A checklist for leading gatherings

We might define the church service as: “The primary time when we gather in praise, prayer and the special presence of God and his angels, to hear him speak through his word, remember his gospel promises through the sacraments, and be built up in faith to serve him in the week to come.” (Heb 12v18-29) This makes leading services an awesome task.

This checklist is not exhaustive or set in stone, but intended to be a help so that we might lead more ably. In every decision the key factor is what will most glorify God and edify the congregation (1 Cor 14v26).

There is a need to be aware of what must remain fixed because of practical reasons: Eg. Notices are missed if at the beginning and distract if at the end. Younger kids need some sense of corporate worship comprising song, Bible and prayer before they leave. When younger kids leave there needs to be an item allowing parents time to drop them off and return. Normally prayers and interviews need to come before the sermon whilst older kids are in so that they benefit. If they come after, there needs careful thought on when the older kids leave and what they receive from the service.

(1) Read and pray through the passage being preached. We gather to hear and respond to God. So the text and its message is the centre of the service to be considered in all things.

(2) Liaise with the preacher over how the service might best lead to this in preparation and from it in response. There should be a logic to everything that is done: Eg…
1)    Would confession, creed, video, poem, reading, extra prayer time, interview or sharing of encouragements work well at some point before the sermon or after it?
2)    Would an extended time of praise work better at some point before to prepare us with a sense of God’s majesty or grace, or afterwards as a way of giving thanks or committing to service?
3)    If before, would the extended praise time work better before or after the prayers?

(3) Consider what items of prayer could be used in addition to the intercessions. Eg.
1)    What opening verse/doxology and prayer of invocation will best set up the main message and prepare people for worship? Do you want and adult or child to read an opening verse/doxology? Should it be read in a way that brings a set response from the congregation?
2)    Do you want to include a set confession, lead it yourself, include it in your opening prayer, or just give people private time for it?
3)    Do you want to give people a time for open response in prayer, praise, the sharing of Bible verses? When? And how will you encourage people in that?
4)    The Lord’s Prayer is the only set prayer we try to use pretty much every week. Where would it work best in terms of its content? Near the beginning when children can say it to set the service up? Structuring or summing up the intercessions? At the end as a concluding prayer? Before or after receiving communion?
5)    Would any other set prayer or prayer of response from the historic church be useful?
6)    What final blessing/doxology will sum up the main message and send people out in reliance on God? Should this be responsive?

(4) Consider what songs would be most beneficial?
1)    Are they true, and do they reflect a breadth of Christian truth so far as it prepares for and responds to the passage being preached. Eg. Magnifying God as Trinity for his character, his works as creator, his deeds throughout Bible history, his purposes in Christ, the work of his Spirit, the calling of the church, the hope of the future etc?
2)    How do they fit within the logic of the various items of the service? Eg. Preparing for or responding to confession or prayers or Bible readings etc, or in having a more extended time of singing in setting the context for meeting with God, or in responding to him.
3)    Do they reflect the stylistic preferences of the congregation the Lord has drawn to your church?

(5) Consider whether the congregation could do with some silent reflection? Eg. To settle and focus at the beginning, after kids have gone out, before confession, after readings, after the sermon etc.

(6) Rather than introducing other Bible passages, consider whether there a way of quoting part of the passage being preached at one or two other points in the service: Eg. In your opening prayer, in calling us to worship, in assuring us of forgiveness, in introducing songs or prayers, or as a reminder before we leave.

(7) Ensure the shape and content of the service upholds rather than underminds the gospel. Everything the leader says or doesn’t say teaches something: Eg.
1)    Do your introductory words or prayer remind the congregation that we draw near to God the Father only through the work of Christ and by the Spirit (Eph 2v18)?
2)    Does the location of any prayer of confession follow a reminder of God’s holiness or our sin, whether in songs or words said? Does it lead to a reminder of God’s grace and our service in songs or words said?
3)    Is there a way you can word the call to confession or communion that assures believers they do so in a place of grace, challenges unbelievers of their need, and signals to nominal Christians the importance of sincere hearts?
4)    In leading communion, how can you briefly remind people of how it represents the gospel, how it moves us to look to Christ in faith, and how it expresses our fellowship with him and with one-another as a foretaste of the fellowship we will have in his kingdom.
5)    Is there a way of clarifying that any challenge to obedience or service is a joyful response to God’s grace and salvation rather than an attempt to merit it.

(8) Prepare what you are going to say in full text or note form: 
1)    Write link sentences to clarify for the congregation why an item is being said/sung etc. The leader should never simply say “and now we are going to sing X” or “say Y.” People need to know why.
2)    Be brief in whatever you do say. You cannot say everything and mini-sermons will switch everyone off. Sometimes you could say a few sentences to introduce a number of items that then flow one into another. Remember the Lord is the ultimate leader and will lead each person as he determines.
3)    Consider writing in full your opening prayer of invocation and any prayer of thanksgiving before communion. This is not to be less spiritual as you will prayerfully prepare them. But such prepartion enables you to thoughtfully set the tone for the service or Lord's Supper in a way that relates to the theme of the service itself.

(9) Plan the service including any verses or prayers will help to bring things home. What follow is intended to be a help. Bible verses and prayers that might be used in each section can be found in appendix A and B. Appendix C provides some sample services.