As Pastor of Music at Bethany Baptist Church, I think a good bit about issues of form and function in corporate worship. The New Testament outlines the elements that are to be included in our services. However, there are many questions that pastors must answer, for which we are not given clear Scriptural prescriptions. Still, the principles that can be derived from Scriptural models/practices of worship, as well as other teaching presented in the Old and New Testaments can help us find such answers. Such questions include but are certainly not limited to the following: How should the overall structure (arc) of the service be designed? Should it be Gospel-shaped in theme, or should content be based entirely upon the sermon? Can it be both? How should historical patterns for worship guide what we do today, and how can we apply these in our setting? These questions then spur on other questions: What should the specific content of the service entail? What styles of verbal presentation should be used in preaching or in praying? What styles of music should be used? How many “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” (Col. 3:16-17) should be sung each week? What instruments should we use, if any? How do service elements work together so that there is a sense of flow (theologically and musically)? Should we use screens or simply use hymnals? How should we use screens, if we use them? How should the worship space be designed? You get the idea. The answers that we give for these and other questions affect the excellence of our corporate worship including its discipleship impact each week.
Developing concise ways to think about biblical worship is certainly no easy task. Dr. Thomas Bolton, former Dean of the School of Church Music and Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was a mentor to me during my years of study there. He inscribed the following poem in a book, The Renewal of Sunday Worship from Robert Webber’s multi-volume set, The Complete Library of Christian Worship, which he gave me upon finishing my master’s degree. These are wise words—based upon Scriptural principles—from a godly man who taught and ministered with his head and his heart. Consider memorizing this brief verse and applying it as part of your philosophy of worship:
Technique without form is useless.
Form without function is meaningless.
Function without mission is mindless.
Mission without vision is aimless.
Vision without values is heartless.