Congregational singing ought to be what your church is known for and it's vital that the accompaniment does not drown out their voices, says Pastor Mark Dever.
Speaking Tuesday at the Sing! 2019 conference at the Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, the lead pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., unpacked in a seven-point talk how the Gospel must shape corporate worship.
"In what sense is our churches Sunday gathering honoring to God if His holiness is at best assumed?" he began.
Dever anchored his presentation in two statements, "Gospel preaching should be at the center of corporate worship" and "Gospel theology shapes our corporate worship."
Unlike all the fake gods of the world, the real, one true God still speaks, he emphasized, and Christians hear His voice by the proclamation of the Word.
"Whenever God speaks to man, it is an act of grace. ... His Spirit accompanies His Word," he explained.
Exposition of Scripture should be at the center of worship, he stressed: "If you keep preaching the Bible, you will keep preaching the Gospel."
When considering the contents of a service, leaders would do well to include reading of Scripture, a biblical sermon, prayer, and congregational singing, as these are biblically mandated elements, he said.
"Take care to have the truths taught and the duties that are enjoined in the sermon passage reinforced throughout the hymns and readings and prayers," Dever said.
Services at Capitol Hill Baptist Church are approximately two hours long. The first hour is full of hymns, prayers, and Scripture readings. This all precedes the sermon so people can be "softened up" to hear God's Word proclaimed, he explained.
Because they intentionally plan worship in a way where the hymns and readings dovetail with the sermon text, everything unfolds in a coherent fashion.
"Make sure to have a prayer of praise," he said, speaking of the corporate prayer life of the church.
Dever noted that he visits many evangelical services where corporate prayer is noticeably absent, a shift from years past where Christians understood the importance of the centrality of prayer and intercession.
"Spend so much time in prayer in your morning service that you will bore those nominal Christians who only pretend to believe in God," he said, receiving chuckles and light applause.
He urged attendees to slow the pace of the service and allow more time for silence, recounting a time when someone told him he was grateful for the opportunity to be silent in church. He loves his home church but it wore him out with the hurried nature of the service, Dever said.
The Baptist pastor also underscored the importance of publicly reading Scripture aloud, noting that many evangelical churches do not spend time doing that anymore. When he goes on vacation he says he has to go to a Roman Catholic church for a reliable place to find that, he said.
"Make congregational singing the major thing your congregation is known for in its worship," he said.
"Realize that all of the accompaniment you have, the only purpose of it is to help the people sing better. If the accompaniment — I don't care if it is an organ or a rock band — if it is overcoming in terms of volume the people singing, you are losing. You are not helping.
"There is nothing more powerful than us hearing the human voices speak the truths to each other in song," he added. "God has made us emotionally wired where singing that third stanza of 'It is well' he said, quoting the lyrics, "'my sins not in part but the whole' always completely undoes us."