Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Sometimes it’s the bumper-sticker quotes that stick to my brain and remind me of a critical truth. The one that’s been pestering me recently is this: “We go from service of worship to the worship of service.”

Too often service concludes not with a “sending” but an “ending.” Worship winds up with a closed door, slammed, not swung open to world. When that happens, the curtain comes down and worship winds up just going through the motions.

On the other hand, sending means that our worship is open-ended. When it’s over, it’s not over. So something must happen to lead us out to be God’s people scattered into the world.

Whether your congregation is made up of 50 or 100 or thousands, stop thinking about it the number of people in the pews. What really counts in the long run is how many Christian disciples go out into the world to be the Body of Christ and do his work as our constant acts of worship. What a difference might that many laborers make?

For liturgy to have value, as we all know, it must be lived. Otherwise, our prayers and praise have a hollow sound to them. The “work of the people” during the hour or so on Sunday morning needs transforming into the “work of the people” the rest of the time.

The Book of Common Worship (1993) views the order of Christian liturgy in four major sections: Gathering, The Word, The Eucharist, and Sending. It’s the use of the term “Sending” that tips us to the clue that our Lord’s Day worship experiences are not finished when we leave; we are just shifting to a different expression of prayer and praise to Almighty God in the outside world.

Prayers of the People

Someone once said that we should offer our prayers every day with the morning newspaper at hand. To prepare ourselves for “going out into the world,” it’s a good idea to bring the world in to our worship first. Prayers of the people can be pointedly aimed at current questions or controversies. This delivers our prayers from being so vague as to be ultimately meaningless. A friend of mine once said: “All our prayers are down payments on our actions so they will come true.”

Special Announcement

There may be opportunities for congregants to venture in ministry and service beyond their own church activities. It would be appropriate to announce such occasions toward the end of the service, briefly, as a memory boost. There may also be specific references in the sermon to local issues or needs that call for Christian response. These can be underlined by a brief mention.

The Charge

The BCW provides a number of charges to the congregation based on biblical references to worshipping God in action. For example, See 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Tim. 2:1; Eph. 6:10; 1 Thess. 5:13-22; and 1 Peter 2:17
Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This charge is the one I most often use, as I have for many years. Many times I’ve been asked for a copy of it. I’ve been told that it has been memorized by some, and in other homes it’s appeared on refrigerators, dresser tops and bathroom mirrors—a constant reminder that we are all “sent” people every day. Including Sunday mornings.

and Benediction

The benediction completes the charge to the congregation. Not only are we sent out to act faithfully as disciples of Christ, we are also conferred (read “blessed” and “empowered”) with God’s love and grace to accomplish what we are charged to do and be.


The practice of the choir and other worship leaders filing out during the last hymn is a helpful example. Just as a procession at the beginning of the service is symbolic of the gathering of the community, so the recession visually displays the start of the dispersion of worshippers to serve in God’s name.


In some places it is the custom to remain seated for the postlude. Not that it’s supposed to be a “performance,” although some treat it that way. Rather the postlude can serve as accompaniment for a time of reflection to absorb the meaning of the worship, in which case it might be quiet and contemplative in tone.

On the other hand, if there is to be reflective ending music, it should be followed by a very different postlude when the congregation is on the move out of the pews. That calls for music to be bright and brassy, a sprightly tune for the “exit dance.”

Go forth and carry your worship with you wherever you go and whatever you do.

1 comment:

  1. "To prepare ourselves for 'going out into the world,' it’s a good idea to bring the world in to our worship first." -- This is how I made my peace with the fact that the church I served as pastor put the Prayers of the People and the offering *before* the Scripture and sermon. It seemed so nonsensical to me, in my rigid Reformed view - Word, then response, in that order! But I eventually thought our congregation's liturgy could be viewed as bringing the world and our concerns from the previous week to God, then receiving God's Word for the week ahead. I still prefer the "more logical" order, but I got over myself :)

    I memorized your charge as a teen, hearing it every week from Dr. Ed Pickard at White Memorial Presbyterian in Raleigh. I still use it whenever I pronounce a charge.

    As you probably know, the new "Glory to God" hymnal suggests the benediction precede rather than follow the charge. Personally, I like the way our Episcopalian brothers and sisters end services of daily prayer: "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord," to which the congregation responds, "Thanks be to God." If the sending really is about going forth to live our faith in gratitude, the congregation should get those last words!


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