Format: Sound Plus Doctrine PodcastDownload Session
We’re jumping right into the new year and Season 2 as David asks Bob how he thinks about planning Sundays in his local church, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville. If you are involved in planning the liturgy for your church every week, or just want to know better how to serve your church in your meetings, this episode is filled with helpful advice that is theologically rooted, pastoral, and practical.
David Zimmer: Hello, welcome to Sound Plus Doctrine. I am David Zimmer.
Bob Kauflin: I’m Bob Kauflin.
DZ: And I’m working really hard to not say welcome in to this podcast because Bob…
BK: ‘Cause it makes no sense. Welcome in to the podcast.
DZ: Bob keeps talking about it. No, it’s really great for you to be here and tuning in, whether you are watching this on YouTube and Facebook, or wherever we have this, or you’re listening in. I am really excited about our topic today, Bob, because I would like to talk about how you plan your Sunday gatherings.
DZ: I feel like if you’re a worship leader tuning in, you probably either have a set, a thing you like to do in your planning, or maybe you are a worship leader or coordinating instrumentalists or services and you are totally lost on this topic, and you’re thinking, “How do I even think through what this should look like on a weekly basis? How much time should I spend on this? How do I do this?” I just wanted to ask you, can you practically help us talk through what you do to plan for your Sunday gathering?
BK: Absolutely. I don’t know if it’d be helpful, I can absolutely talk through it. And I say that first part semi-humorously because, when people plan their Sundays, everybody has a different context. I remember years ago, it was just I planned the songs and that was it. And now I plan the whole meeting, what we call the liturgy, the whole service, that’s my responsibility. Some people are subject to whatever the senior pastor wants to do. I have a great working relationship with my senior pastor, CJ, and he has said to me numerous times, if he doesn’t think something should go a certain way, well, you’re the… “You planned it, you’re leading us, you go with it.” There’s a high level of trust there.
DZ: Yeah. Yeah.
BK: So, I wouldn’t want somebody to hear this and go, “Oh, that’s what I should do.” More, I’d hope, it would just provoke some ideas, some thoughts. Because so often, we start with the practicals. Just tell me how to do it. And this is one of those podcasts where, “What do you do, what do you do?” If you don’t root those practicals in theological convictions, in biblical foundations, you don’t even know if you’re doing the right things. It’s like having, the illustration of having a ladder that you’ve climbed up to the top of, but it’s against the wrong wall. You’ve exerted a lot of effort and you’ve worked really hard, but you’re in the wrong place.
DZ: Yeah, yeah.
BK: And I think that could be our tendency. I’ve read books like “Engaging with God” by David Peterson, “Christ-Centered Worship” by, oh man, Bryan Chapell, “Rhythms of Grace” by Mike Cosper, and actually did the foreword for that. Different books that talk about what exactly are we doing when we gather. That shapes everything I’m doing. I’ve been a part of the church planning for eight years now and love it because, when we first came, it was… I remember the elders were older and 50 plus years old. And we didn’t start out thinking, “Hey, we’ll just do what we’ve always done. We’ve be doing this for a long time.” We actually thought, “You know what, let’s start over. Let’s think about this more theologically,” ’cause there’s a history to what we do.
DZ: That is so right. Yeah.
BK: When Sovereign Grace started in the ’70s, or early ’80s, but it roots in the ’70s, we were of the mindset of, “Well, we want to pursue what they did in the Book of Acts.” And that was a noble call, noble vision, but it’s like nobody in the history of the church for the last 2000 years had tried to do that. A lot of people tried to do that. And there was a sense in which I think we weren’t as appreciative of history as we could have been. And over the last 40 years, we’ve grown much more appreciative of what Christians in the past have done, how they fought through these things. So, that’s reflected in the way we do our meeting now.
DZ: Yeah. You said the word “liturgy.” I feel like…
BK: I did.
DZ: That can be a new word for some worship leaders who have never really thought through what is liturgy. What’s the context of this service?
BK: Yeah. Liturgy is defined as the work of the people, it’s what we do, but it’s not ignoring what Jesus does, because everything we do we do because of what He does. There’s not this dichotomy of… We’re doing something for God now. We are really entering into what Jesus has done. But the liturgy commonly refers to just the order of events in your service, what you are doing as you gather in your relationship with God. Everybody has a liturgy, and there is no perfect liturgy. There’s no one way of doing things. God hasn’t given us in Scripture the exact order of events and the way we’re to do them. If He did, it’d be so easy for it to become rote and think that… Well, because we’ve done this liturgy, we’re okay. A few years ago, there’s a book called “Reformation Worship” that came out. I don’t remember the authors’ names, two guys. It was 26 liturgies from the reformation that could inform our practices today. And I haven’t read the whole thing, but the introductory essays are brilliant, worth reading, worth getting the book for. But it’s clear that there was thought put into this, and dedication and prayer, and there was a commonality to a lot of these liturgies. And so while there is no perfect liturgy, some liturgies are better than others. And to think about your liturgy is always better than not thinking about it.
DZ: Yeah, yeah. Or would you say that there could be a liturgy in just, “I pick four songs”?
BK: Oh, that is a liturgy. Oh, absolutely, yeah. The well I’m drawing from is, “I’m picking four songs,” which is not a very deep well to draw from.
DZ: Well said. Great. So, then, how does liturgy play into why we do things? How does that play into how you think through planning for a Sunday?
BK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not just picking songs, that’s the biggest thing. It’s a whole meeting. It’s the people of God gathering. I’ve done a teaching on what really matters in our gatherings, and I’m gonna read a definition of corporate worship that I devised by stealing from other people in the church, which is just that corporate worship is God’s people gathering in God’s presence to receive God’s Word, revel in the Gospel of Christ, and respond in the power of God’s Spirit, anticipating and testifying that the Savior who came to redeem a bride will come again to live with her forever.
DZ: Yeah, I love that.
BK: It’s bigger than songs. It’s bigger than preaching. We are gathering in God’s presence to hear from Him and to revel in the Gospel and respond not only in the meeting but in response in life, through the power of God’s Spirit, because one day Jesus is coming back for His bride. And when the local church gathers, that’s the clearest representation of what the new heavens and the new earth is gonna be like. God’s people gathered together in His presence. Singing is a part of that. Prayer is a part of that. Preaching is a part of that, and I would say preaching is central to that because we gather to hear from God. God has always gathered His people to speak to them, but there’s also our response. So, if I just think it’s songs, well, that really shapes how I think of God, how I think of the gathering, what it is exactly that we’re doing.
DZ: Yeah. And also… I didn’t mean to cut you off.
BK: No, it’s fine.
DZ: But it sort of isolates… It can tend to isolate it from everything else.
BK: Yeah, exactly.
DZ: Which is, these were the songs, then that’s the prayer, then that’s the sermon or… Yeah. So, I feel like it can isolate when you’re not thinking about an entire service.
BK: Yeah. And I think it’s because of how highly we tend to value the musical experience. I think that’s been a part of it. There was probably a time when I thought that singing five songs in a row was in the Bible, like that’s what you’re supposed to do. And it’s not. You can sing one song and experience God’s presence, you can be deeply moved, you can be faithful just by singing one song. Now, I enjoy singing numerous songs together, and I think there are benefits, biblical benefits to that, doing that, but I tell you what I do differently now, I tend to bring the Word to bear in those songs much more than I used to. In fact, one of the things that’s changed about the way I plan is I used to plan the songs around… I used to plan the Word around the songs. I plan the songs, and then I try to think… Ask myself, “Well, what Scripture would fit in well between those songs?” That’s how I think about it.
