Pointing At The Same Thing From Different Angles

1In his book Christ Centered Worship, Bryan Chappel suggests eight components to a “gospel structure” for corporate worship, drawing from the narrative of Isaiah 6:

  1. Adoration (recognition of God’s greatness and grace)
  2. Confession (acknowledgement of our sin and need for grace)
  3. Assurance (affirmation of God’s provision of grace)
  4. Thanksgiving (expression of praise and thanks for God’s grace)
  5. Petition and Intercession (expression of dependence on God’s grace)
  6. Instruction (acquiring the knowledge to grow in grace)
  7. Communion/Fellowship (celebrating the grace of union with Christ and his people)
  8. Charge and Blessing (living for and in the light of God’s grace)

Worship leaders need to keep this structure in their minds when they’re planning services. To think through the placement of songs and different elements in such a way that coherently and cohesively tells the story of the gospel, it’s helpful to frame it against the narrative from Isaiah 6, like Bryan Chappel’s “eight components” so helpfully do.

Within this gospel structure there is a large amount of freedom. That’s the beauty of it. For worship leaders, it allows for all sorts of songs, kinds of songs, topics of songs, and “moods” of songs. It’s not so narrow that it’s limiting, and it’s not so broad that it’s maddening. Amazingly, yet not surprisingly, the gospel works.

And so it’s unfortunate when worship leaders, seeking to faithfully lead worship within this wonderful gospel structure, get stuck in an every-four-minutes spin-cycle, which re-sets with every song, and by the end of the progression of songs, hasn’t actually progressed anywhere at all.

If I had to summarize this spin-cycle, it would be:
1. Confession (I am a worm)
2. Assurance (God saved me through Christ)
3. Thanksgiving (I’m grateful!)

And then that song ends, and the next one begins, and we sing the same three points again. It’s like we’re afraid of betraying the core of the gospel if we dare to have a progression from point A to any point between B and Z, and take the risk of having our congregation articulate responses to the gospel, within an Isaiah 6 gospel structure, that might go beyond the bulletproof safety zone that requires fairly little ingenuity from week to week.

It seems like some worship leaders get the idea that every song needs to say the same thing, in the same way, using the same formula, following the same trajectory, and focusing on the same pillars of the gospel. The pillars are there for a reason: to provide a structure. So let the gospel structure free you and inform you, but not constrain you. Focusing on the same pillars in the same way from song to song is what I’m describing as the spin-cycle which can end up robbing our people of the opportunity to explore the unsearchable greatness of God.

If we sing the same three (or so) structural points, starting over with every song, we portray the gospel as myopic, the glories of God as describable, the implications of Christ’s finished work as easily summarizable, and our response as containable. Instead, we should feel free to use as wide a musical/lyrical/thematic vocabulary as possible, clearly within a gospel structure, but expansively and robustly broad, helping our people exalt a God whose glories couldn’t be fittingly exalted even if we had a thousand tongues.

It’s a huge and tragic problem when churches have no structure to their theology of worship, jump from theme to theme, follow no recognizable progression, and occasionally happen to land on the gospel when a song conveniently mentions it.

But it’s also a problem when churches/worship teams get stuck in a worship spin-cycle, failing to show any other angle of the indescribably beautiful gospel besides the one they’ve come to believe they grasp. Healthy gospel structures, like the one derived from the account in Isaiah 6, free us to exalt a God of grace, who redeemed us through his Son, and has sent his Spirit. Unhealthy gospel structures, and yes, I’m saying there can be such things, constrain us and limit us to see the bullet points instead of the masterpiece.

A tour guide at the Grand Canyon is always pointing to the Grand Canyon. And to help his group see more of the beauty of the Grand Canyon, he takes them on a journey from overlook to overlook. They don’t just stand in one place and look at it from the same angle. The scope of the Grand Canyon can’t be captured from one spot.

Similarly, a worship leader is always pointing to Jesus. And to help his congregation see more of the beauty of Jesus, he takes them on a journey from song to song. They don’t just stand in one place and sing from the same angle. The glory of God, revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, can’t be captured from one spot.

You can point to the same thing from different angles. That’s what a gospel structure ensures!

So let’s avoid the false security of the every-four-minute spin cycle, saying the same thing, and saying it in the same way. Turn the seat-belt sign off and move around the cabin!

6 thoughts on “Pointing At The Same Thing From Different Angles”

  1. Great article!

    One thing stuck out to me immediately: Confession, or better, the lack of it.

    We don’t do it and I didn’t realize that we rarely do have a time of confession of sins in our services until I attended a Anglican style protestant service. Before we took communion, we prayed a corporate prayer of forgiveness. It was powerful and deeply meaningful to me:

    “Most merciful God,
    we confess that we have sinned against thee
    in thought, word, and deed,
    by what we have done,
    and by what we have left undone.
    We have not loved thee with our whole heart;
    we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
    We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
    For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ,
    have mercy on us and forgive us;
    that we may delight in thy will,
    and walk in thy ways,
    to the glory of thy Name. Amen.”

    This is one element that we often neglect in our “worship” time and we all need it. In fact, after reflecting about this, I realized that the church we normally attend, hadn’t done anything like this in an entire year!

    We all fall short of following Christ the way we want to. By offering a way to confess our sins somewhere in the service, we will truly serve the body and help them (and ourselves) in the process.

  2. Revelation 14:6,7. What is the eternal gospel first of all? If we are going to have a “gospel structure” how about we have one like the one John saw in Heaven around the throne of God? That would keep us from getting stuck in the “spin cycle” too. “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” Jesus said to pray.

    Secondly, another way to get out of the “spin cycle” or never get into it in the first place is to be asking in our worship (the worship leader and the pastor would be asking this first followed by an experienced congregation), “What is God saying to us?” or “What does God want to do amongst us?” or “What does God want to reveal to us about Him today or in this season?” For that, however, one has to believe that God still speaks, the Holy Spirit still moves, He is active, and that we are asking what He is saying, how He is moving, and what He is doing so we can join in with it. God is not an idol that is mute or motionless!

    Did God set up “the Gospel” just so that we can run around it, revel in it, marvel at it’s beauty, and convince others that they should too? We can do all those things, but didn’t God make “the Gospel” so that we can be in relationship with him? The Holy Spirit (just as present today as Jesus was to his disciples) was promised by Jesus to remind us of everything He taught us and lead us into all truth. That’s a living ongoing expression (or Word) of God that’s even better than a structure based on Isaiah 6 because it’s an actual engaging with the Creator instead of just a crafting of an experience by a worship leader to give people an idea of what it would be like to engage with the Creator.

    Then the question wouldn’t be “What are we pointing at?” or “What should we be pointing at?” but “What is God pointing at?” He is infinitely better at determining where we should focus. Let’s let Him do it!

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