In the great stories from ages past of man’s efforts to worship the one true God, true worship is always a result of and a response to God’s revelation of himself. God is the great initiator in all true worship. Whatever we have to offer him in our praise is the result of grace that he has given to us via revelation. Apart from God revealing himself there is no true worship.
With that in mind we have from the beginning sought to organize a liturgy (i.e. order of service) that reflects the nature of true worship, namely the order of revelation and response.
God has revealed himself to humanity through the ancient people of Israel, culminating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Holy men, filled with the Holy Spirit wrote down what they had seen and heard. They penned songs. They wrote poems. They wrote letters of encouragement. They sometimes even recorded the exact words that God was audibly speaking to them in prophetic utterance. The collection of letters, laws, poetry, historical accounts, political declarations, prophecies, and songs of worship that we now call the Old and New Testaments is filled with the culture of revelation and response. God revealing himself to people and people responding. They did not always respond appropriately, but they always responded. When our great God chooses to reveal himself he cannot be ignored.
Our goal in worship here at Hill Country Bible Church is to see the revelation of who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus, and to offer up to him an appropriate response. Our services are designed to tell the story of the history of redemption in a way that faithfully reminds us of the greatness of our God and the greatness of his mercy toward us in Christ.
A printable pdf version of this article can be downloaded here: Our Liturgy Explained.
Liturgy (Grk. leitourgia) is an ancient Greek word used to describe public service performed by private citizens at their own expense. It connotes sacrifice and expenditure, duty and responsibility. In the 1st century Roman empire liturgy was used to denote the service offered by Roman citizens and priests in honor of the gods, and was used by biblical authors to speak of both Jewish worship in the temple (Lk. 1:23) and Christian worship in the church (Acts 13:2). When we speak of liturgy in our context we are talking about all that is involved in public worship, and the word still carries many of the same connotations that it always has (e.g. sacrifice, duty, expenditure, etc.) for both pastors and people.
Please let this explanation of our liturgy serve as a tool to help you better understand what we are doing when we gather on Sundays and what your role is in the service of worship.
Our liturgy consists of 6 sections as follows:
CALL TO WORSHIP (Illumination & Revelation)
CORPORATE PRAYER (Confession & Assurance)
GOSPEL INSTRUCTION & COMMUNION (Proclamation)
ADORATION, PRAISE, THANKSGIVING (Response)
SECTION ONE :: PRELUDE/GATHERING
These are the moments just before the beginning of what most would consider “the worship service.” For us this starts around 10am on Sundays as people from all over Dripping Springs make their way into the building at 100 Commons Road. Some are partners/members of HCBCDS. Others are regular attenders. And some are there to “check us out” for the first time. We believe that what we do in these moments before the service can be just as important (and crucial to mission of Jesus in our community) as the rest of the service. In these moments we strive to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome.
We have people standing outside waiting to offer a cheerful greeting to all who arrive and to help guest with campus navigation or questions about where to take their children. We have snacks and coffee and tea to help with those “I missed breakfast” hunger pangs. We offer a well ordered, clean space where people can comfortable gather, sit and relax their bodies and minds in preparation for the days corporate worship.
And we play music. Not elevator music. Not the latest hits from Christian pop radio. In the moments when people are gathering we play music that people know and love. We don’t play death metal or trashy pop music. But we do play popular music. Why, you ask? Because we like it. And so does everyone else!
On any given Sunday you might hear anything from Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror to Coldplay’s Til Kingdom Come to U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, to Third Day’s Creed, Paul Simon or The Beatles, David Crowder Band or The Civil Wars, Grace Potter or Bonnie Rait, Bon Jovi or The Killers, and anything in between that exists as a genuine musical creation that honors the creator who gave such gifts to human beings.
SECTION TWO :: CALL TO WORSHIP
When the appropriate time comes (10:15am most Sundays) we begin the service with an opening prayer asking for the Lord’s help as we seek to worship him together. Then the worship leader offers a brief exhortation, usually centered on a particular passage of Scripture that reveals something about the character of God, something that tells us who God is. We look to the Scriptures to inform our worship.