BK: Okay. I can probably go into what I actually do now to plan. We begin with a call to worship. We begin the meeting with a Scripture, and that Scripture is almost always drawn from the sermon from the past week, which is, I don’t know, I haven’t met… I won’t say many, I don’t know if I’ve met anyone who thinks that way. CJ has really taught me that, or talked to me about that, and just over decades it’s just been so helpful. I don’t think people in the church know that I’m doing that, but say the sermon last week was on… We’re in exodus right now, and say it was on God meeting Moses in Exodus 34, when He declares, “I am the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” I’m aware that we heard that message last week, and we sang one song in response. But, wow, couldn’t we meditate on that more? “I am the Lord, Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” So, I will pick a Scripture that relates to that theme, that topic. That’s where we’ll start. And I won’t tell people I’m doing that, but over time, it builds this continuity from week to week.
DZ: Yeah, yeah, I was just gonna say that.
BK: That’s what it does. Last week’s message still applies, it’s not over.
DZ: Especially if it’s fresh on their minds. Like if people have been thinking through some of the things that we were talking about last week, it’s fresh on their minds, this new week.
BK: Yeah. And that spurs in them, or causes to rise up and then this desire to, “Oh, Lord, I wanna thank you for this.” Or, “I wanna thank you, Lord, for this.” So, that’s where I start. Then we’ll typically do two songs. And I won’t even pick the first song until I have that call to worship, because I want the call to worship to be the springboard for the first song we sing.
BK: Now, when we get to that place, where we’re singing a song, then I’m beginning to think of a Gospel arc. And by that… This is where Bryan Chapell’s book is so helpful, “Christ-Centered Worship.” There’s a flow to the Gospel which begin with God’s holiness, God’s greatness, God’s majesty, and we look at that. And so we might begin with “Holy, holy, holy.” We might begin… I’m looking over some of the things we’ve begun with, “Only a Holy God,” “How Firm a Foundation.” It talks about God’s unchanging word. “All Creatures of Our God and King.” It’s a call to praise, but it’s somehow linked to that Scripture that we begin with. And we’ll introduce… One of the pastors will introduce that and just say a few words, maybe two, three minutes, about that Scripture, and then that will lead into the song. We’ll sing that song.
BK: Then I’ll sing another song, and again I’m thinking Gospel arc, and it may be a song of confession, it might be a song that… A Gospel song that gets into the Gospel more specifically. It might be a song that extends the greatness of God theme, and then moves into God as Redeemer, Savior. And then we’ll have something spoken. It’s usually a Scripture. It could be… And again, it’ll flow out of the last song. It could be a congregational confession. It depends on how I wanna shape it. We’ll probably do a corporate confession once a quarter maybe. Occasionally we’ll do a creed, we’ll say that together, but it’s something we do corporately that’s not necessarily… That’s not a song. And I’m wanting to root people in the Word, I’m wanting to root people in the Gospel, because that’s what we’re there to do.
BK: We’re not just there to get some musical high, we’re there to see who God is in us, in Christ, for us, and what that means. And then we’ll do usually two more songs that are response to that, again, that flow from that Scripture, that create the confession, that are appropriate to what we do after that. So, by the end of that time of Scripture and song, we have spent 25 minutes about stewing and meditating on, reveling and reflecting on some of the truths that we heard the previous week in light of the Gospel. And I should say, we’re a continuation as a church, we believe that the gift of prophecy, for instance, still functions today, and so we’ll leave space in those songs for a member of the congregation to come up to one of the pastors and share what’s on their heart, and then potentially share it at a congregational microphone as an encouragement to the people. It’s not the Word of God like Scripture is the Word of God, authoritative, inerrant, for all time. But it’s a word from God in the sense of it’s an impression that they’ve received that they share to build up, cheer up, and comfort. And it’s… And stir up would be the other one. Build up, cheer up, stir up.
BK: 1 Corinthians 14 talks about that, the effect of prophecy. So, that might fit in there, too. And that’s where you get into planning and spontaneity, which we’ll probably talk about it some time, but we allow for that. If I have a sense of, “Let’s take a moment to pray for this group of people,” I might do that. That lasts about 25 minutes or so. It could be 20-30, it depends on the Sunday. And then we’ll have a pastoral prayer, which is usually about five minutes or so. And again, one of the pastors would come up. And the great thing about this, we have seven elders, and I’ll have different guys up each week doing things. And if you’re in a church where you’re doing it all, I would strongly encourage you to invite others up in the congregation, men you respect who are leaders. I don’t know how big your church might be, but who can participate in those ways, ’cause I really don’t say as much as I used to on a Sunday, because other pastors are doing it.
