This is a guest post from our friend Geoff Holsclaw, a pastor, writer, and professor trying to be faithful within the confusing American religious landscape. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook, and check out his blog for more of his writing. He also hosts a podcast with David Fitch called Theology on Mission that we enjoy.
Sometimes older church leaders will look at younger, more innovative churches and wonder if the proclamation of the gospel is being lost. They wonder if there is still a place for preaching the good news in these new church models.
It is true that churches like mine—which often rail against preaching that is individualized, overly rationalistic, disembodied information dumps—could be perceived as drastically downplaying the role of proclamation.
But we haven’t. In fact, we have elevated the role of proclamation in our church, just not the way people might have thought.
Not if, but where
In our worship gathering, the question is not if proclamation happens, but where it happens.
Someone steeped in a traditional form of expository preaching came to our worship gathering one time, and commented that exposition didn’t happen only in the sermon (as classically understood), it instead happens throughout the entire worship service.
This is absolutely correct. We proclaim the gospel throughout the entire worship service, not just in the sermon.
The whole service proclaims the gospel
Let me explain by walking through that week’s worship gathering.
The preaching text was Romans 8:1-8, 12-13, which celebrates that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. We also read three other passages, which were Isaiah 43:16-21, Psalm 126, and John 7:53 – 8:11 (the woman caught in adultery).
Here’s how our whole worship service proclaimed the good news of no condemnation in Christ:
Silence, Invocation, Call to Worship
After a time of silence and a prayer of invocation we sang a call to worship, “Wake Up,” (an original song we had recently), calling us to attend to the work of Christ in our midst.
Then we read the Scriptures together, the four passages read out loud from the four walls of the sanctuary, symbolizing that we are being surrounded by the word of God, ending with the reading from John’s Gospel.
Video Icon and Litany
After the Scripture readings, we show something we call a “Liturgicon” (a video icon with an accompanying prayer litany). On this particular Sunday, it was a guided meditation on the painting “Christ and the Adulterous” by Jan Brueghel, focused on Christ’s non-condemning
The congregation interacted around several questions:
- Why is Jesus the lowest in the painting?
- Who is at the center of the painting? What is the significance of that?
- Why is the crowd fading into darkness?
- Notice that man who dropped the stone…notice that he is the second lowest. What does his posture resemble?
- Notice the shape of the woman’s hands.
- What does all this tell us about Jesus?
Only after all this comes the sermon, which we think of as a focused time of proclaiming the gospel of Christ and drawing everyone into the kingdom of God. This is one of the dual apexes of our worship service (communion being the other one).
Of course, there will be information conveyed and references to the grammar and genre of the text, but the exposition is always serving the proclamation of Christ himself and his saving work. This must always be the content of our proclamation.
This particular week’s sermon focused on living in the hope that while we are guilty, in Christ we are not condemned.
Prayer and Musical Response
After the sermon is a time of response through congregational prayer and two worship songs that are somewhat thematic, helping us respond to the proclamation. In this case we sang “Grace Flows Down” and “The Wondrous Cross.”
Then comes the second apex of our service, the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Lord’s Table, which is itself a fully participatory exposition of the non-condemning hospitality of Christ, and a fully participatory congregational response in faith and hope.
While we are coming to the table to celebrate communion, we responded to the non-condemning love of Christ in three songs: “You are My King”, “Kyrie Eleison,”, and “Let us Love and Sing and Wonder.”
Benediction and Sending
Finally, in the Benediction and Sending, we are blessed and sent out as the non-condemned people of God, the Body of Christ, offered for the life of the world.
Full-bodied, multi-sensory proclamation
Of course, reading about this worship service isn’t the same thing as experiencing it. But at our church, biblical proclamation happens throughout the entire service, not just in the sermon.
And we try to do it in an artistic, immersive way. Instead of a 30-minute sermon exposition on the grammar, structure, and meaning of Romans 8, we have a 75-minute whole-service exposition that engages the heart, mind, and body—rather than just the mind.
So the question for all of us isn’t if we should practice proclamation (of course we should!), but where and how we practice proclamation… Are we connecting the heart, mind, and body? Or are we only appealing to one of those?
Questions for reflection
- Think about the structure and content of your whole worship service. What do you notice?
- Does your worship service engage the whole person (heart, mind, and body), or does it mainly appeal to only one of those?
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