A New Approach
Unless you have had formal training at a bible college or seminary level, the word exegetical may be new to you. So let me define it:
Exegesis - A method of bible study and teaching that seeks to derive the original meaning and intention of a passage of Scripture by placing it in it’s original historical, literary, and theological context. (My own definition).
There are typically two ways to approach the Bible. We can approach it with what we think it says and use the Bible to back up our preconceived notions, or we can approach it in such a way to try and set our own presumptions aside and allow the original intention of the text to shape our understanding of the Bible.
Either we develop what we think the Bible says, or the Bible develops what we think it says.
I am a firm believer that the proper way to study the Bible, to teach the Bible, to preach on the Bible, is to do so exegetically. I would never work at a church where the preaching pastor does not hold to this approach and I would recommend you not attend a church where the preaching pastor does not hold to this approach.
I feel that strongly about this. Which is why it was so convicting when I realized I haven’t allowed this conviction to inform the way I lead worship.
My typical approach when developing a worship service was to look through songs in similar keys, maybe try and find some theme, make sure they flow together dynamically, incorporate random liturgical elements I thought fit well (communion, testimony, Scripture reading, directed prayer, etc.), and call it a day. The practical demands of a worship service would always inform the theological message made by a worship service. Because of this, the music and timing of things would flow well, but the theological point being made through the service, the directive as to what we are responding to and how we should respond, was either muddled or non-existent.
I have been deeply convicted over the last two months that this approach is irresponsible given the great influence we have on our congregations. Worship pastors have just as much if not more influence over the way the congregation thinks and feels about God as the teaching pastor. Because of this, I am convinced we need to approach worship leading differently.
The theological message should always inform our methodology. The form needs to come before the function. Below is a step by step how-to on developing an exegetically motivated worship service. I have been employing this approach in my own worship leading over the last month and the difference has been astounding.
How to Have an Exegetically Motivated Worship Service:
1. Start with a passage.
The whole point of an exegetically motivated worship service is to allow Scripture to direct the elements of the service, so the obvious first step is starting with a passage. Depending on the time of the year, I will either use the passage the preacher is using, or pull a passage from the Revised Common Lectionary. During seasons like Advent or Lent, I will rely more on the Lectionary. If you are unfamiliar with this approach, I would suggest choosing one verse and developing the service from there.
Example - ”For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
2. Develop an Exegetical Proposition.
This will be the most challenging step at first. An exegetical proposition is a summary statement bringing out the semantic force of the verse and taking into account the historical, literary, and theological context in which the verse is found. This will take practice. We will need to ask two questions when developing this point. First: What is this passage about? Second: What is this passage saying about the subject?
An Exegetical proposition will begin with phrases like “the result of,” “the purpose of,” “the source of”, or “The means by which.” The point is to discover the exact relationship the subject has with it’s compliment. Don’t get frustrated with this point. It will take time and practice. For a deeper explanation on how to do this, check out Haddon Robinson’s book, Biblical Preaching.
Example - The purpose of the Jesus coming into the world (Subject) is to serve others and give his own life up as ransom despite his entitlement to be served as the Son of Man (Compliment).
3. Develop a Big Idea.
Once you have developed you’re bulky exegetical proposition, we need to come up with a much shorter statement that will be the theme of our worship service. This is a phrase that will be repeated throughout the course of your worship service and will direct the song choice and liturgical elements included, so work hard on crafting this statement. Remember, it should be short and memorable.
Example - Jesus came to serve and redeem!
4. Develop a Dialectic Response.
This is a point unique to worship leading. Worship is our response to God. In a different post, I argue that worship is dialectic. This means that it is the spiritual forming response to an initiating God by his humble and grateful people. Worship is a dialogue, so if the big idea, developed exegetically from Scripture, is what God is saying to us, we need to also figure out what we should say back to him.
This statement should begin with the word “therefore”. It answers the question, “How should we respond?” This should also take into account the original context of the passage we began with and stay true to it’s intentions. With our Mark passage, the context is Jesus rebuking his disciples for arguing about who will sit at his right hand in the new kingdom, so we need to factor that into our dialectic response.
Example - Therefore, serve each other sacrificially.
5. Put the Big Idea and Dialectic Response together for your worship theme.
This step is the reward for all your hard work in the previous steps. At this point, just put step 3 and 4 together to form one complete sentence.
Example – Jesus came to serve and redeem; therefore, serve each other sacrificially.
6. Finally, pick songs and other liturgical elements to communicate your worship theme.
After doing all this work, you are finally ready to pick the songs and develop the service. It is at this point that you consider keys, dynamics, non-musical liturgy and other elements that are in your worship leading toolbox. The difference is that along with crafting a service that flows aesthetically well, you will develop a service that makes a single exegetically informed statement.
So here is the final result of all these steps:
Song 1: All Because of Jesus (C)
State Worship Theme
Song 2: Nothing But the Blood (C)
Testimony: Someone who gave up everything to serve the poor
Read Mark 10:45
Song 3: Joyful, Joyful (E)
Song 4: In Christ Alone (E)
In light of the the theme, we take communion by serving others the bread and wine.
If this looks like a lot of work, you’re right. This will take time and practice, but I assure you it’s worth it. We as worship leaders have a responsibility to be leading our congregations in worship driven by the truth of God found in the Scripture.
Up for a challenge? Instead of picking one verse from the lectionary, do step number 2 with all four verses and then develop the Big Idea from a synthesis of all of them, incorporating the Scripture into the service.