Making Liturgy Do Hammerheads

Sharing Options

In order to fulfill its appointed role, preaching needs to be lively (Acts 7:38), authoritative (Mark 1:22), engaging (Acts 14:1), helpful (2 Tim. 3:16), and bold (Eph. 6:19-20). But it does not do this in a vacuum. This kind of preaching needs to move people from one place to another, and in order to do this, it needs a vehicle. That vehicle is the liturgy.

Think of it this way. The preaching is the engine, the liturgy is the plane, and the people are strapped in and ready to go. Many books on preaching make the obvious point that the preaching needs to move and carry the people — with all their hurts, failings, zeal, hunger, and dedication. But the preaching also needs to carry the plane, and that is my point here. Preaching doesn’t just carry the people, any more than an engine flies them all by itself.

One of the things that men called to the ministry need to take into account is how much weight they were built to carry. Paul says that each man should have a shrewd assessment of his own abilities (Rom. 12:3), and the need for self-assessment at this point is certainly part of that.

Different liturgies have differing weights. Some are made out of cobalt and others out of balsa wood. My point here is not to get into the comparative “aerodynamics” of various liturgies — that is an important point for another time, although I do believe that there is an optimum form/weight for the average liturgy. My point here is a subset of that point, which is that the weight of the plane and the horsepower of the engine need be taken into account together.

A congregation of a thousand requires more rpm from the preacher than a congregation of twenty-five does. In the same way, a weighty liturgy requires more from the preacher, not less. It is a mistake at just this point that causes many well-intentioned ministers to drift into an ineffectual ministry. It is how many good men have found themselves with a C130 full of Abrams tanks, and a wind-up rubber band for an engine. They expected putting extra weight on the plane would help carry it. No — all that is something extra that needs to be carried. A great preacher could fly that plane — but he is flying the plane; the plane is not flying him. Chrysostom could do it, but that doesn’t mean anybody can.

Extra weight can be good — if it helps accommodate the passengers. But extra weight can also be pointless, but whatever kind of weight it is, it still needs to be carried. The liturgy we have at Christ Church seems “medium” to me, but I know it is weightier than most evangelicals are used to, but not nearly as weighty as some want liturgy to be. A year or two ago, I went through the liturgy and took out all the unnecessary weight — weight that wasn’t doing anything one way or the other — I could find. Why call the sermon “preaching of the particular Word” when you can just call it the sermon?

A gold plane, encrusted with jewels, is one kind of glorious, and maybe we should park it next to the entrace of the airport, but a plane in the air is another and better kind of glory.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments