The Shape of the Liturgy
Theologian Simon Chan notes that throughout the history of the church, the basic shape of Christian liturgy has been relatively consistent. “Word and sacrament are set within the act of gathering and the act of returning, thus giving rise to a fourfold structure.” Coram Deo’s weekly worship gathering follows this historic liturgical structure, contextualizing it for an urban, missional, post-Christian setting. A pastor or worship leader guides the congregation through the liturgy in a warm, hospitable fashion, serving as a sort of “tour guide” to make unfamiliar territory familiar. Following Chan’s outline, our weekly worship gathering progresses as follows:
- Greeting/Call to Worship: The Liturgy Leader welcomes the congregation, reiterates the vision for a gospel-centered missional church, and sets the stage for worship by reading an appropriate passage of Scripture.
- Adoration: The first set of worship songs are carefully chosen to reinforce God’s holy character, his mighty acts, and his steadfast love, leading the people into a sense of worship and adoration toward God.
- Confession. The worship leader guides the congregation through a spoken confession.
- Absolution. One of the worship leaders speaks a word of absolution and pardon over the people, using a specific text of Scripture to highlight the promises of the gospel.
The Proclamation of the Word
- Profession of Faith. After a season of musical worship, the Liturgy Leader guides the congregation in a spoken profession of faith, usually utilizing a historic creed. In this way we profess our unity with the church throughout history and reinforce the core doctrines of the Christian faith.
- Prayer. The Liturgy Leader leads the entire church in prayer, highlighting particular needs within the church, the city, and the world.
- Reading of Scripture. Almost every week, the text on which the sermon is based is read aloud, creating space for the congregation to hear and reflect.
- Sermon. Coram Deo’s pastors strive to excel in preaching gospel-centered, Christ-focused, expository sermons. We see the pulpit not merely as a place for biblical instruction, but as the driving force for leading the church in mission, shaping the church in the gospel, and showing the relevance of the gospel to non-Christians.
- Communion is observed every week as the culmination of our worship. In how we introduce the sacrament, fence the table, and dispense the elements, we seek to comfort believers with the finished work of Christ and beckon unbelievers to respond in repentance and faith toward Jesus.
- Benediction/Sending Forth. These two elements are usually combined into one as the preaching pastor speaks God’s blessing over His people and sends them back into the world to live coram deo – before His face. Having entered God’s presence and renewed our covenant with Him, we are now sent out to advance His kingdom and live for His glory.
After years of practicing this pattern, we can testify to its formative effect among our congregation, its missional efficacy in our city-context, and its help in strengthening gospel fluency within our church community.
This series of posts has been written to help those new to Coram Deo understand our structure of worship; to help those leading worship at Coram Deo grow in their understanding of liturgy and their proficiency in leading it; and to serve people outside of Coram Deo who are seeking to better understand liturgical worship. For those desiring a more scholarly and theologically robust discussion of these topics, we recommend the following books:
- Unceasing Worship by Harold Best (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2003).
- “Reformed Worship in the Global City” by Timothy J. Keller, in Worship by the Book, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 193-249.
- Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2006).
- Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).
 Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006), 129.