Example: “The Lord is great in Zion; He is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!” Psalms 99:2-3 (ESV)
The reading of Scripture should strike us in our hearts and raise our affections God-ward, toward the beauty and majesty of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It should orient our thoughts and our actions toward the reality of the presence of God, and give us grounds to, if but only for a moment wholeheartedly focus our attention on the glory of God and the joy of his people. The reading of Scripture should urge our souls to respond to God according to a specific truth that has been revealed about him, in this case the truth that “The Lord is great in Zion…that he is exalted…that he is holy.”
The first two songs that we sing are always songs that praise God for who he is. They are songs that musically reinforce what we just heard from Scripture about the nature and character of God. They are songs that exalt his holiness and majesty. They are songs that lead us to awe and wonder at the uniqueness of our God.
Example song: Holy, Holy, Holy (God With Us) by Matt Maher
lyrics: “Holy, holy, holy/Lord God Almighty/God in three persons/Blessed Trinity”
Example song: Holy (Wedding Day) by The City Harmonic
lyrics: “This is the story of the Son of God, hanging on a cross for me/But it ends with a bride and groom and a wedding by a glassy sea/O death where is your sting/’Cause I’ll be there singing holy, holy, holy is the Lord”
We always begin with songs that remind us of whom we are worshipping.
SECTION THREE :: CONFESSION OF SIN & ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In the narratives of sacred writings handed down from generation to generation over the course of redemptive history, a person’s realization that he or she was standing in the presence of God has always to humility-either forced or voluntary (in case you are wondering, our goal is to experience the voluntary kind). For example John, Jesus’ most beloved disciple, upon seeing a vision of the glorified and returning King “fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1). The prophet Isaiah cried out in the presence of majesty saying, “Woe is me, for I am unclean!” A proper understanding of the revelation of God always leads to humility. The truth is that on our best days we are sinfully preoccupied with things other than the glory of God, and we need to confess that to him and to each other and trust in his mercy, asking for pardon and healing of our souls.
At this point we always have a corporate prayer of confession asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Traditionally this is known as “kyrie eleison” (Greek for Lord, have mercy). Apart from our confession and repentance there can be no redemption from sin. We include this corporate prayer of confession in our liturgy as a reminder of our sin and dependence on God and his mercy for the salvation of our souls.
This time of quiet, corporate confession is always followed by an assurance of the pardon we have in Christ. The worship leader will read passage of Scripture that reminds us of the grace of God in the gospel, of the good news that Jesus died for our sins, of the reality of forgiveness in the cross, and reconciliation to God.
Example: “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins” (Eph. 1.7).
The declaration that those of us who are in Christ have been forgiven should do multiple things in our service. It should encourage those of us who believe in Jesus that we are forgiven, that God no longer counts our sins against us, that we have passed from death to life through the death of our Savior, that we are loved and accepted by God in his Son. At the same time the assurance of our pardon should help us to see that we have been set free from sin, that we no longer have to wallow in the muck and mire of rebellion against God, that we now have been given the power to resist temptation, that we can live free from the shackles of the things that lead us astray.
And the boldness of the declaration of forgiveness in Christ should work to convict those who are not in Christ. We make it clear every week that the promise of forgiveness is only for those who believe, for those who have responded to God by faith in Christ. This should make anyone who is outside of Christ a little uncomfortable, and rightly so. But it should also affect their hearts, drawing them closer to the redeemer.
Next we sing a song that either celebrates the pardon that we have in Christ, or a song that petitions God for mercy, or both.
Example song: Cornerstone by Hillsong Live
lyrics: “My hope is built on nothing less/Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness/I dare not trust the sweetest frame/But wholly trust in Jesus’ name”
During this beginning section of our liturgy the music and the Scriptures work together to reveal to us the character of God and lead us to an appropriate response in worship.
Participants in the worship service are, during this song given the opportunity to pray with an elder or pastor.