BK: So, pastoral prayer will come. We’ll pray for our nation, we’ll pray for any major events that are going on, we’ll pray for another Sovereign Grace Church, we’ll pray for a church in town, in Louisville, we’ll pray for some of the people who are sick in the church, maybe a new need, maybe an ongoing need, pray for different events potentially coming up. It’s one of the things we did when we got here, we started doing, that maybe one of the most… Well, definitely it was one of the most impacting additions we made. ‘Cause we’re supposed to pray as the church, and we’ll have prayer meetings and different things, but every Sunday we have this opportunity to pray together. It’s really a moving time when we’re… We’re not making progress, we’re not… It doesn’t look great on YouTube or whatever. It’s just we’re praying. Everybody’s heads are bowed, and we’re just calling to mind the fact that God has given us this privilege through Jesus Christ to approach His throne and bring our request, express our gratefulness as a church. And, yeah, it’s very moving.
BK: We’ve had people become members and say, “Yeah, one of the things that really stood out to me was the fact that our pastor step… ” Your pastor stood up and started to pray. And I thought, “Well, he’ll be done in a second.” [laughter] He kept going, he kept going. It’s like, “What’s going on here? They’re really praying.” We do that, and it’s been so unifying for us as a church, so strengthening. And then we will have a time of welcome, welcoming guests, any announcements. We receive an offering, it takes about five minutes. Then we’ll have the sermon, and generally we’ll have… Well, we’ll always have a song after that to follow up. And then I will assign a benediction, which the guy preaching does. It’s just one Scripture… I have a whole list of those that I use, but it might be something that’s from the sermon, maybe a passage that was preached. But what we wanna do there is leave people with not, “Hey, Lord, we’re geared up now, we’re gonna go out and do it.” But we wanna leave them with mercy and grace.
DZ: Love that.
BK: I remember talking to a guy who had been coming to the church. He said… He’d been coming for some time, became a member, and said, “You know, I was a part of a church where for 20 years, every time we finished, I just felt like I’d been beat up, and I just had to go out and work harder.” That’s not the Gospel. There’s a poem, I don’t know if I can remember it. “Run, run the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands. Better words the Gospel brings. It bids us fly and gives us wings.” So, the demands of the Gospel are higher, but God gives us grace. So, what we want people to walk out with is this sense of, “Why wouldn’t I wanna please the Lord? He’s so good. God sent His son to live a perfect life for me and die in my place and rise from the dead so I could be forgiven and be… I’m owned by Him, and He’s with me all the time and never leave me or forsake me. Oh, it’s so great. I get to go on to life now and live this way.” That’s what the benediction is for. And all that takes about… For us, about an hour and a half. It’s been a little shorter during the pandemic ’cause we’re aware that a lot of people are watching this by video. But that’s the general flow of what we do in terms of how I plan.
DZ: Yeah. And I love… There are so many things we could pull out of what you just said in terms of the opportunity for spontaneity and not… It’s just this rigid structure that, “I have to stand in this timeline, and we can only do these songs, and we’re not gonna repeat anything.” I love that about Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, that there’s that flexibility in your planning, which I really appreciate.
BK: What we’re trying to benefit from history, and also be sensitive to the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us as we meet. You just said to me, “For years, the Holy Spirit helps us plan, but our plans are not the Holy Spirit.” And that’s a tension that we just have to hold in tension because it’s true. And I forgot to mention that when I put this liturgy together, and I’ll do it on Planning Center, and I also have a Google Doc where I write out everything and I keep… And I’ve kept track of every service we’ve done the last eight years, so I can… Google Docs serve me in a way that Planning Center doesn’t, although Planning Center is a pretty great tool, and they didn’t pay me to say that. Then I’ll send it out to the other elders, and anybody else who might be involved, for their thoughts.
