Breaking Down Worship


Tonight I get to start planning worship with the worship team at my new church, Claude UMC.

Preparation for the meeting has left me thinking about what questions and things to think about as we go into a meeting. Conversations with pastors often leave me with low expectations of the theological understandings worship teams have of the different parts of worship. These pastors are not frustrated or bitter not even jaded. They just don’t think that people think about worship all that deeply.

I disagree.

An M.Div. and preaching force people to get familiar with and operate with language and forms of articulation that most people never use. But a fish may not be able to describe the water it swims with in the same way as a biologist would. If a fish had language it could describe something of its experience with water in ways that most scientists would be able to figure out something from, if they weren’t too busy ignoring the fish. In the same way if pastors can truly understand the technical language they can grasp the complexity behind the non-technical expressions of their partners in worship.

Tonight I tried to focus the conversation on three things: Where did they experience God in worship? What would they like to change about worship? How I want to go forward using long term planning strategies.

It’s a bit bold, but I’m changing somethings right off the bat. Praying that I don’t alienate people in the process, but acknowledging that I some people will be alienated no matter what during transition. God be with them, he loves them and so do I, but holding back when God is leading me in a direction seems to abandon the love of God for the tastes of men to a point. May God put plenty of people in my life that will hold me back from abandoning the love of God for my own tastes.

When planning what I wanted to change I went through these questions, and I didn’t share them with the team. I share them here for you to think through worship if it helps. First, lets break the questions into categories: Setting, Order, Music, Sacrament, Prayer, Word. May you reflect on them with due reverence for scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.


1. What role does the church exterior play in worship?

2. What role does the church interior play in worship?

3. What role does the seating play in worship?

4. What role does the sound system play in worship?

5. What role does the art work play in worship?

6. What role does the altar play in worship?

7. Can people come to the altar easily?

8. How do people come to receive or depart from receiving?

9. Is there enough physical space?

10. Does the setting encourage reverent or casual participation?


1. Does the service flow from one thing into the other?

2. Does the service emphasize any one part due to its structure?

3. Does that emphasis reflect what is most important in worship to you?

4. Have you considered the timing of each element of worship in length and placement?

5. Does the order encourage participation?


1. Are the songs led in a way that people can participate in worship?

2. Do they lead into the service?

3. Do they lead out of the service?

4. Is there too much singing or too little?

5. How do the songs play into the overall theme of worship?

6. Repetition – is there enough or too little for people to grasp the songs?


1. What is the role of communion in worship?

2. Do the confession and other elements help people to focus on genuine repentance?

3. How are the words of institution brought out of the text into the hearts of those present?

4. How is the epiclesis brought out of the text and into the hearts of those present?

5. What is the role of baptism in worship?

6. How are the baptized prepared and participating in worship?


1. Are the prayers the right length, neither too short no too long?

2. Are the prayers present at the right moments in the service to lead into an offering or a time of reverence?

3. Do the prayers encourage reflection?

4. Do the prayers energize people?

5. Are people invited to participate in giving prayers or making intercessions?


1. How are scriptures read?

2. How are liturgies read/shared/researched?

3. Is the reading and sharing of the word participatory?

4. Is the preaching to long or to short?

5. Does the sermon faithfully convey one point on a number of levels?

6. Is the sermon faithful to scripture? Tradition? Reason? Experience?

7. Is the word and sermon portrayed in a number of sensory inputs?

8. Does the sermon stir the mind, the heart, and the body to reflection, love, and movement?


Those are my initial reflections, and I don’t always do a good job of following where they lead. The discipline to live into a new way of worship takes more work than merely reflecting on it. Reflection is the first step. Learning to live and worship well is a form of practice that demands commitment and regular re-engagement with the source of all creativity and light. May these help you to think through your worship of God!


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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