As a journalism major in college, I became familiar with the term “burying the lede.” Essentially, it means that you begin a news story with unessential information, thus hiding the really important part and making readers have to work to figure out the point. this is where the church is getting worship wrong.
It’s a term that applies to writing primarily, but it’s also something many churches have become experts at in their worship gatherings.
The important thing is the Gospel, that Jesus came to die for our sin and offer us the gift of salvation, yet that often gets buried under so many less important things in our church services.
Jared C. Wilson asks “Is your worship service upside down?” in his latest piece for The Gospel Coalition, and I’m again reminded of a journalistic principle. We were taught in school that the best way to structure a new story was through using an inverted pyramid with the most important information taking up the most space at the top (the classic who/what/where/when/why/how) followed by other important details, and lastly, any other general background information.
This, to me, makes sense. The most important information should be the bulk of our message, with everything else following in decreasing amounts afterward, but that’s often the opposite of how churches share the Gospel.
Our church services should be welcoming to believers and seekers alike, yet often they are targeted at those who aren’t in a committed relationship with Christ yet. We want to reach them, but in doing so, Wilson argues that our worship services “actually turn the biblical shape of evangelism and mission upside down.”
It’s like we flip the pyramid and put the little details at the top, and keep all the important truth hidden at the bottom, even though it should matter most.
Here are three ways Wilson explains our church worship gatherings may be off track:
- “Emphasizing feelings before and after doctrine.” I know many people who view religion and church as legalistic, cold, and strictly informational. I (thankfully) grew up in a church that made faith about a relationship with Jesus and therefore felt inviting and loving to me. The danger in making church all about feelings, though, is that we lose the theological truth of who Jesus is and what it means for our lives as believers. “Feelings about God detached from knowledge of God tend to reveal more that we are worshipers of feelings, of ourselves,” Wilson says. “Just as serious, perhaps, is the problem of expecting lost people to sing songs about their feelings about a God they don’t believe in. Too many of our Sunday morning worship sets get the cart of affections before the horse of belief.”
- “Giving lost people religious homework.” I often find practical applications in sermons to be helpful, but I realize that it’s because I’m a practicing Christian that I find these practices to be meaningful. They give me a way to put my existing faith into direct action. If a seeker is coming to church to learn what this whole faith thing is about and they are bombarded with assignments to take into their daily lives though, it can feel like Christianity is all about the to-do list. “In the seeker-oriented teaching, however, we direct a steady diet of how-to at people who have yet to receive a heart of want-to,” says Wilson. “It’s a little strange to make sure the dominant thing lost people hear in our church service is a list of things to do rather than the thing that’s done!”
- “Offering a gospel invitation after a legal message.” If you’ve just listened to a pastor preach on all the things the Bible commands and instructs, it’s understandable that the last thing you want to do is accept Jesus into your heart. “The Bible assumes the kind of obedience to God that pleases God comes after our heart has been changed by grace,” Wilson says. “Simple religious behavior modification doesn’t glorify God; it glorifies self. If we preach a sermon on behavior modification and then try to invite people to receive grace, it seems disjointed, strange. It’s like you’ve suddenly changed the subject.” He explains that our doing flows out of our being, so who we are in Christ should come before what we do for Christ and in Christ. See how we often flip this?
The important part of this story is that Jesus came to earth as God-made-man, He lived a perfect life among us, and took our sin and shame to the cross where He died for our sake, rose again, and made a way for us to live in eternity with God the Father. When we bury that lede under emotions, feelings, to-do lists, and legalism, we are doing it all backwards. We should confidently proclaim the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done, and let the rest follow.
He is most important, and when we put Him first in His rightful place in our worship, there’s nothing upside down about that.