When I walked into a Vineyard church in 1994 my mind was blown. On a Friday night, the room was full of expectant people singing TO God. Coming from Presbyterian roots, the only time we gave this expression of exuberant praise was at summer camp! For the first time in my life, I learned of the power of the Holy Spirit through an extended, uninterrupted time of singing.
Fast-forward a couple decades and the “5 songs + sermon” model has become the standard “liturgy” of the modern church. Outside of our empowered ministry prayer times, you would be hard-pressed to see what makes a Vineyard Church distinct from many evangelical church models today.
I believe that as a movement, a time has come for us to pause and reconsider the way forward in worship, both musically and sacramentally. What did we fail to carry forward as a new movement (started in the late 1970’s) that can be reintroduced with care? Here are a few practical ways worship planners in the Vineyard can consider and implement elements of liturgical form in our services:
1. Eucharist (celebrated weekly)
Avoiding mindless, heartless repetition is a common reason many Vineyard pastors say they don’t want to lead their congregation to the table on a weekly basis, favoring to do it once a month or less. It begs the question why we sing, preach and offer prayers repetitively? Are these features any less special because we repeat them over and over? Are we increasing demand by planning scarcity?
A weekly invitation to feast on Christ is a beautiful picture of our Kingdom theology (God is here, now). In the meal, we are reminded that His active presence is with us; it is a vibrant and visceral picture that embodies all the senses while engaging everyone on the same level. Creatively and enthusiastically inviting our people to the meal more frequently might be the greatest discipleship plan we have.
- Church planter, Luke Geraty recently submitted an excellent paper on Sacraments to the Society of Vineyard Scholars, check it out HERE.
2. Spoken Scripture Interwoven with Musical Worship
Many faith traditions use the Lectionary as their guide for public worship. Each week has a list of assigned Biblical texts that align with the season. This is compelling for many reasons, but the chief of them is the idea that we get a complete survey of Scripture every 3 years within our gathered worship times. I have adopted this idea for our Vineyard model of worship. Instead of reading ALL Scripture assignments from the prayer book, I choose one. I often times use the Psalm text and typically try to use both a female and male voice. By using a lectionary/daily office text in our service we are (to some degree) unifying with the global and historical Church. Participating in worship through spoken word can be very formational.
- Worship leaders, add a link to this site on your phone to search scriptures for that align with the lectionary.
3. Adherence to the Christian Year
Christmas Day and Easter are now readily celebrated in the Vineyard (although, this wasn’t always the case). Contextualizing the birth and resurrection of Christ can add depth and meaning to these hallmark church celebrations. Over the years, the Christian church formulated seasons of expectation through Advent and Lent. The four weeks prior to Christmas are a time to reflect on longing, waiting and hoping as we retell the story of Israel’s great hope. Similarly, starting on Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent gives us 40 days to walk with Christ to the Cross. It’s a time to grieve with those who grieve as we crescendo into the Easter service.
4. Planned Prayers and Litanies
“Worship” in the Vineyard has always meant “music”, but as “worship” planners we need to understand that the worship we offer God can be more than explicitly musical.
As a movement, we have leaned heavily on the spontaneous and prophetic, which is a marker of who we are. I believe we can include pre-written works without losing our way. Many worship leaders struggle with what to say at the beginning and end of their song sets and in many instances have been coached to just stop talking. Written prayers, creeds, and litanies (congregational response) can help us direct our prayers more effectively. These are also great tools in the hands of younger worship leaders who need to learn from solid existing means of prayer.
- Fran Pratt, a former worship leader at the Austin Vineyard has created a beautiful collection of congregational prayers HERE.
- The Book of Common Prayer contains several timeless Collects for public worship.
- The Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer are beautiful additions to gathered worship.
5. Space for Silence and Contemplation
For many modern worship services, unplanned awkward silence is frowned upon and rightly so! In a world of constant noise and distraction, leading our congregations in a moment of intentional silence will be an antidote to culture’s frenzied pace.
Here is an example of how we might lead a moment of intentional silence:
Before we conclude with a final song, let’s together take a moment to rest our minds and hearts before the Lord. Even in silence, the Lord speaks and sometimes that’s the only time He speaks. Let’s silence our hearts before the Lord for a moment.
I firmly believe we can build on our rich foundations in the Vineyard while at the same time mining the Church’s behaviors throughout history to add depth to our gatherings. Your job is to figure out how to do this in your context and in a way that is as vibrant and life-giving. The word of God has an incredible narrative arc. Our contemporary liturgy, over time, can become just as dead and rote as the religiosity we once shunned.
My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring through music. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Find out more how I can help your worship leaders and teams HERE.