What is liturgy and how should it relate to preaching? Since the term liturgy is coming back into use for evangelicals, it is important to understand what it truly is. Many in the evangelical tradition assume that liturgy is a “stiff” and “fixed” set of congregational prayers and responsive readings marking “liturgical” churches. However, the term actually refers to the ritual and service of worship and to the order or form that service assumes. Therefore, every church has a liturgy: the order and form that shapes their worship on a given Sunday. The liturgy is composed of the prayers, hymns, songs, instrumental music, choral or other vocal music, Scriptural readings/responses, preaching, and offertory, as well as the ordinances or sacraments. How the church plans liturgies is a critical aspect in ensuring that corporate worship forms disciples. Planning that considers the relationship between preaching and the other elements of liturgy facilitates authentic and rich worship that trains us as true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Steve Thomas’s essay, “How Preaching Shapes Liturgy,” addresses key elements involved in this planning. Thomas states:
. . . [W]e must learn to treat both preaching and liturgy as essential to corporate worship; that they exist in a relationship of mutual dependence. Assuming the priority of preaching in symbiotic relationship, biblical exposition shapes liturgy in several important ways.
Major themes in Thomas’s article include:
1) “Preaching gives content to liturgical rites.”
2) “Preaching harmonizes the elements of the liturgy.”
3) “Preaching preserves the liturgy from undue extremes regarding form.”
4) “Preaching grounds affective elements of liturgy in objective truth.”
Our liturgies should never be cold and dead (mindless repetition), disconnected from expositional preaching, or bent toward the overly emotional or intellectual. Instead, they should be biblically spiritual, marked by an ordered vitality (I Cor. 14, Col. 3:16-17) that engages all of our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:30) and is steeped in the majesty of God and the wondrous transforming truth of the gospel.