship is Scripture. It only stands to reason, in order to worship the Word—that is, Jesus (John 1)—we must use the Word. There is great power in using the written, inspired Word of God to bring glory and honor to God’s ultimate revelation of himself—Jesus Christ.
Using Scripture in worship enables us to rely on more than just the devotional thoughts of men and women. It enables us to anchor our praise in the truths of God’s infallible, unchanging Word. It provides a foundation that is unshakable and an authority that is otherwise missing from our gatherings of corporate worship.
But just as there is an almost inexhaustible number of ways to worship Christ, there are many ways to use the Word in worship. In more than 25 years of ministry, I have seen and experienced many different ways Scripture can be used effectively to exalt Jesus and connect people’s hearts to his.
A couple of years ago in the church I serve, we tried an experiment we called “neoliturgical worship.” The approach was simple, and borrowed from ancient tradition, which was foreign to our church because we have used more contemporary forms of worship since our formation 30 years ago.
For an entire summer, we decided we would have four elements in every service. But we would use a variety of expressions for each of those elements, changing them every week, if possible.
The four “liturgical buckets” that we chose were: (1) a call to worship; (2) Scripture; (3) prayer; and (4) a congregational participation element. During the call to worship, for instance, we did everything from an original song, to a call and response, to a spoken word poetry reading done on video by Amena Brown (www.bluefishtv.com).
It was quite a challenge coming up with multiple ways to incorporate Scripture into our services. That’s sad to say, but I think it’s because we tend to view Scripture in very narrow terms. We had a hard time getting beyond the “stand for the reading of God’s Word” convention, in its various forms, because that was the typical presentation in most of our worship services, and thinking “outside of the box” seemed almost sacrilegious.
But here are the few of the things we came up with, along with some things we’ve used in the years since that grand experiment.
This was “low-hanging fruit” and was by far the easiest way to incorporate Scripture into our services. However, we found many ways to do it.
The variety lay in choosing the reader. Most of the time, we had folks from the church do the readings, as opposed to the typical pastors who usually spoke from up front. We had a variety of people do the readings for us—kids, an older couple, families (reading the passage together, one at a time), a newly married couple, a LifeGroup reading in unison . . . you get the picture. The key was the variety of readers.
Sometimes the passage was read for the congregation with lyric support on the screens, and sometimes we asked the congregation to speak the passage along with the reader.
This was a variation of a Scripture reading, and one done commonly in more traditional settings. We chose a Scripture passage that had a repeating phrase, like “his love endures forever,” from Psalm 136. We would ask the congregation to stand and the reader would read the passage, with the congregation speaking the repeating phrase in unison. This form allows that repeated thought to really sink in to the hearts and minds of the congregation. What a wonderful thought for an entire body to leave church with . . . “His love endures forever!”
Scripture on Video
This is another variation of a Scripture reading. Hillsong did a beautiful job of this at the beginning of one of their live worship videos. Hillsong used five or six worship leaders, all reading the passage one at a time, looking into the camera, and switching between each of them (going back and forth). It had the effect of multiple voices giving testimony to the same scriptural truth—a “cloud of witnesses,” so to speak.
One week, we had our drama team do the Scripture reading, a longer passage from Psalms, in more of a “reader’s theater” convention. We had six of our actors, each holding a Bible, reciting the passage, one at a time, again going back and forth between them. The benefit of using our actors was that they understood pacing and read the passage more like a narrative, and it was a different type of experience because of that.
On one of the Sundays, I read a passage from three different translations—the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, and The Message. Each version brought out a specific nuance of the text, and together they illuminated the passage in a way no single translation did on its own.
Scripture in Song
One of the most powerful forms we used was to sing Scripture, either through original songs that were word-for-word renditions of Scripture, or through songs that were largely based on Scripture.
I recently wrote a song for the church called “Holy,” composed of words sung or spoken to God in worship in the book of Revelation. Chris Tomlin’s “Forever,” based on Psalm 136, and Aaron Keyes’s “Psalm 62” are great examples of the latter.
One of our younger worship leaders, Rob Wilson, recently led our congregation in lectio divina, an ancient way of praying through Scripture. There are four sections of lectio divina, the lectio—reading the passage slowly multiple times; the meditatio—thinking in God’s presence on the text; the oratorio—praying in response to the text, specifically referencing what you have read and meditated on; and contemplatio—lovingly contemplating the truth and goodness of God, a “joyful rest in his presence.”
Rob introduced the concept and then led us through the process in about 15 minutes.
Those are just a few of the ways we’ve found to use Scripture to bring glory to God, and to deeply connect people’s hearts to God’s heart in our corporate worship setting . . . and these examples are just the beginning. I encourage you to ask God to infuse you and your creative team with new and fresh ways to bring his Word to light in your services.
I believe Scripture should always be the basis for our worship—that our songs and prayers and readings and other elements should always be consistent with, and backed up by, the truth of Scripture. God’s Word is living and active, penetrating, convicting, and illuminating. In worship, which is a dynamic interaction with the living God, Scripture brings the opportunity for the Spirit of God to move powerfully in specific ways in our lives.
May the creative use of Scripture be that essential ingredient that brings flavor, color, and life to your worship!
Scott Dyer is pastor of worship and arts at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas.