When Paul told Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13), he prescribed for his young protégé a commitment to immersing God’s people in Scripture. Unfortunately, many evangelical churches have chosen to read as little of the Bible as possible in their corporate worship services, which means that Christians in these churches may hear only a few verses of Scripture each week.
This phenomenon is not isolated to seeker-sensitive churches, because many churches committed to expositional preaching do not focus on the public reading of Scripture apart from the sermon text. If the text for the sermon is only a few verses, then this will be all the Scripture the people will hear.
How the Word Shapes Worship
The world force-feeds lies and falsehoods to believers all week long. Our enemy, who is the father of these lies, also disguises these pseudo-truths as wisdom. The only antidote to believing lies and false promises is to hear, know, and believe the truth.
How are the believers in our churches going to know the truth of God’s Word if we are not saturating them with it every time we gather? We need more Bible in our worship gatherings. It is imperative that we labor to make sure every element of our worship bleeds Bible.
Here are seven ways we can ensure our corporate worship services are shaped by God’s Word.
1. Call to Worship with the Word
We can send a message about the centrality of God’s Word in our worship by the way we call the congregation to worship together. The Psalms contain many calls to come and worship the Lord because of who he is and what he has done. Open the service by reading all or a portion of a psalm, such as Psalm 95, 100, or 103. Then encourage everyone to worship God based on what he has said about himself in this passage.
For example, if someone reads Psalm 95, then they might say, “Because the Lord is the great God who made all the earth, yet is so near that he calls us his sheep, let us bow down before him and sing for joy to him.” When we begin our worship times in this way, we orient the hearts of the worshippers towards the Lord based on what he has said about himself.
2. Sing the Word
The songs we sing have a powerful effect on our lives. We remember what is sung more easily than what is spoken. We often develop emotional attachments to songs that speak to us in a particular life circumstance. Because of the power of song, we should ensure that the songs we sing point to the truth of the Bible.
Though we could use more songs based on the Bible’s hymnbook, the Psalms, reflecting the truth of the Bible in song means more than singing the Psalms. We should realize that singing any songs that closely mirror the teachings of Scripture testifies to the truth of who God is. They teach people sound theology.
As we sing together, we should be reminded of biblical truths; likewise, reading the Bible should remind us of songs we sing together as a body.
3. Read the Word During Corporate Worship
For the majority of Christian history, corporate church worship services contained multiple readings from Scripture. A Christian gathering with his church to worship often heard a reading from the Old Testament, a reading from the Gospels, and a reading from another portion of the New Testament.
In our day, churches that do not value expository preaching risk reading too little of the Bible in their worship. Churches that practice expository preaching but don’t have Scripture readings focus the congregation on only one book of Scripture for an extended period of time.
We should learn from the example of Christians who have gone before us. We should infuse more Scripture readings into our worship gatherings. Churches can expose Christians to the whole counsel of God by introducing a Scripture reading from the opposite Testament from the main text of the sermon.
4. Pray the Word
In many cases, we don’t give attention to the content of our public prayers in worship. These corporate prayer times are not time-filler for the worship band to get into place or a nice transition piece from one element of worship to another.
These prayers are a time for the people of God to humble themselves before God and cry out to him together. Therefore the person who leads the church in prayer should think through the content of the prayer so people can be drawn to God by truth and not by rote or trite statements.
The best way to enliven our prayers is to base them on a text of Scripture. Take one of the texts read during the service and pray through it before offering prayers for the people. So, if someone reads Romans 8:28-39 during the service, the prayer could focus on thanking God for his providential care for his people and the victory we have in Christ. Then the prayer for the people could focus on God helping us to endure and persevere through difficulties by remembering that he is for us and not against us.
5. Preach the Word During Corporate Worship
Most Christians think we should assume this point, but all sermons are not created Scripture-focused. Even in a topical sermon, the text of Scripture the pastor reads must control the content of the sermon. Paul’s admonition to preach the word in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) calls us to labor to make sure that our sermons explain and apply the biblical text to the hearts of our people. Every sermon should leave our hearers with a greater understanding of God’s Word and how this Word should change them.
6. Feast with the Word
Communion provides rich opportunities for connecting God’s Word to our worship. Since communion points to the work of Christ on our behalf and our future hope of gathering with Christ in his kingdom, we can use many biblical passages to introduce this element of worship. We can read Paul’s warning from 1 Corinthians 11, Jesus’ words of institution from the Gospels, or any passage that deals with themes related to Jesus’ death and our Christian hope. In doing this, we help Christians understand what they are celebrating in communion and lead them deeper in their worship of God.
7. Dismiss with the Word at the End of Corporate Worship
How we send people out from our corporate worship services is as important as how we gather them. The last thing they hear might be what rings in their ears all week. Several New Testament writers closed their letters with prayers of blessing for the believers to whom they were writing. Closing our gatherings with these passages sends our people with a prayer from Scripture that they may be empowered to live for Jesus throughout the week.
The question for pastors and worship leaders is not how we can use the Bible in our worship, but rather how the Bible shapes and informs every element of our gatherings. Weak and weary Christians walk in from a desert of lies, so why would we offer them only a drop of the water of life? Instead, let’s open the floodgates so that the thirsty may drink in abundance.