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Kevin Adams on the Mission at the Heart of Classic Worship

An ancient pattern at the heart of classic Christian worship helps welcome and orient people into life in the body of Christ.

Kevin Adams is the senior pastor of Granite Springs Church in Lincoln, California, and author of 150: Finding Your Story in the Psalms. Granite Springs Church has helped plant a cluster of churches in the fast-growing metro area of Sacramento, California. In this edited conversation, Adams explains how classic liturgy can work well in missional church plants.

How would you describe a classic worship liturgy?

Classic liturgies generally follow a four-fold pattern of worship often described by the words Gathering, Word, Table or Response, and Sending. The liturgy’s much-loved lyrics and phrases offer a kind of choreography that’s been time-tested by God’s people. Some people refer to classic liturgy as the ordo, a Latin word that means rule or order. The English word ordinary comes from the Latin ordo. Some traditions call this worship pattern “the order of service.”

What makes church planters decide not to use the ordo in their worship services?

While in development and engagement mode, church planters are often tempted to leave behind or set aside classic worship elements as “not missional.” (Historic congregations are tempted by this too.) Folks say they’ve tried using these elements but find no grace or mission in them. They’ve experienced the classic ordo as being boring or empty repetition meant for insiders only, so they look for other worship options.

What made you decide to start using more classic liturgical elements in your worship services?

I’ve become convinced that the Church’s captivating gospel plays best in the ordo. The ordo in our church is reflected in a psalm, a word of good news, weekly Eucharist, and a prayer for or from the global community. Certain call-and-response phrases, like “Lift up your hearts/We lift them up to the Lord” or “The peace of the Lord be with you/And also with you,” seep into your soul and psyche. They keep playing in your consciousness, kind of like after you hear a memorable musical such as Hamilton.

We’ve also learned that it’s hospitable to use worship frames—the “in between” words that help people transition from songs to prayers and other parts of worship. Worship frames help spiritual novices and veterans alike see what’s already there.

What’s the relationship between using the ordo and the need for worship frames?

The early church had to make a case for Jesus’ redemption, the Trinity, and a life of prayer. They did that through the ordo. Although worship frames are especially helpful for the classic ordo, any service order—or individual worship element—can benefit from them. Using a worship frame is a winsome way to explain why we’re doing a specific act in a worship service. Think of it as providing an orientation to help newcomers worship well.

Church planters and worship leaders want to help laypeople in contemporary neighborhoods to develop their own worship voice, expressive of their congregation, neighborhood, and culture. The best worship voices are rooted in and informed by centuries of best practices. That’s why we encourage congregants new and old to deeply know and value the treasures of Christian faith expressed in worship practices throughout the centuries, and around the world.

Please give an example of a worship frame that reveals the mission at the heart of the ordo.

The old Latin Mass from the Middle Ages has a benediction that says, “Ita Missa Est,” which means, “Go, you are sent.” There’s obvious and contagious mission in that. A wise and well-informed worship leader can in one sentence help a congregation see that the benediction isn’t boring repetition. Instead, it’s a call to live out the gospel and our identity as baptized, and, therefore, commissioned, people.

Do you have another example?

For years, our church service included a “meet and greet” time. This provided room to make personal connections, let ushers and greeters work their hospitality magic, move students to age-appropriate classes, or even take a quick bathroom break. But, as we increased our Eucharist [a.k.a. Communion or the Lord’s Supper] frequency, we reconsidered eucharistic elements. We thought, “Why merely shake hands, when you can pass God’s peace?”

Christian worship in the first centuries included passing the peace as a way to live out Jesus’ call for us to be peacemakers who reconcile ourselves to others before offering gifts at the altar (Matthew 5:9, 23-24). In one way, this practice is a kind of prayer. We are praying that Christ would be our peace. We have to receive Christ’s peace to give it.

Here’s how my friend Neal framed it: “All through his ministry, Jesus encountered storms—storms of anxiety and relational chaos or scary winds and waves. Each time he said one word that brought healing and calm: ‘Peace.’ Today each of us is experiencing a kind of storm inside. In the face of such storms, and because of Jesus, would you turn to one another and say, ‘Peace. The peace of Christ be with you.’”


Read Worship Frames: How We Shape and Interpret Our Experience of God by Deborah J. Kapp.

Read short essays about the four-fold pattern of worship and complexifying the liturgy.

Gather a group to read and discuss Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Mission by Debra Rienstra and Ron Rienstra.