Friday, October 12, 2007

Sermon Question 4: Why Does the Entire Service Lead Up to the Sermon?

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?


Aussie John said...


Applaud you on your series!

I sometimes, preached/taught as the first matter in the gathering, sometimes in a more central position. That often applied to the Lord's Supper as well, which also varied in form.

Eric said...


Thank you for your kind words.

Your comment reminded me that I have been a part of preaching taking place earlier in the service, but only when related to the Lord's Supper. Other than that, the sermon has always been at the end.

I hope all is well down under.

Corey Reynolds said...

I just watched the video this afternoon from the October 7th service at Mars Hill in Seattle (Mark Driscoll's church). Now, I can't be sure, but it seems from the way Mark greeted people at the beginning and the way the music guy introduced what was going to happen next at the end, that the sermon was the very first thing. Given the length of the sermon, I think that putting it first was the best thing, because after you have already sang for 45 minutes to an hour, the prospect of another hour and a half might seem kind of daunting.

As far as the question at large goes, I think that we have been trying to 'say' with the order of service and the placement of the pulpit furniture that the preaching of the word is the central act of Christian worship. The music leads up to it because it is the apex. But, as you said, it need not be this way. Sometimes primacy in the order of service would show it to be the most important. I know - as a preacher - that I would sure enjoy the singing more if I didn't have the sermon weighing down on me while we sang.

Dan said...


Is it true that they started doing that to focus more on the Bible? Wasn't it the Reformers? It seems like that would have been a good idea, but like most things that WERE a good idea, it has become some foolish system that no longer carries any significance and only matters because its traditional. I don't know if any of that is true but that's the way it seems to me.

Great post. I enjoy your blog. Thanks.


Eric said...


I wonder what would happen if we tried to even out the singing in our churches? For example, what if about 50% of the singing came before the sermon, and 50% came after? That would also give people more of an opportunity to to praise and give thanks to the Lord for what they have just heard in His word.


I don't know when the sermon became the focal point of the service. I can see why the Reformers would have done that though. They had to fight such a major battle over the importance of the word of God.

We're in a different position now. Since we are 400-500 years removed from the Reformation, tradition has set in. I wish we could do things that would shake up the church a bit. Moving the sermon might be a good thing once in a while to help with this.

Thanks for the nice words.