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Sunday Services

 

9:30 am Kid City and Adult Education Hour
10:30 am    Morning Service and Big Picture Kids
6:00 pm Evening Service (@ Bond Chapel)

North Side Notes

Why our Sunday service is the way it is

Posted by Kyle Edwards on

Every church service, no matter how formal or informal, no matter how traditional or contemporary, has an order to it. That order is probably pretty consistent week to week. It'll have roughly the same amount of songs, the same amount of prayer, the same length of sermon, and the same starting and ending time. Not always, of course. But usually. 

So why is HTC North Side's service in the order it's in? Maybe another way of asking that: "Why do we do what we do?"

If you want the long answer, read Bryan Chapell's book Christ Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice." We basically do what's outlined in his book, which is what many churches have done for centuries. 

The short answer is that our order of service is specifically designed to reflect upon and draw attention to the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God sent his Son Jesus Christ to rescue us from our guilt and sin by dying for us on the cross and then rising again from the dead in victory over sin and death.

And the sinner who turns away from his or her sin and turns to Jesus in faith receives all the blessings God has to give. He declares us right in his eyes, he adopts us into his family, he shapes us into the kind of people he wants us to be, he keeps us in his care despite our sufferings and failures, and one day he will glorify us and give us undying bodies in a beautiful new creation. We couldn't ever do this for ourselves. Only Jesus our Savior can save us. 

That's the gospel. That's the good news. It's so central to the Christian life that we want our worship services to reflect his good news. So let's go through the parts of the service and see how it portrays the gospel. 

The First Song

Worship isn't just music and singing. But God has given us music as a beautiful means by which we can express our deepest desires in one voice as one family of God. The first song is usually something recognizable and upbeat. Worship should be joyful, not dull, so we want the song choice to reinforce that joy.

It's usually a traditional hymn, but not always. That way if this is the first time you've been in church for several years, you're not held back right from the beginning by a song you've never heard before. 

Call to Worship

After the fist song comes the call to worship. Some churches have the call to worship before the first song, but having the song first gives us a chance to wake up a bit and for late comers to find their seats. Most Sundays, either the first or second song will have some overlapping words with the call to worship. 

The words always come from the Bible. That's because God's the one calling us to worship. We didn't wake up and decide we should be good and spiritual and come to church. We didn't think it would be a good idea to worship God on our own initiative. We're hardwired to worship, but our sinful hearts are inclined to worship and serve anything but the one true God.

So when we gather together on Sunday morning, it's because God has summoned us here by his grace. We're here by invitation! That's why the call to worship uses the words of Scripture. We're literally hearing God's voice telling us to come and worship!

The Second Song

The second song is also usually a song of praise to God, but it might be a newer song and more mellow than the first, more upbeat song. In other words, the tone of the service is moving towards greater intimacy with God, and the songs try to reflect that growing intimacy. 

Confession of Sin

But if we really are in God's presence, if we are experiencing him as he is in his perfect holiness, then we should be more aware of our sin and unworthiness. It's as the prophet Isaiah said when he got a backstage pass into the heavenly throne room:  “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

We're sinners before God and should confess our sins before him. We use printed prayers that we read together to aid us in our confession. There's nothing magic about saying the words. They're just a help to move us to true, inward confession when our hearts aren't always inclined to admit our ugliness. 

After the prayer of confession, we pause for a moment to confess our particular sins we've committed this past week - or at least the ones we can remember!

Assurance of Pardon

Then comes maybe my favorite part of the service - the assurance of pardon. We're more guilty than we care to admit. We're not who we want to be. We're not who God wants us to be. 

But the assurance of pardon reminds us that even though we're messed up in so many ways, we're forgiven. This is usually a verse of Scripture read by Jungsun Moon, our worship director. Beautiful verses like 1 John 1:9:  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Jesus Christ has nailed our sins to the cross and we bear them no more. So all those bad things we've just confessed - they're forgiven! Gone!

Because of the gospel, we're innocent and holy and beloved in God's sight. Because of the gospel, what's in the past stays in the past. 

Third Song

The third song is always about the work of Jesus in rescuing us and forgiving us our sin. In other words, now we get to sing with unburdened hearts about the freedom and forgiveness we have through Jesus. 

Confession of Faith

Jesus has saved us and forgiven us by grace alone, and now our proper response is to put our trust in him alone. That's what happens when we first become Christians. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."

But what's true for the start of the Christian life is true for all of the Christian life. Faith doesn't stop after we've been Christians for a while. The Christian life is about daily turning from our sins and trusting in Jesus alone. 

That's why we confess our faith after being assured of our forgiveness through the gospel. HTC uses the words of the Apostles Creed for our confession of faith. Part of the reason is that this was the practice of College Church, HTC's "mother church." But the big reason is that the Apostles Creed is so great about summarizing what we believe. What we believe is important, and the Creed defines the most important articles of our faith. 

It also reminds us that we're part of a much bigger party. The Apostles Creed is old. Not as old as the original apostles, but still - really old! HTC didn't fall from heaven. We're not the only game in town and don't want anyone to think otherwise. The people of God includes countless souls all over the world and throughout history. The Apostles Creed reminds us that we're part of very big and wonderful story. 

