During my years at seminary, I spent some time leading worship in the Anglican church. If you are unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, they are the folks who wear funny robes, walk up and down the aisle at the beginning and end of service holding the Bible and cross and say a lot of liturgical readings. They are Catholic in worship style but Protestant in their theology. The Anglican churches I had the pleasure of leading in were a mix of ancient tradition with modern music. As a worship leader, I loved it.
A lot of modern, evangelical churches view music as the only form of worship on Sunday morning. In the Anglican church, music is just one aspect of worship. Anglicans view other activities like reading scripture, listening to the sermon, and celebrating the Eucharist as worship. It makes for a highly participatory worship service because people can engage in multiple forms of worship rather than just singing. Everyone can do a responsive reading or prayer because those activities are so straightforward and simple. No one complains that they do not like the “style,” “key,” or “arrangement” of a corporate reading like they would complain about a song. But I guess this is the church we are talking about so we never want to underestimate a church-goer’s ability to complain!
Although I no longer lead worship in an Anglican church, its tradition does have an influence on how I plan and lead worship, even in a modern, suburban, evangelical church. The primary way this expresses itself is in my use of corporate readings. On a weekly basis, I utilize scripture and other ancient prayers in worship that help increase the level of engagement in worship. Here are the most common types of corporate readings I use.
Call to Worship
Reading a corporate call to worship is an excellent way to get the congregation’s mouths moving and help them focus on why we are there to worship. The book of Psalms is the best resource for finding Call to Worship readings. For example, I will use a passage like Psalm 95:1-7. Sometimes I will invite the congregation to read the whole passage with me. Other times I will alternate every two verses with them. Whichever way you choose, make sure you indicate on the screens by changing the font colors or boldness.
Modern worship music in general lacks elements of confession, so I find myself using a prayer of confession frequently. Scripture verses like Psalm 51 work great as prayers of confession. I would also recommend the Anglican prayer of confession you can find in the Book of Common Prayer.
Assurance of Pardon
If we read a prayer of confession, I always follow it with an assurance of pardon. We do not want people to forget the grace they receive in Jesus. Many Bible verses work well for this, and most of the time I will read it over them. A few examples include Isaiah 1:18, John 3:16-17, and Romans 8:1.
If you want to sound a little old school but thoughtful in your prayers, then I would check out the Collects in the Book of Common Prayer. There is a different collect for every week of the year, including ones for other special occasions. You can either read the collect entirely or have the congregation read along. The collects are super brief and could work well while transitioning in between songs.
Prayer of Blessing or Sending
At the end of the service, I like to send the congregation out with a prayer of sending or blessing. It reminds them that they are a people of God on a mission. Many Bible verses work well for this. A couple of examples include Numbers 6:24-26, Romans 15:13, or 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
I hope this provides you with some direction on how to start using corporate readings in worship. These readings are never a substitute for congregational singing. Make sure you are still picking and arranging songs your congregation will sing. I also understand that whether or not you choose to do these reading depends on your church’s worship style and if your pastor is okay with this type of worship. Make sure if you introduce something new like this, you explain the why behind it. When done properly, corporate readings will increase the level of engagement and participation in worship.
Alongside the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, the best resource I know of for choosing readings on a weekly basis is The Worship Sourcebook. This book has hundreds of ideas for prayers you can use. It is also an educational resource for understanding liturgical readings and their purpose.
Does your church use corporate readings in worship? Let me know in the comments.