Portraying Christ Clearly in Worship
Paul makes a remarkable declaration in Galatians 3:1: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (ESV). This verse always stops me in my reading tracks when I am going through this book. It sounds like he is saying that the Galatians were actually there at the cross, seeing Jesus crucified. But they weren’t, at least geographically, historically, and physically. But they attended Christ-centered worship. Paul uses this phrase not only to describe the worship event, but it becomes one of his arguments for why they should not turn away from the gospel. The revelation of Christ in worship was so powerful that they had no excuse to follow anyone but Christ.
The first part of this verse reveals his incredulity: “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” This is his indignant way of declaring; “You have no rationale reason to be turning away from Christ after what you experienced. The only explanation is that you are either under some kind of spell, or you are simply fools.” In worship, they had experienced the publicly portrayal of Jesus Christ as crucified before their very eyes of faith. Is that how people describe worship at your church?
How did the Galatians “see” Jesus crucified? It was predominantly through Scripture-saturated preaching. But we also know that Paul prayed, recited Scripture, and probably sang as well (Many believe Phil. 2:5–11 and Col. 1:15–20 were songs in use at the time). Scripture also informed these worship elements. Additionally, this letter to Galatia became a part of the biblical canon. The Galatians experienced the power of God’s Word in their midst and in doing so they experience Christ. The Holy Spirit uses the Bible to reveal Christ.
Our worship services must be Scripture-saturated if we intend our people to see Christ in them and worship Him in response. We expect that the sermon will be Scripture-based, but what about our worship songs, readings, prayers, and comments? Have they been equally informed by the Word of God? I have five suggestions for how Scripture can inform our worship and help our people see Jesus:
1. Use songs that have biblical content and are biblically accurate.
There are many songs that sound great, and even have compelling thoughts, but that don’t agree with Scripture. A great [musical] song in worship that is not based upon God’s truth is a distraction at best, and a deception at worst. A great song that reveals God’s truth is a vehicle for Spirit-filled worship (Eph. 5:18-19/Col. 3:16).
2. Read Scripture in worship.
Sometimes our concern for worship “flow” can create a stream that misses the destination. Stopping to think about Jesus by reading about him will help worshipers focus on the only true Object of worship. A Scriptural Call to Worship, or using the preaching text as a congregational reading, with well-connected songs (thematically) can keep worship’s dialogue focused and congruent (John 5:39).
3. Use Scripture on worship slides during instrumental solos.
Have you noticed how awkward those solos can be for the congregation? Give them words that relate to what they are singing and redeem that time. Then when they sing again they can respond to something. Better yet, they can respond to Someone (Luke 24:27).
4. Pray from the Scriptures.
The greatest words that we can pray have been written down for us in the Bible. The Psalms are filled with the effective language of prayer. This does not mean you have to read the prayer. But let your extemporaneous praying be informed by Scriptural prayers. Additionally, if we pray from Scripture we are teaching our people to do the same (1 John 5:14).
5. Comment from the Scriptures.
I have many colleagues who write out everything they intend to say in worship, even if they don’t read it verbatim. When I have prepared in advance, my comments are always more effective. There is a big difference between starting worship with “Come on, let’s worship an awesome Savior,” and “Let’s worship the One who is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’” (based on Col. 1:15).
Of course, this requires a little extra effort and time. It will add to the prep time of simply putting together a song list and attempting to make up our comments on the fly. But our passionate desire should be to show our people Jesus. It is God’s words that are promised not to return void, not our words (Is. 55:11). If we rely on our extemporaneous comments, we might stumble upon God’s words if we have spent enough time in them. But we might also just reveal our lack, rather than His sufficiency.
However, if we choose our songs carefully; plan Scripture reading alongside our preaching pastor; insert some strategically placed verses in our worship slides; jot down some notes from Scripture for that prayer time we lead every worship service; and carefully plan our transitional comments from God’s Word, something supernatural is guaranteed to happen in worship. Our people will see Jesus. And when they see Him, they will be transformed by Him.
“… it is [the Scriptures] that bear witness about me.” – John 5:39b
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18
Scott Connell is a professor of music and worship at Boyce College/SBTS in Louisville, KY. He has served the church for over twenty years as a worship pastor, church planter, and senior pastor. He plans to graduate in May with his Ph.D. in Christian Worship. He and his wife Mary have seven children.