BK: So, I’m not doing this on my own, that’s another thing. I’ve been doing this for 45 years. I don’t feel like, “Hey, I got this down. I can plan the perfect service every time.” I don’t know. We serve a living God, and He’s working every week in our hearts, in the hearts of our people. And it’s not just a system. That’s why I’m not a big fan of… And I’ve had people ask us to do this, “Hey, will you put together like a set, a worship set?” I get the idea, but I really think it’s important for individuals and local churches to do the work. Think about your people. Pray for them. Get to know the songs that are available. Find out what songs you can use, because your church is unique. You share a lot in common with a lot of churches, and it’s always the same Gospel, same Word of God, but where your people are at and what they need, and what’s been preached and what’s gonna be preached, that’s all unique to your church.
BK: So, yeah, I’m just not… We’ve never done that.
DZ: Well, and even you saying, you might just have one song. You might start off with one song. If you figure out like, “Well, this is the set I have to do,” it throws a wrench in your own context that the Lord has you in.
DZ: So, moving things around that best serve your people would be an opportunity to not have just a rigid set that you have to follow, but more flexibility to your context, and…
BK: And there’s enough flexibility. We’ll also do communion once a month, and that’s after the second song slot. We’ll sometimes do it after the sermon. Yeah, we can move things around, but there’s enough that’s consistent that people aren’t wondering every week, “What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna… ” We want there to be a rhythm, we want there to be rhythms of grace. We want every Sunday for people to have washed in the Gospel, because that’s what will change them, that’s what we knew them, that’s what will give them hope, that’s what will give them strength, to remember who Jesus is and what He’s done. And when we fail to do that, and where our emphasis is more on creativity or pizzazz or your excitement or whatever, we’re not giving people what God has given us to give them. We want those rhythms of grace, but then also to allow for the spontaneous workings of the Spirit.
DZ: Yeah, that’s so helpful. And what I love about what I’ve observed in your ministry, Bob, is the Gospel arc that we have in services.
BK: Well, yeah, that’s… I’ve been taught that, I’ve read about it, and it’s really changed the way I think about gathering, because it’s never about simply choosing songs that are going well or trying to find what’s really gonna resonate. That’s the way I used to lead, no question. Decades ago. Yeah, these songs are going really well. The song of the month, the song… It’s like the Christian Worship Top 40. They’re popular for a time and then… And I think, every week… CJ said one time, “We’re a same things church.” This is early on the church plan. “We’re a same things church. You know what, you come back next week, you’re gonna be hearing the same things.” And there’s a real piece in that, there’s a real joy in that. It doesn’t mean we have to… We can kick back and say, “Yeah, it doesn’t matter, we just do the same things.” But in terms of what we believe really changes people, and what we really need to see every time we gather, that doesn’t change.
BK: And so we talk about a Gospel arc, we’ll give the people the Gospel in numerous ways in the meeting. You’ll hear it in the announcements. You’ll hear it in the message, you’ll hear it in the prayer, you’ll hear it in the introductions. It’s just, “Oh, we’ve become so dull so quickly.” And we never want the church to be a place where the Gospel isn’t loved and celebrated, and that we’re… May it always be amazing. It’s so funny and so ironic, amazing Grace becomes a song. It’s just like an old shoe. “Amazing Grace.” But it is, it’s amazing. And so we wanna make sure in our planning and in our liturgy and in the way we present it that people see it’s still amazing to us.
DZ: Yes. Right. Absolutely, absolutely. For someone who’s attending the church who doesn’t know Christ, it’s amazing to them. For us who get bogged down week to week and forget the impact of the Gospel, it’s amazing to us. And we should be reminded of that every single week.
BK: Amen. Amen.
DZ: Absolutely. We are reminded of the Gospel even now, that God is good and doing amazing things through His church.
BK: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.
DZ: Thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you again.