SECTION FOUR :: PROCLAMATION
The first three sections of our liturgy lead directly into the proclamation of the gospel, that is the good news that Jesus died for our sins and how that affects our lives today and in the life to come. Our teaching pastor takes over at this point and preaches a message from the Bible. Preaching and teaching is vital to the spiritual life and welfare of the church. We earnestly desire that the hearts of each person present in our gatherings be affected by the word of God above all else, and that genuine life-change occurs at the understanding of it. It is not what we say that matters. It is not what we think God is saying now that matters. The only thing that matters and causes true life-change is the proclamation of the good news, the gospel. And that gospel has been given to us through the Son of God, Jesus, about whom all of Scripture testifies.
It is this part of the service that, in the protestant world some have regarded as the most important part of the worship gathering. In fact, there are a great many people who believe that everything that happens before and after the sermon is just filler, just “stuff we do to give everyone time to show up for the preaching.” While it is true that the proper teaching of the word of God is central to our method of instruction in worship, it is also true that our entire service is designed biblically to focus our hearts on the truth of God’s word. The scriptures exhort us to meditate on God’s word, to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Col. 3.16). That is why we give preaching and teaching such a prominent place in our liturgy (30-40 minutes). However, let us not miss the rest of the often half quoted verse. We are told to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (the rest of Colossians 3:16). Singing is as much a part of the true worship experience as preaching is, and should not be neglected in favor of our own personal preference.
Apart from engaging with the other elements of corporate worship in the community of faith, that is experiencing the revelation of God, praise and adoration of his holy name through song, reliance and acknowledgment of his mercy and grace through prayer and confession, and the assurance that we are forgiven in Christ, apart from those things our participation in preaching and teaching simply becomes an exercise in our own intellectual pride, or entertainment.
“On the night he was betrayed Jesus took bread, and broke it, and said, “This is my body which is [broken] for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, in remembrance of me.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)
When the sermon is over, our teaching pastor leads us with an explanation of and invitation to communion, which we participate in every Sunday. Communion goes hand in hand with the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, communion itself is proclamation of the gospel. Communion is more than a mere memorial of a savior who once upon a time gave his life for his people. It’s more than just remembering that Jesus sacrificed himself to atonement for our sins. Communion is “participation in” the body and blood of Jesus our Savior (1 Cor. 10:16).
Let me be clear, we do not share the Roman Catholic view that the elements of The Lord’s Supper are in any way the “actual” body and blood of Christ. Scripture teaches that through the communion of the saints, that is through observance of the sacrament or ordinance of communion, we are being identified with, or sharing in the benefits of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf when he died for our sins on the cross 2000 years ago (1 Cor. 10:16). This is a spiritual mystery that we should be ok with not completely understanding. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus is present among his people in the gathering of the saints in worship. Spiritually speaking we “feed” on the presence and power of the Son of God for mercy and grace. In communion we are not only remembering Jesus’ death, but by faith profiting from it at the same time.
In Europe during the middle ages, persons or communities who had fallen out of favor with the Roman church were placed under something called “The Ban.” The church basically cut them off from participating in the elements of communion, which was administered by priests in state sponsored churches. Today this doesn’t carry the same force and weight, but in that day communion was central to the life of the church, and patrons believed that if they were cut off from the the elements of communion, from the liturgy of the church they were cut off from Christ. While we don’t adhere to the doctrines that lead us to believe the same regarding bread and wine (or the blessings or curses of priest and pope) we do believe in the importance of communion in the life of the people of God. That’s why we do it every week.
Communion is meant to be a prayerful, joyous, lamenting act of worship. The songs that we sing for communion vary in style, slow, meditative, joyous, lamenting, upbeat, introspective, but they all have one thing in common—the cross. The cross is central to the gospel, and communion is a way to put the story of the cross on display for all to see every time we do it (1 Cor. 11:26). It is in death that our Lord has conquered death, and it is our participation in communion, in the body and blood of Christ, our participation in the death of Jesus (Rom. 6) that we too conquer death and are sustained into a reconciled relationship with our creator. Combined with the instruction given by our pastor communion is the most clear proclamation of the gospel in our liturgy. Perhaps that is why Jesus instituted the ordinance in the first place.
