Most of us would benefit from assessing our liturgical breadth. And the local church would benefit too! What do I mean? Our liturgical breadth is our given span of acceptance regarding any particular or general element, form, or circumstance of worship.
Let me explain. We each have an ideal worship service in our minds. Your convictions may be unarticulated or even subconscious, but I have yet to meet a Christian, who when pressed, doesn’t have one. Some may believe that a confession of sin should be in every service, while others believe that we should never have a confession of sin. Some Christians believe written prayers should never be used and others that “free” prayers are irresponsible. Some contend that a woman should regularly be asked to read Scripture and others that women are prohibited from reading during the service. There are Christians who believe no instruments should be used in worship and others who think the more creative and numerous the instruments, the better the service is. Even those of us who hold to the regulative principle can’t agree about everything –what has to be included, what could be included, what should never be included, the type of music, the dress of the pastor, the type of prayers prayed, the aesthetics of the worship space, who can do what in the service, the use of doxologies, benedictions, and calls of worship, the focus, the tenor, the time (Saturday evening), etc. We could go on and on. And because of that, very few of us will ever have our ideal worship service. Even Calvin didn’t get everything he wanted!
Therefore, it is helpful to assess our liturgical breadth for three reasons. First, it helps me know where my convictions lie and when my conscience is defiled. How “high” and how “low” can something go before my conscience can no longer abide? For example, I may be convicted that Pastors should be the only individuals allowed to speak, pray, and read the Scriptures at the front of the congregation during corporate worship. That may be my conviction (though it isn’t). If that is the case, how “low” am I willing to go? Would it be fine if a visiting pastor spoke, read, or prayed? How about a lay-elder in the church? How about a deacon, a pastoral intern, a husband, a young woman, a child? No doubt, if my conviction is that only pastors should speak, read, and pray at the front of the congregation during corporate worship, then at some point my conscience will be bound. And the result of a bound conscience is that it will be difficult to worship regularly in such a setting. Assessing my liturgical breadth helps me to know when that moment occurs.
Second, assessing our liturgical breadth challenges us to distinguish our ideal from the essential. There are some people whose breadth is so small that they might as well begin a church of one. Their ideal is the essential! They are never content and they tend to let everyone know it! As we assess our liturgical breadth, we will begin to notice what is essential according to my conscience (bound by Scripture) and what is really just my ideal. And as I realize this, I should begin to see a liturgical breadth in my non-essential liturgical areas. We should encourage some wideness from our ideal in most non-essential liturgical areas –what we will accept, allow, and participate in without complaint or chafing.
This leads to the third and greatest reason for doing a liturgical breath assessment: the peace of the church. I may be convinced that a pastor should wear a suit when preaching, however, a polo shirt in its place shouldn’t send me headed for the door. Likewise, it doesn’t require a Monday morning email to the pastor or a discussion with others about the “inappropriateness” of what we just witnessed. We all need to have a little breadth or the church becomes a constant setting of unrest, conflict, and contention, as I seek to make it in my image according to my ideal.
Would you do yourself and the rest of us a favor? Give yourself a liturgical breadth assessment. If we all knew our breadth a little better, we could continue worshipping without chafing or complaint over “little things.” Recognizing this music or this way of praying or this ministry highlight moment may not be my ideal, but does lie within my liturgical breadth, allows me to worship without restraint and constantly critiquing the same old things in worship each week. My conscience isn’t defiled, it is clean, this just isn’t my ideal. This has the benefit of relieving us from the need to wage every liturgical battle. We can rest a little more, preserve the peace of the church a little more, and humbly submit ourselves in love to those around us to the glory of God a little more. And we could welcome a lot more of that.