by Jeff Purswell

I am no musician. I play no part in a choir or a musical team. I do love words, and as a sidebar to my job I get to participate in editing worship song lyrics. But there you reach the limits of my musical gifting.

Even so, my friend Bob Kauflin recently invited me to speak at the WorshipGod09 conference and to address an audience populated by faithful servants engaged in leading worship, singing, and serving musically in diverse ways. These are gifted people and we benefit from their example, leadership, and service each Sunday in our local churches.

But as much as I appreciate what they do, I told them the following: What you do each Sunday is important, but it’s not most important.

Musical worship is inspiring, informative, and a wonderful privilege, but there is nothing more central to Christian worship than the preaching of God’s Word. Notice I did not say preaching is a great and necessary follow-up to worship, or that preaching is an optional extra in worship. Preaching is central to worship each Sunday.

Let me illustrate this point through a few great worship services in your Bible.

Think of Mount Sinai where God rescues and gathers his people specifically. He says, “Let my people go so that they may worship me.” So in that gathering to worship, what is the climax? It is the giving of the Law.

A few books later, in Deuteronomy, the people are gathered beside the Jordan. Their wanderings are finally at an end. They are on the cusp of the Promised Land, and Moses renews the covenant with the next generation. What is at the heart, what is the substance of this gathering? It is the reiteration of the Law of Moses, and we read page after page of preaching, explanation, application, and exposition.

When Joshua brings the people finally into the land, he gathers them together (Joshua 8). What was the climax of that gathering? Was it the singing? No. He read the Law to the “assembly.” (The Hebrew term is regularly translated in the Greek as “church”—the church is the assembly, the gathering of the people of God.) Joshua read the Law to the gathered assembly. And he read it all: “there was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them” (Joshua 8:35). Let’s not miss a thing. Let’s not miss a word. Let’s not miss a stroke.

After the return from exile, Nehemiah gathers the people into a great assembly. What do they do? Ezra reads the Law and then explains it—he exposits it to give the sense of message.

And we could go on through the Bible…

Throughout salvation history, all the way into the new covenant, God’s Word is at the center of worship. The early church devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and every church was nourished on God’s Word, all the way down to the last chapter of the last book that Paul wrote, where he tells Timothy to preach the Word “in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Why so much preaching? Why all this talking? Because the primary way we encounter God in worship is through the preaching of the Word of God.

Think about it this way. Normally, in what we call “worship,” we spend significant time—perhaps the whole time—addressing God, singing to him, praising him, extolling him, praying to him. Wonderful! But in preaching we are no longer addressing God; he is addressing us. Nothing is more important than this moment. And this is why the most important worship leader in your church is your pastor.

That really gets to the heart of preaching. The Bible is not simply a book that we talk about. When God’s Word is faithfully preached, God is addressing us. God is speaking. We hear not merely a man’s voice. We hear the voice of God.

And when God addresses us, what is the appropriate response? We respond with glad and reverent hearts, with voices that proclaim his praise, and with lives that increasingly reflect his character.

God addresses us with a saving Word. We respond to him with faith, praise, and obedience. That is the rhythm of worship.

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Jeff Purswell serves as the Dean of the Sovereign Grace Pastors College and a pastor at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD.

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