Example song: Savior King (You Are Holy) by Chris Gates
lyrics: “The sovereign Lord of heaven and earth/The Son of God of greater worth/Than all the pride-filled sons of men/Was veiled in flesh and bore my sin/Jesus lived that he might die/The Son of Man was crucified/The Lamb was slain upon a tree/That I might live eternally”
SECTION FIVE :: RESPONSE
This section of our liturgy focuses more on various forms of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving in response to what has been previously revealed and proclaimed in the first part of the service.
We begin this section by transitioning to a time of offering. Yes, this the moment in the service where we pass around baskets and ask for money. However, it’s not really money that we’re asking for. Not really.
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21, ESV). God wants our hearts. He wants us to be in Christ. He wants us to be in community with others who are in Christ. He wants us to be in the fellowship of the local church. God’s heart is with the church, his special people, and he desires that each of our hearts be united in spirit with our brothers and sisters in the unity of the Spirit. God also knows how our hearts work. He knows our tendency to worship money and the things of the world, the created things rather than the creator (Rom.1). He knows that we pay close attention to the things that we invest money into, and he wants us to invest in the church. He himself has invested everything, his own Son in the church, and he wants us to follow his lead. We should love the church as much as God does.
Part of that love shows in the form of financial contributions. We are happy to give to support our favorite clubs and organizations and hobbies, how much more the church of God. We view the offering of financial gifts as an act of worship. It doesn’t have to be done in our worship services. Many of our members give online, some even setting up automatic drafts from their bank accounts or auto transfers from their paychecks through the companies they work for. These methods of giving are no less worshipful than putting a check in the offering plate. However, we humans tend to need frequent reminders of the most important things in life, and we have a time of offering each Sunday, not before communion so that we are tempted to believe we are somehow purchasing favor from God, but after communion so that we are encouraged to give all of ourselves to the one who gave himself for us.
The offering reminds us that we should invest our treasures (and our time, energy, talents, skills, hopes, dreams,etc.) in the church to ensure that our hearts stay there as well.
Our liturgy continues with songs of adoration and praise for our God who has given us all things in Christ.
Example song: 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) by Matt Redman
lyrics: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul/Oh my soul/Worship his holy name/Sing like never before/Oh my soul/I worship your holy name”
Example song: To The King Of The Ages by Chris Gates
lyrics: “To the King of the ages/Immortal, invisible/To the King of the ages/Jesus the merciful/Be honor and glory/Forever/To the only God/Amen”
SECTION SIX :: COMMISSION & CLOSING
Our liturgy ends with a “song of commission” that encourages us to live out the gospel in everyday life, followed by a final word from our lead pastor.
Example song: Let Your Kingdom Come by Aaron Ivey
lyrics: “Give us a love for peace/Move us to brokeness/Our generosity, release from poverty/Your kingdom here and now/To the least of these/Distribute what we have/That all may taste and see/Let your kingdom come/Let your will be done/And all the earth will say and echo angel’s praise/That you are God”
After this last song our lead pastor stands and gives a commission to all present:
“Remember, go and live life between Sundays.”
In that one recurring statement every week we are challenged to live out gospel Christianity in every area of our lives, in every arena we find ourselves in, every day of the week. We are commissioned to go outside the walls of the church as priests to God, as ambassadors of Christ, to participate in the rule of Christ on earth, to let others know that the kingdom has come, to worship in all that we do and to let all that we do to be worship, to be missionaries sent out to labor for the salvation of our friends and neighbors, to be good news to those around us, to love and care for one another in Christian compassion not letting anyone in our fellowship remain in need, to let our light so shine before men that they will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.
This is the liturgy of Hill Country Bible Church Dripping Springs. Please join us on Sundays to participate in the life of Christ together.