October 24, 2020

Scott Lencke: Story-Shaped Worship & Liturgy

The Quire. Photo by Br Albert Robertson OP

Note from CM: Thanks to our friend, Scott Lencke, who blogs over at The Prodigal Thought, for this Lenten contribution on the beauty and power of liturgy to shape us.

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I am currently teaching an online course entitled Worship Leadership. The course explores the church’s worship setting beyond just the songs of worship. One of the optional texts is Robbie Castleman’s Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History.

I wanted to post what I believe are some important thoughts of hers regarding liturgy – especially in light of the church currently walking through the season of Lent.

Here are her words:

The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek language and originally meant “the public work or service to their god(s).” The use of the word “liturgy” therefore focuses on how a particular group of people go about worshiping God. So a “liturgy” essentially is an order of worship.  Worship is work. Worship is how God’s people serve the maker of heaven and earth. Liturgy is the rhythm and design of this worship through which all worshipers join together to please God. Biblical liturgies, whether they reflect an historically full or only partially developed pattern, all have a rhythm that helps the worshiper anticipate what comes next in a congregation’s service to God. Regrettably, the use of the word “liturgy” is sometimes misused as a shorthand for a particular kind of worship. Liturgy is often attached only to services with an atmosphere for formality, such as services that incorporate written prayers, set refrains used as congregational responses, three hymns and a benediction. However, all orders of worship use a liturgy, all congregational worship is liturgical.

It is not uncommon in certain communities to hear someone say, “We don’t have a liturgy. We come in and sing for about a half an hour and then we have a teaching. Then we end with prayer and another set of songs.” That is still a liturgy. That sequence, which rarely varies, is how people in that community of faith go about serving God through worship. A similar point was made earlier regarding “style,” whether the congregation meets week after week in the gymnasium for a “contemporary” service or in the sanctuary for the “traditional” service. In light of this, it is honoring to God and helpful for the congregation if the ordering of worship elements is repetitive even if variations are evident within a set liturgical rhythm.

What a congregation does sequentially in the liturgy not only reflects a particular understanding of who God is as Creator (and Redeemer) but, in the long run, will shape congregations and individual believers as disciples. For example, for nearly two thousand years Christian worship has incorporated another source for a biblical pattern of worship, that of the birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Using the incarnation, public ministry life, and Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension as a rhythm for worship year after year helps school the congregation’s theological balance and helps counter an overemphasis on only part of the story that may lead to a truncation of the whole gospel for all of life.

The central significance of marking the liturgical year is to help shape the Christocentric reality of the church. Jesus’ story is the Christian story, the foundational story that shapes, tests, and vindicates Christian life and faith. This is the rhythm of the Christian faith: the anticipation of God’s visitation, the narrative of Jesus’ birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection and ascension, the Spirit’s empowerment of the church’s witness and mission, and the anticipation of the consummation of God’s eternal kingdom. Christian worship reflects this rhythm, this story, through the order of worship and its great cycle throughout the Christian liturgical year. (p34-36)

Being in a charismatic setting, I used to despise things like liturgy, ultimately seeing it as opposed to more “freer” worship. But I now realize that we all participate in liturgy, that is, we all participate in the rhythmic practices that help form us spiritually. Of course, some churches have more defined rhythms than others. But we all have rhythmic cycles to form us corporately as Christ’s church (and personally).

Liturgy is beautiful.

The Spirit finds liturgy beautiful.

The Spirit finds beautiful all practices that help shape who we are in Christ.

Let us continue to be shaped by the Spirit of Christ as we pursue Christ in our liturgy – the songs, the Lord’s Table, the reading of Scripture, the prayers, the confession of creeds, and more.

• • •

Photo by Br Albert Robertson OP at Flickr. Creative Commons License


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    They gathered around a table, one leant on His breast.
    He broke bread, blessed the wine.
    They ate and drank.

    This was Liturgy.

    We can share again when gathered together.


    • Susan Dumbrell says

      or in the words of a haiku

      bread broken for us
      wine poured forth to purge our sins
      this is liturgy

      • Robert F says

        a single bird chirps
        its liturgy for morning
        blessed are the poor

        • Susan Dumbrell says


          ‘not one of them shall fall to the ground……
          you are of more value than many sparrows’
          Matt 10 .

          may God bless you on your way today

          Good night to all.

  2. I can really appreciate this, especially after being exposed to the polar opposite – in Reformed churches, the pattern is that of the seminary classroom. One Reformed pastor is (in)famous for preaching for years – over a decade in one case – from a *single book of the Bible*. Imagine trying to tell a story at the pace of one sentence a week…

    • Actually they WERE telling a story…..just the wrong story (IMO)… :((

    • Rick Ro. says

      Well, as someone who took three years to teach a class that covered the gospels of Mark and Matthew at the same time…

      …I’ll just say that I learned a lot about the character and nature of Jesus through that time.