Family Life

HTC is a family. We're not just like a family. We are a family. We're brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, children of our heavenly Father who's adopted us into his family. 

The Family Life portion of the service draws attention to our familial relations. It gives us a chance to talk to each other for a moment and to hear about upcoming events.

Some Sundays we also like to hear the testimony of a particular member of the family. Hearing about God's faithfulness in one person's life is a great encouragement to remember his faithfulness in all of our lives. 

Congregational Prayer

There's maybe no deeper or more practical expression of our faith than prayer. This isn't the only time we pray during the service, but it's the most focused. It's offered up by someone from the congregation on behalf of the congregation. Just like the prayers in the Bible, the congregational prayer praises God, thanks him for his Fatherly care over us, and lifts up particular needs of our congregation, our city, and our world. 

Offertory

The offertory is sometimes called the song of preparation. It's right before the Scripture reading and the sermon, so it's preparing us to hear God's Word. 

This is also when we take the offering. We used to do it during Family Life. However, the problem with doing it then is that when folks give money during announcements, it feels like giving is a matter of business. But when you give during a song of praise, it makes it feel more like what it actually is - worship. 

Why do we give our financial resources to the church? It's not just about funding programs or paying bills. It's actually an expression of brotherly love. It's doing the work of the gospel. When Paul praises the Philippians for their partnership in the gospel, he has in mind their financial commitments. So we give joyfully for the work of the gospel, knowing that what was given to us in the gospel - the Son of God - and at what cost - his life - is so much greater and more costly than anything we could possibly toss into the offering bag. 

Scripture Reading

The Scripture reading is so much more than the introduction to the sermon! When we hear God's Word read, we hear God's voice speaking to us. 

The preacher only rarely does the reading. Most Sundays a congregant fills this role. He or she will ask the congregation to stand as a gesture of recognizing that what we're about to hear is so much greater than anything we've heard all week. 

After the reading she reminds us once more who said what we just heard and says, "This is the Word of the Lord." We respond in a unified voice, "Thanks be to God," because thankfulness should be our first response to hearing the Lord speaking to us. 

Sermon

The preaching of God's Word is at the heart of our worship service. Our general policy is to preach through entire books of the Bible in consecutive fashion, one passage after another. In Acts 20:27 the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesian elders, "for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." We believe that the best way to preach the whole counsel of God is just this kind of patient, methodical, passage by passage approach.

One of the benefits of this approach is that the congregation isn't subjected to the personal whims and concerns of the pastor week after week. Sometimes these concerns are good, and sometimes they're tiresome! Preaching through passage after passage and book after book means that it's God's concerns we hear each week, not the pastor's. 

And the preacher's goal is always to make clear and apply what God is saying in that passage. What God says is infinitely more important than any kind of spiritual insight, good advice, or political musing that the preacher has to give. It would be no overstatement to say that faithful preaching - "expository preaching" in our lingo - is at the core of our DNA. 

The Lord's Supper

Most Sundays the sermon transitions into celebrating the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It's appropriate for us to take the Supper after the sermon as a way of reinforcing what we just heard from God and responding in faith to him. In the Supper God is inviting his people to a table he's prepared. The broken bread and the cup visibly represent the body and blood of Jesus slain on the cross.

But it's more than just a symbol. It's also a seal or confirmation of the promises of the gospel. Just as surely as you can taste, touch, see, and maybe smell the bread and the cup, so you can know for sure that Jesus died for you and that all the benefits of his death are applied to you. It's an assurance that your sins are forgiven, that you've been adopted into God's family, and that he'll keep you in his care until he calls you home. 

So when you come in faith, you receive nourishment just like any other meal. But it's not physical nourishment. It's spiritual nourishment. It strengthens your faith and bolsters your resolve to walk after the Lord Jesus. 

It's also a meal that we take together. We never do this privately. God has invited his people to enjoy this family meal. 

Song of Response

We sing one more song after taking the Supper. We call it the song of response because its lyrics are specifically oriented towards the theme of the sermon. In other words, we're responding to God's word by singing joyfully about it.

Benediction

This is where we close the service and go about our ways. But it's more than just a way of saying, "Ok, we're done now. You can go home." We use the words of Scripture, usually one of the biblical benedictions. For example, 2 Corinthians 13:14 is a common one: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

So it's as if God is reminding us once more of us grace and sending us forth into the world to walk faithfully before him. He called us together for worship in the Call to Worship and now he's sending us out as his ambassadors until he regathers us next week. 

Final Thoughts

That's why we do what we do. It's not the only way to order a church service. And it's not something that everyone appreciates equally. Because of our different backgrounds and personalities, it can be like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Some think it's too hot, some think it's too cold, but for some it's just right.

In other words, some folks don't like anything formal at all and would be more than happy to not have a printed prayer of confession, for instance, because they think any prayer that's not spontaneous is by definition less faithful or less effective. Other folks, on the other hand, love the more formal elements and would be pumped if the pastor walked in wearing a shiny robe and carrying a giant golden scepter!

So we try to balance things as best we can. More importantly, though, the order of the service is intentional. It intentionally seeks to draw us into a dramatic participation in the gospel story. We're not just hearing the gospel. We're singing about it, praying about it, and responding to it. 

It's because of the gospel we do what we do. 

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