The Bible teaches us that God is building his heavenly church. Through His Word and Spirit, He is gathering peoples from every language and tribe around His throne. Whenever Christians gather it is a local, earthly anticipation of this heavenly gathering in a particular time and space.
This incredible truth means that church is more than just a meeting. There is a difference between a meeting of the local Kale Appreciation Society and a local gathering of Christians – and it’s not just the food! At its heart, the Kale Appreciation Society meets to get things done and lift peoples’ appreciation of Kale. Christian gatherings serve a greater purpose. At Christian gatherings we aim to proclaim the truths of the gospel and encourage one another to live out these truths in our lives. Everything we do at church should shoot at this gospel goal and follow this ‘gospel logic’ of truth and response; faith and repentance. David Peterson puts it this way: ‘at the heart of Christian gatherings there should be a concern to proclaim and apply the truths of the gospel, to keep the focus on God’s gracious initiative, to stimulate and maintain saving faith and to elicit appropriate expressions of faith in the assembly (gathering) and everyday life’.
Whatever our experiences of it, a key strength of following the Anglican Prayer Book was that at each gathering the service leader would proclaim biblical truths and call the congregation to respond and live them out. The Prayer Book contained this gospel logic. It pointed people to faith and repentance. And it did this week in, week out, no matter who was leading. Furthermore, everyone held the liturgy in their hands.
Many Anglican churches, for valid reasons, have moved away from the Prayer Book to more free-form gatherings. Most of the time we don’t have a liturgy in our hands to follow. One consequence of this shift is that the role of the service leader has become more important. It is the service leader who guides us through the service. The onus for preparing the service, its content and what-happens-when falls upon the service leader. This change is not necessarily a negative or positive thing, but it is worth noting. It also forces us to consider: what is the role of a service leader?
One key role of a service leader is to be a bit like a Master of Ceremonies at a wedding reception. A church service usually involves lots of people and lots of moving parts. Someone needs to tell us when the gathering has started, what’s next and when it ends. Service leaders do function as MC’s as at the most basic level they oversee and coordinate a service. Paul states that when Christians gather our gatherings should be ordered (1 Cor 14:33). A service leader provides this order.
But a service leader is more than an MC. It is also their role to convey the gospel logic that should mark Christ-centred gatherings. In free-form gatherings the service leader cannot rely on the Prayer Book to do this. It is their responsibility to tie the gathering together so that everyone present is ‘moved to faith and repentance by what is said and done.’ Is a confession an appropriate response to this week’s sermon or Bible readings? Or will a prayer of thanksgiving or hymn of praise better convey the gospel logic? These are the kind of things the service leader is thinking about.
It may be that the minister determines the gospel logic of the service and passes this on to their service leader. Or perhaps the service leaders craft this gospel logic for themselves. Regardless of the pragmatics, it is the service leader that the congregation looks to on the day. It is the service leader who conveys the gospel logic through how they lead, what they say and what they ask us to do. They set the agenda when we enter, support the message of the sermon, and send us out to live out the gospel until we gather next.
When we gather, we are asking our leaders to do a noble thing. We are asking them to be more than mere Masters of Ceremonies. As we meet as a local, earthly anticipation of the heavenly gathering, we are asking them to guide us as we worship God and build His church.
 For his analysis of the Bible’s teaching on Christian gatherings I’m much indebted to David Peterson’s work, particularly ‘Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship’ (IVP, 2002) and ‘Encountering God Together: Biblical Patterns for Ministry and Worship’ (IVP, 2013).
 Peterson, ‘Engaging with God’ p219-220.
 Peterson, ‘Engaging with God’, p213.