Everywhere I have ever preached, and everywhere I have ever attended a church gathering, the sermon has come very near the end of the service. In fact, it seems that the entire service is designed to culminate with the sermon. Why?
If we take a look at today's typical church service, we see an order of worship that, for the most part, remains the same from week to week, at least within most Protestant churches. It probably goes something like this: the service begins with a congregational song, which is followed by announcements. After this, two or three more songs will be sung. Then, scripture reading and/or some type of presentation will occur. After one more song, the ushers will take up the offering while the choir (or soloist) sings a special. That is the normal order of worship.
All of the above is supposed to build to a crescendo that culminates with the sermon. Why?
If we look to the bible, what do we see when the church gathers? Does it look like what we see each Sunday?
As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I Corinthians 14 is the only place in the NT which actually describes the gathering of the church. This gathering appears to be one in which multiple people are involved. The order of what occurs does not appear to be of prime concern. The key is simply that the purpose is edification (see 14:26).
Does the average Sunday morning service order look like what we see in I Cor. 14? No.
Does the average Sunday morning service order have to look like what we see in I Cor. 14? I don't think so.
I strongly believe that we have freedom in how we worship when we gather as a church body. As long as edification is the goal, then we can order a service however we want. Based on what we see in scripture, it seems that part of the service would include the proclamation of God's word. Also, the church must perform (with freedom of frequency) the ordinances.
Therefore, if a church wants every service to build toward the preaching of the sermon, then this appears to be fine. However, must it always be this way? No.
Based on what we see in I Cor. 14, it seems that it would be nice for the body if the order of worship was varied some of the time. In fact, if you have multiple people involved, offering "a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation," then the order that takes place will almost automatically be different from week to week.
Of course, there is also the option of trying to follow I Cor. 14, in which the order of what occurs does not appear to be planned at all. In Corinth, it seems that the body was relying on the Holy Spirit to guide them in when things occurred. If this was the case, then the preaching of the word might come at any point (or points) in the gathering.
My primary emphasis with this post is that as long as we focus on Christ-centered edification, then the order we follow is of little concern. A church is free to order the service however it wants, or to not set any order at all. If the sermon is near the end in crescendo-fashion, that's O.K. But let's not imprison ourselves to that service order.
Have you ever attended a service/gathering where the sermon did not occur near the end? What was it like? How did the people respond?