Following a Set Pattern

I have heard that a biblical pattern, such as Psalm 95, should be followed in leading worship. What do you think about this idea?

I, too, have frequently heard this concept. Psalm 95 is the pattern most frequently cited as the correct way. This psalm starts out with, “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (Psalm 95:1-2). The idea put forth in this teaching is that we should begin with loud, exuberant praise. As the psalm progresses it brings us to the point of bowing down and kneeling (vs. 6). This all seems to be a very logical progression. However, nowhere does the Bible suggest that this is the once-for-all-time description of the proper progression in worship. We cannot simply take a section of Scripture and say this—this one single section of the Bible—is the way things must always be.

To show the fallacy of this kind of teaching, instead of Psalm 95, let’s use Psalm 96 as our pattern. It starts out like this: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth” (Psalm 96:1). If we use this as our pattern then each time we gather corporately for worship we must: (1) sing a new song and (2) have the whole world singing with us. Obviously that idea is not going to work.

Having said all that, allow me a moment to offer a practical positive thought. Although I certainly do not believe there is an all-inclusive, always-correct pattern for worship, I have noticed a general guideline that can be helpful.

When people are gathering together for congregational worship their minds are frequently not all focused in the same direction. The things that happened on the way to church, the friend they just encountered in the foyer, their family concerns, and many other thoughts are all vying for their attention. Because of this, upbeat or lively songs can be a good way to begin a service. This type of music has a way of capturing people’s attention more so than a quiet, meditative song. The goal is to focus those widely-scattered thought patterns more quickly.

Please understand this is not an absolute. It is only a guideline. As you seek the Lord’s guidance for a particular service you may be compelled to start with something that is decidedly not upbeat or lively. It is better to pursue what you believe to be the leadership of the Holy Spirit than to follow a set pattern.

The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Pray for the Lord’s guidance for each service. He will lead you.