      But yeah…not sure I’d want to go that slow in a sermon.

  3. Liturgy is beautiful.


  4. I know these reflections about liturgy are not foreign to the IM community. That’s what I appreciate so much about you all!

    Have you all seen this video below? I show it to my students (I work in a modern music ministry context) and I think it helps explain the liturgy of the Christian calendar.


    • Dana Ames says

      The video is a good explanation of the western version of the church year, nicely done visually.

      I found it interesting that mainly Orthodox icons were used to illustrate the various “seasons”. I see quite a number of icons used as illustrations for book covers, etc.; it’s been a “thing” for the past few years, I guess. I found it slightly humorous that some of the icons chosen for the video are “out of order”: the one illustrating Advent is actually the icon of the Resurrection; the one illustrating the Resurrection is actually the icon of Pentecost; the one illustrating Pentecost is, again, the icon of the Resurrection. The one chosen for Christmas is the icon above the Nativity grotto, which is an Orthodox chapel underneath and to the side of the big Church of the Nativity (RC). The icon chosen for Christ the King Sunday is, quite rightly, Christ Pantocrater – the Ruler of All.

      In EO, our church year begins 1 September, making Easter/Pascha pretty much the center of the whole year. We don’t have a “Christ the King” Sunday; we have one feast each for St John the Forerunner, Mary the Theotokos, and the Cross of Christ in September and again in August, bracketing the year with the announcement by St John that we need to keep turning to God, the declaration of Christ as both God and Man, born of the Virgin, and the Cross as the Center of Everything. Just some tidbits FYI, Scott 🙂 Forgive my continuing convertitis…


      • Dana, thanks for these details. That’s funny how you caught all the icons out of order. I actually wish I had more time to read EO theology. I know I am not very fluent in EO perspectives, but have appreciated my attendance to a EO Bible study and Sunday liturgy.

  5. Rick Ro. says

    So what I think I’m hearing is…

    There’s such a thing as “true” liturgy and then there’s such a thing as a man-made liturgy (such as what the Lutheran church does), and there’s a muddying of the term because of the difference between the two.

    • Dana Ames says

      I don’t think so, Rick.

      I think the point is that **every** Christian worships according to a liturgy, some informal and some more formal. Some of the more formal ones utilize a pattern that recalls the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ.

      I think the terms “true” and “man-made” and “muddying of the term because of the difference between the two” reflect a basically Evangelical/Enlightenment/dualistic way of thinking about it: casting the topic into the area of “either/or” thinking (one thing must be right and the other must be wrong). I think that thinking led you astray in terms of understanding what Scott meant to say.

      Forgive me.


      • My experience is that people who are “anti-liturgy” (meaning they are anti-structure) will point to biblical passages like Matt 15:1-3: Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?

        It seems Jesus is anti-tradition. But I think he’s anti-tradition if it involves breaking the commands of God. But I would think Jesus is very happy with the traditioned rhythms we set in place to help form the church. We all have traditions. Some may *seem* more Spirit-inspired or “freer.” But we all work with traditions to form who we are in Christ. And I’m thankful for some of the longer-standing traditions that are in place to form the church.

        • Dana Ames says

          “But I think he’s anti-tradition if it involves breaking the commands of God.”

          Yes. “Tradition” is simply “that which is handed over/on/down”. If there were really something wrong handing things down in general, then Paul wouldn’t have written, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” And Jude wouldn’t have written, “I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all handed down (“traditioned”) to God’s holy people.”

          [What? Your Bible “doesn’t say that?” See Scot McKnight’s blog Jesus Creed, where he quotes from Mike Bird about translation bias with regard to the term paradosis and its forms…]


          • I saw that article float up in my social media feed about Michael Bird. I’ll have to check that out. Thanks!

      • Rick Ro. says

        I hear what you’re saying. I guess maybe it would’ve been better if I’d said, “There’s liturgy, and then there’s how people VIEW liturgy.” The term has a certain baggage associated with it.

        • Dana Ames says

          Thanks. We all have baggage of one sort or another, some of it actually belonging to others…


  6. Christiane says

    I love the idea that using the liturgy connects us up to those who prayed in this way a thousand or more years ago.
    To say or sing words that once were prayed by Christian people over a millenia ago, that is a kind of ‘echoing’ of their prayers and some day, our own voiced prayers will be ‘echoed’ by those who come after us and on until the Day of the Lord comes.

    The Greek, the Latin . . . for those who prayed long ago before Vatican II in the old languages (me who is now old), to hear ‘Kyrie Eleison’ is like coming home to the old stone Church of my childhood. And to hear the Pater Noster still brings a warmth of connection that spans time and place and echoes ancient voices of Christian people in the old times.

    The Body of Christ lives. It cares to continue the prayers of the old ones because those prayers are timeless. And there is no end to Christian people praying, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner’

    Transcendant? Echos ? 🙂

    or Family