A Scorecard for Worship

As a preacher without a pulpit, I visit a lot of churches – mostly United Methodist, but also those from Lutheran and Anglican traditions.

I like the format for worship found in the United Methodist Book of Worship; I only wish that more United Methodist churches actually used it.

I’ve come to appreciate many of the historic – dare I say “catholic” – forms that fit naturally within the framework of the UMC’s worship format. Even without these additions, however, it’s difficult to find United Methodist Churches that understand what I believe to be the strengths of our liturgical form. Repetition and catholicity are good; weekly innovation, individuality and unpredictability are (IMHO) not helpful. The purpose of worship is not to make people think about things they’ve never thought about before or to create some sort of affective response. Worship is not avant garde performance art aimed at the congregtion. Rather its purpose to to glorify God in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in his holy church, with all his saints, to maintain and nurture the life-giving union between Christ and his church, and to help Christians live within the story of God’s redemption in Jesus Christ.

What I am looking for, then, is worship that substantially follows the form found in the UMC Book of Worship, the Book of Common Prayer, the Lutheran Book or Worship or the more recent Evangelical Lutheran Worship. I’m not terribly picky; there is even a lot I like in the “Reformation” format of the 1964 Methodist Book of Worship and the pre-1979 editions of the Book of Common Prayer (and the ACNA adaptation of the earlier BCP forms. )

Here’s what I look for in worship – what I have come to love or dislike. For me, now, this is just a little exercise in bringing my internal reactions and expectations to the surface, making them visible, and taking a stab at weighting various factors. You, of course, will have a completely different scorecard. À chacun, son goût.

Opening / Closing
  • Procession / recession with processional cross (+1)
  • Makes the sign of the cross at the invocation of the trinity (+1)

Each, up to a max of 3

  • Singable (+2)
  • Fits with lectionary / church calendar (+2)
  • With good theology (+2)
  • Uses drums (-5) (adiaphora; purely a personal preference)
  • Repeats chorus more than twice (-5)
  • Musicians “show off” rather than simply accompany the congregation (-3)
Acts of Worship
Opening prayer / Prayer of the Week
  • Seasonably focused (+1)
  • Uses the collect form (+1)
  • Trinitarian content (+2)
  • Preceded by the Dominus Vobiscum (+1)
  • Attempts to be clever or cute (-4)
Bible Readings
  • Uses the Revised Common Lectionary (+2)
  • Reads one (+1), two (+2) or three (+3) scripture lessons
  • Responding to first / second readings with “The word of the Lord” / “Thanks be to God.” (+1)
  • Reads responsively (+1) or chants (+2) the appointed Psalm between scripture readings
  • Stands to hear the reading of the Gospel (+1)
  • Sings acclamation (“Alleluia”) before the Gospel (+1)
  • Welcomes and responds to the Gospel (“Glory to you, O Lord” / “Praise to you, O Christ”) (+1)
  • Lectionary / church year preaching (+3)
  • Exceptionally good preaching (up to +5)
  • Exceptionally bad preaching (up to -5)
  • Excessively long preaching (up to -3)
Confession of Sin
  • Prayer of confession (+2)
  • Uses a traditional or well-constructed form (+1)
  • Kneeling (+1)
  • Concluded with words of absolution (+2)
  • Attempts to be clever, cute, secularly political or focuses on the sin of the day (-4)
Affirmation of Faith
Prayers of the People
  • Praying for the church (+3), the world (+3) and those in need (+3) in accordance with the truth of the Gospel and the mission of the universal church
  • Short petitions, ending with “Lord in your mercy” / “Hear our Prayer” (+2)
  • Appropriate to the church year and the scripture readings (+2)
  • Extended prayers for individuals (better in a small group setting) (-2)
  • Prayers that are too long or rambling (-3)
  • Prayers that scold or instruct the congregation instead of speaing to God on behalf of the congregation (-4)
  • Prayers that are narrowly sectarian instead of “catholic” (-5)
The Peace
  • Passes the peace before communion (+3)
  • For too long (-2)
Eucharistic Prayer (Anaphora)

All of these positive elements are found in the United Methoist Great Thanksgiving.

  • Includes the Sursum Corda (+2)
  • Includes a seasonally appropriate preface (+1)
  • Says (+2) or sings (+3) the Sanctus
  • Includes the words of institution (+3)
  • Includes an anamnesis (+1)
  • Includes Reformed oblation language (+1)
  • Includes an epiclesis or invocation of the spirit (+1)
  • Attempts to be clever, cute or “relevant” to some secular cause (-4)
The Lord’s Prayer
  • Says the Lord’s Prayer (+4)
  • Immediately following the Eucharistic prayer (+1)
The Prayer of Humble Access (+1)
The Agnus Dei (+1)
Sharing the Bread and Cup
  • Offered weekly (+10)
  • Opportunity to kneel at altar (+1)
  • Real wine available (+1)
  • Opportunity to eat and drink, instead of intinction (+1)
  • Does something that distracts from the central act of Christ giving himself to us in bread and wine (-4)
  • The benediction is a trinitarian, priestly blessing of the congregation (+2)
  • The benediction is yet another long, rambling prayer (-3)
  • The congregation is sent in peace to love and serve the Lord (+1)
  • The congregation responds with “Thanks be to God” (+1)