Yet, our services incorporate aspects of fairly traditional/historical or even liturgical worship, although the congregation would not recognize them as such. While they may not flow in precisely the same order each week, we have identified some "essential elements" of worship which appear in every service: call to worship, welcome (including a few key announcements) and invocation, passing the peace, congregational singing (the so-called "worship set"), a time of prayer ("open altar") and communion led by the pastor, an offering, the sermon (including scripture reading), some type of response, the benediction and dismissal.
This formula works well in our context. We are able to "mix up" the order from time to time, purportedly to keep things from feeling "stale" or overly formalistic (a big "no-no," of course), but when we gather, the basic elements outlined in Acts 2 are always present: the apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.
I love my church. I feel very fulfilled nearly all of the time with the ministry to which God as called me for this time and place. I enjoy leading my congregation and working with the musicians, technicians and other creative folks that have been entrusted to my leadership. And yet, often I am left with a nagging feeling that something's not quite right.
It's not that the service wasn't good enough - we usually hit pretty close to the mark we set for ourselves. If anything, it's perhaps the opposite: some sense that by putting on such a great show, by performing so well, perhaps we imply that maybe, when we're really on, we "got it right." Like we may well have worshiped our great God with all the quality and passion and fervor He deserves (why thank you very much). Like...you know...God's pretty awesome and all that, and, well, we're pretty awesome at worshiping Him. Like maybe what we're doing is worshiping ourselves - our skill, ingenuity, creativity - more than our Creator...
It can be a bit overwhelming to essentially create the liturgy every week - to be responsible to choose basically every word that my congregation will corporately say or sing in the service. Then of course many churches don't create or write their liturgy each week - they have a liturgy, or more often many liturgies collected in books. While there are variables - songs and readings to select, lectors (readers) to coordinate, communion elements and assistants to prepare - these churches know that they are not responsible to create their worship purely on their own. Their liturgy has been handed down through generations; it is a gift, not something they are entirely in charge of but something of which they are "stewards."
Perhaps by the very use of a liturgical text, the Church acknowledges her inability or even incompetence to worship God rightly on her own. In his monumental book Symbol and Sacrament, the French theologian Louis-Marie Chauvet writes:
From the narrative viewpoint, if the carrying out of such a program of thanksgiving happened by itself, there simply would be no [liturgical] text. The fact that there is a text signifies that at the outset we are not competent to carry out such an action. In sum, it is not natural for us to render thanks to God in a Christian manner. To carry out the Eucharist requires that the Church first gain this competence. It is precisely the text that allows the ecclesial subject to gain this competence. This text thus makes the assembly follow an itinerary which, by means of certain “transformations,” has for its goal the assembly’s conversion: it is not God but we ourselves who are changed by the Eucharistic prayer. (Symbol and Sacrament, p. 269; italics are mine)It might take reading that quote a few times before its truth begins to detonate. It leaves me wondering: is it possible that the reason we think we don't need a liturgy is that we have so much confidence in ourselves that we, in fact, think we "sanctified folk" are perfectly capable of worshiping God rightly on our own?